Scientists created the glowing effect without any genetic modification.

Imagine walking out into your backyard at night and taking a stroll through a green-glowing garden, like something out of the "Avatar" movie. Now imagine that same effect while indoors; a home lit solely by luminescent plants.

Well, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are well on their way to making this fantasy a reality for all of us. They have developed glowing plants that might soon replace your desk lamp, with the ultimate goal of eventually superseding the need for electric lighting in our homes entirely.

“The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp - a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,” explained Michael Strano, MIT researcher and senior author of the study, in a press release.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the research is that the glowing plants were created without any genetic modification whatsoever. Rather, the research team developed a method within the field of plant nanobiotics, which basically involves infusing living cells with nanoparticles that can perform a particular task. Before bestowing plants with the power of light, this methodology has been used to design plants to do things like detect explosives or monitor drought conditions.

The science behind the glow

To make the plants glow, the nanoparticles used were loaded with the enzyme luciferase and the molecule luciferin, which are the chemicals at play that allow fireflies to light up. Researchers coaxed plants to absorb these particles from a liquid solution by immersing them under pressure, which forces the stromata - tiny pores on the underside of the leaves - to open up.

So far, the method has been used on watercress, arugula, spinach and kale, each with extraordinary effect. The glowing only lasts for around four hours, but researchers hope to eventually make the ability permanent.

"Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant," said Strano. "Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes."

The light produced by the glowing plants is still too faint to light a home, or even to read a book under, but that should also improve as the technology develops. Researchers are even working on a mechanism that allows the plants to be shut off when other ambient light is already available (such as when the sun is shining).

Soon enough, we might not need electricity for lighting at all. How cool would it be if glowing gardens provided all of our lighting needs at night? Highways could be lit by the trees than line them; Christmas lights could be nanoparticle-infused grapevines. The technology has the potential to improve the aesthetic of all of our living spaces, all without any power other than the metabolisms of the vegetation around us.

The research was published in the journal Nano Letters.

From Atlas Beetles’ ponderous lift off to Starlings’ gracefully synchronized aerial maneuvering, Conquest of the Skies 3D covers the full gamut of natural flight.

On January 27, the newest film to fill the IMAX 3D Theater’s six-story screen gets even more incredible thanks to A Party in the Sky. This one-time event will feature pre- and post-screening activities that offer deeper insights into the eons-old story of how animals took to the heavens.

Before takeoff, kids will meet “Velcro,” the Aquarium’s Flying Squirrel and complete a crafting activity in the theater lobby.

For mid-flight entertainment, the Party continues with a screening of Conquest of the Skies. For 45 minutes, guests will be dazzled by slow-motion footage of hummingbirds jousting, awed by the soaring leaps of Harlequin Flying Frogs and taken back in time (courtesy of computer-generated animation) to watch winged reptiles make the nature’s forays into the Paleozoic skies.

After touchdown, the fun continues in a nearby classroom with bird- and flying insect-related games and activities that build on the film’s lessons.

Education staff overseeing the activities will ensure no kid leaves with questions unanswered or curiosity unsatisfied, says Aquarium Group Program Manager Carrie Shaw.

“I think kids will take away from the film that there are lots of different animals that have adapted to fly for lots of different reasons and in lots of different ways,” Shaw says. “Afterward, they can ask educators about what they saw. Normally, there’s not a lot of inquiry involved with seeing an IMAX film, so this is a good opportunity to connect with us and deepen their understanding.”

Even after the party ends, the learning doesn’t have to. By purchasing a separate admission to the Aquarium, guests can get up close and personal with a wide variety of natural aviators, from a Snowy Egret and native songbirds in the Mississippi Delta Country to dozens of Longwing Butterfly species flitting through the Butterfly Garden.

The Party in the Sky is scheduled for 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Jan. 27. Registration is $8 for Aquarium members (all ages) and $12 for non-members. Price includes a ticket to the 2 p.m. screening of Conquest of the Skies 3D. Optional admission to the Aquarium is $29.95 for adults, $18.95 for ages 3-12.

For more information about A Party in the Sky or to register in advance, visit community.tnaqua.org/events/member-programs/winter/2017/conquest-of-the-skies.

 

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