A synthetic biological leaf made by Julian Melchiorri might help humans colonize other planets and filter outdoor air here on Earth.

Photo Credit: Julian Melchiorri   Royal College of Arts (RCA) graduate Julian Melchiorri has developed a synthetic leaf that works just like the real thing -- it absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. The development could mean that long-distance space travel is closer than we think. "Plants don't grow in zero gravity," Melchiorri said. "NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. This material could allow us to explore space much further than we can now." Called the Silk Leaf, the synthetic plant has chloroplasts suspended in a matrix made of silk protein. "The material is extracted directly from the fibers of silk," Melchiorri said. "This material has an amazing property of stabilising molecules. I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does." Just like natural leaves, all the Silk Leaf needs is light and a bit of water or produce oxygen. "My idea was to use the efficiency of nature in a man-made environment," Melchiorri explained of his project. "I created some lighting out of this material, using the light to illuminate the house but at the same time to create oxygen for us." He adds that the material could also be used for ventilation systems to filter the air in outdoor settings. 

Photo Credit: Julian Melchiorri

 

Royal College of Arts (RCA) graduate Julian Melchiorri has developed a synthetic leaf that works just like the real thing -- it absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. The development could mean that long-distance space travel is closer than we think.

"Plants don't grow in zero gravity," Melchiorri said. "NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space. This material could allow us to explore space much further than we can now."

Called the Silk Leaf, the synthetic plant has chloroplasts suspended in a matrix made of silk protein.

"The material is extracted directly from the fibers of silk," Melchiorri said. "This material has an amazing property of stabilising molecules. I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does."

Just like natural leaves, all the Silk Leaf needs is light and a bit of water or produce oxygen.

"My idea was to use the efficiency of nature in a man-made environment," Melchiorri explained of his project. "I created some lighting out of this material, using the light to illuminate the house but at the same time to create oxygen for us."

He adds that the material could also be used for ventilation systems to filter the air in outdoor settings.