Man-Made Space Leaf Creates Oxygen From Water And Light
Julian Melchiorri, a student at the Royal College of Art, has created an artificial organic leaf that produces oxygen just like regular leaves on Earth.
(Artificial leaf creates oxygen video)
"NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. This material could allow us t0 explore space much further than we can now," explains Melchiorri.
Melchiorri's Silk Leaf project, which he developed as part of the Royal College of Art's Innovation Design Engineering course in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab, consists of chloroplasts suspended in a matrix made out of silk protein.
"The material is extracted directly from the fibres of silk," Melchiorri explains. "This material has an amazing property of stabilising molecules. I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does."
SF fans remember the Martian Sawgrass from George O. Smith's excellent 1942 novella QRM-Interplanetary. It's not a manmade plant (but it was engineered to be useful on space stations).
"What better purifying machine is there than a plot of grass?" shouted Channing. "... We breathe oxygen, exhale CO2. Plants inhale CO2 and exhale oxygen. An air plant means just that. It is a specialized type of Martian sawgrass that uses chlorophyll... We've spent years getting that plant so it will grow just right. It got so good that the CO2 detectors weren't even needed..."
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