Rose-Bots: Fusing Plants and Electronics

Perhaps a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a rose equipped with an electronic circuit may provide much more than a sweet smell. At least, that’s what Magnus Berggren, a professor at Linköping University in Sweden, believes. In an unprecedented move, Berggren’s team of researchers, working at the university’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics, has created electronic circuits inside living roses.

Unlike previous attempts at incorporating plants and electronics, this project involved using the roses’ own vascular systems in order to install the circuits. The research team “aimed to assemble polymer-based ‘wires’ on the inside of a plant’s xylem, the tubelike channel that transports water up a plant’s stem to the leaves.”[1] A polymer is a long, chain-like molecule that consists of thousands of atoms bonded together in a repeating pattern. Berggren’s group dissolved conductive polymers in water and submerged the roots or cut stem of a rose into the solution. The researchers hoped that the plant would then pull the solution into its xylem and link the polymers together, forming wires of sorts. For three years, the scientists experimented with more than a dozen polymers, but none was successful; the polymers were not drawn up into the xylem, did not assemble into wires, or sometimes poisoned the roses.[2]

Finally, they tried the polymer PEDOT-S:H, a success. On November 20, 2015, the team reported that the roses had easily pulled the polymer into their xylems, forming wires as long as 10 cm. When the researchers applied a charge to the wires, the wires conducted electricity without harming the roses. They were also able to create transistors in the roses, forming a true electronic circuit. In a flashier move, the team added electronic components to the roses’ leaves, “essentially creating an array of pixels” that made it seem like the leaves were changing colors when different voltages were applied.

The applications of this technology are not yet certain, but the researchers have high hopes. According to Berggren, they could insert sensors into plants that would monitor the plants’ physiological activity; for example, they could detect when plants are about to flower. They could even use the fusion of plants and electronics to delay or catalyze flowering. Both of these practices would be extremely beneficial to agriculturalists. Another potential application of this technology—one that impacts everybody—is to harness the photosynthesis of electronically rigged plants to generate electricity in an environmentally clean way. Even if none of these applications is realized, there remains one simple fact that Zhenan Bao, an organic electronics expert at Stanford, sums up perfectly: rigging plants with electronic circuits is “really cool.”

 

References

  1. Service, Robert F. (2015). In electrifying advance, researchers create circuit within living plants. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved fromhttp://news.sciencemag.org/technology/2015/11/electrifying-advance-researchers-create-circuit-within-living-plants
  2. Ghose, Tia (2015). Cyborg roses wired with self-growing circuits.Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/52872-electronic-plants-created.html

Linköping University. (2015, November 20). Electronic plants created. ScienceDaily. Retrieved fromwww.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151120182611.htm

Thompson, Helen (2015). Roses rigged with electrical circuitry.ScienceNews. Retrieved fromhttps://www.sciencenews.org/blog/science-ticker/roses-rigged-electrical-circuitry

Bourzac, Katherine (2015). Bionic roses implanted with electronic circuits. Scientific American. Retrieved fromhttp://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bionic-roses-implanted-with-electronic-circuits/

Szondy, David (2015). Scientists create electronic circuits in living roses. Gizmag. Retrieved from http://www.gizmag.com/linkoping-university-electronics-plants/40557/

Republished from December 2015

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