Plants make our life bearable. They inhale the carbon dioxide we breathe out and exhale oxygen. But in space there are no plants and growing them on distant planets or moons may be a challenge.
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A synthetic biological leaf made from silk protein could offer a solution. It’s embedded with chloroplasts, the structures in plant cells responsible for photosynthesis, and absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen — just like a real leaf.
Think of the Silk Leaf as a lightweight, low-power oxygen factory for space. Like a real plant, all this one needs is light and little bit of water to function.
It was designed by Royal College of Art Julian Melchiorri, who was looking for a way to convert unbreathable carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts into the stuff made for our lungs.
Melchiorri says that his synthetic leaf has purpose on Earth, too. Large sheets of it could be used on buildings facades or as wallpaper to create more fresh air both indoors and out.
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He developed the leaf in collaboration with Tufts University’s silk lab as part of a design-engineering course at Royal College of Art. You can see more in the video.