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MIT researchers think glowing plants could reshape our relationship to the built environment

Researchers at MIT have discovered a way to turn plants into sources of light and are imagining a new conception of architecture revolving around them.

This year's Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial features plants that have been injected with nanoparticles that make them glow, which the researchers behind them think might help us reconsider lighting design. (Courtesy MIT)
This year’s Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial features plants that have been injected with nanoparticles that make them glow, which the researchers behind them think might help us reconsider lighting design. (Courtesy MIT)

By Drew Zeiba

Could the solution to more sustainable buildings be what’s planted in and around them? Researchers at MIT have discovered a way to turn plants into sources of light and are imagining a new conception of architecture that would integrate them into everyday spaces as a more sustainable alternative to electric lighting.

In 2017 MIT chemical engineer Michael Strano devised a method to make plants glow without genetic modification. Plants are submerged in a solution filled with nanoparticles that have been enriched with an enzyme called luciferase, which is what allows creatures like fireflies to give off light. High pressure is added to push the nanoparticles through the pores of leaves. While the techniques have grown in efficiency over the past two years, researchers are currently working to devise nano-capacitors that will store light and allow it to give off illumination over time, as well as adapting the technology for larger plants such as trees.

Strano partnered up with MIT professor and Kennedy & Violich Architecture partner Sheila Kennedy to imagine how the technology could shape the built future. Rather than treating the light-up plants as “just another light bulb,” the team wanted to think critically about how plants fit into architecture more broadly.

Read On >>> Source: ArchPaper MIT researchers think glowing plants could reshape our relationship to the built environment

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