Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden have created electronic plants. The staff at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics inserted semi-conductive polymers inside living flowers, trees and bushes, creating electronic circuits that could regulate the plant´s physiology. The study was published in the journal Science Advances.
Professor Magnus Berggren has been doing research in paper printed electronics since the 1990s. From that research he developed the idea of inserting electronics in a plant. After many unsuccessful attempts to obtain funding, he finally could convince the Knut and Allenberg Foundation to finance the project. The main idea was to use the plant´s communication conducts to introduce analog and digital pathways: in this way, the plant would send signals through electrons and the plant´s natural signals, ions. Using organic electronics, Professor Berggren tries to add to the plant´s traditional communication system an electronic circuit that can handle existing and new functions. For example, photosyntetic energy could be directed to and captured in a cell, and growth of plants could be electronically controlled by regulating the concentration of molecules that regulate development.
A polymer that solidifies inside the plant and becomes an electronic circuit
The researchers developed a water-soluble polymer, PEDOT-S, that can be introduced as a liquid in the plant´s channels. Once inside, the polymer becomes a hydrogel that the team transformed into a transistor by adding a gate and electrodes. Besides, an alternative polymer was mixed with nanocellulose and inserted into flowers’ petals. The mix produced a cellulose mesh with polymer-filled cavities, a sort of electrochemical cell array that could, for example, be used to change the flower color.
In the near future, electronic plants could be used as power plants, green antennas or as a source of new materials.