Flowers and the machine: Cyborg rose created

24 Nov 2015

Scientists have taken a major step forward in the pursuit of turning flowers into power banks. If you didn’t know that was a pursuit, what’s wrong with you?

Swedish researchers have worked out a way to put electronic circuits into the stem, roots and, ultimately, leaves of plants.

Why is this a big deal? Well, it is essentially converting plants into cyborg-like states, with a few potential developments coming down the line.

With electronics integrated into plants you could, for example, monitor their growth and nutrient production, harvest energy from photosynthesis and even create alternatives to GM foods.

That’s what Magnus Berggren, a professor of organic electronics at Linköping University, thinks, after he led a team to build a working electronic circuit from an ordinary garden rose.

Trial and error

They did this by trialling a whole bunch of potential conductive polymers into the stem, with many failing the introduction process (killing the plant, or failing to bind) until researcher Eleni Stavrinidou found that PEDOT did the job.

The gel-like conductive material bonded to the plant’s structure and, ultimately, created wires.

“When Eleni showed me these beautiful microscope pictures, we understood immediately: we could make circuits out of this,” Berggren said. “The performance, the shape of the wires, were just outstanding, unbelievable.”

Berggren and his colleagues then added this to the petals, with the leaves changing colours when a voltage was applied through the polymer.

“Today, the most natural way to convert the chemical energy of a tree is to burn it, but maybe we could actually gently tap out some of the energy without killing it,” added Berggren.

Rose image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic