An artificial, synthetic leaf that has recently been developed turns water and light into oxygen, and along with the possible environmental benefits, the invention may have implications that are out of this world.
The synthetic leaf is the brainchild of Royal College of Art graduate Julian Melchiorri, according to IFLScience. The leaf technology was developed in conjunction with a silk laboratory at Tufts University, and produces oxygen from light and water, just like a real leaf. The synthetic leaf consists of chloroplasts, which are the part of a biological leaf in which photosynthesis takes place, suspended in a body created from silk protein.
— Spangler Science (@SpanglerScience) July 31, 2014
“This material has an amazing property of stabilizing (the chloroplast) organelles,” Melchiorri said, adding that “[a]s an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does.”
As CNET points out, synthetic leafs have many possible applications, not the least of which is space travel and, in a more ambitious sense, colonization of other worlds. Man-made synthetic leaves would be optimal for generating oxygen during a long-term spaceflight, as they require neither soil nor gravity to function.
— CityLab (@CityLab) July 31, 2014
Synthetic leaves could also function as veritable oxygen “factories,” helping to terraform other worlds. “NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space,” Melchiorri said, according to Phys.org, adding, “This material could allow us to explore space much further than we can now.” As The Inquisitr has previously reported, both NASA and several private firms are exploring plans for the possible colonization of Mars, a venture that may be bolstered by synthetic leaves.
Melchiorri also posits that the technology has a range of applications here on Earth as well. Just a thin layer of the leaf material, if used on the facades of buildings or as a wallpaper, could generate fresh oxygen for the interior of a building. “So facades, ventilation programs…You can soak up air from outdoors, pass it by way of these biological filters and then carry oxygenated air inside,” he said.
While the removal of carbon, hydrogen, and sugar are required for functionality (accomplished in plants through vacuoles, stems, and roots that the synthetic leaf lacks), the synthetic leaf may prove to be crucial for man’s next small step into space.
[Image via RT]