Researchers in Sweden have created what they are calling an electronic plant, a machine-plant hybrid that has electrically conductive wiring integrated into it’s internal structure. The research team sees a wide variety of applications for this development, including plants that can react to environmental changes, or plants that could act as electrical batteries, using photosynthesis as a power source.
This cyborg rose was made by taking an ordinary garden rose, and immersing the clipped stem into a solution of a liquid polymer that was drawn up into the plant’s xylem vascular channels, the plant’s naturally-occurring internal fluid transport system. Once inside the channels, the polymer self-assembled into a conductive strand that could act as a wire that an electrical current could be sent through. These wires were then connected to naturally-occurring electrolytes in the plant’s tissue, and through that were able to create simple electrochemical transistors, a logic gate, and other electronic components.
A similar process was used to inundate the interior of the plant’s leaves, to achieve a similar effect, creating an electrically-conductive layer within the leaf. The polymer formed individual electrochemical cells that could act as pixels, that could change colour when an electrical current was applied, to be used as a simple monochrome display.
“Now we can really start talking about ‘power plants’—we can place sensors in plants and use the energy formed in the chlorophyll, produce green antennas, or produce new materials,” muses study lead Magnus Berggren, from Linköping University. “Everything occurs naturally, and we use the plants’ own very advanced, unique systems.”