Timon Singh

Could Golden Nanoparticles Transform Trees Into Street Lights?

by , 07/18/14

Street lights are an important part of our urban infrastructure—they light our way home and make the roads safe at night. But what if we could create natural street lights that don’t need electricity to power them? A group of scientists in Taiwan discovered that placing gold nanoparticles within the leaves of trees causes them to give off a luminous reddish glow. The idea of using trees to replace street lights is an ingenious one: not only would it save on electricity costs and cut CO2 emissions, but it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities.

bio-luminescence, chlorophyll, gold nanoparticles, LEDs, street lights, trees, nanoscale, chemistry world, taiwan glowing trees, glowing trees, gold nanoparticles trees, nanoparticles glowing trees

The discovery came about accidentally after the scientists were looking for a way to create high-efficiency lighting similar to LED technology, but without using toxic chemicals such as phosphor powder. Speaking about the development, Professor Shih-Hui Chang said, “Light emitting diode (LED) has replaced traditional light source in many display panels and street lights on the road. A lot of light emitting diode, especially white light emitting diode, uses phosphor powder to stimulate light of different wavelengths. However, phosphor powder is highly toxic and its price is expensive. As a result, Dr. Yen-Hsun Wu had the idea to discover a method that is less toxic to replace phosphor powder. This is a major motivation for him to engage in the research at the first place.”

By implanting the gold nanoparticles into the leaves of the Bacopa caroliniana plants, the scientists were able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission. Under a high wavelength of ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles were able to produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission in the surrounding chlorophyll.

 

bio-luminescence, chlorophyll, gold nanoparticles, LEDs, street lights, trees, nanoscale, chemistry world, taiwan glowing trees, glowing trees, gold nanoparticles trees, nanoparticles glowing trees

Photo © mrhayata

“In the future, bio-LED could be used to make roadside trees luminescent at night. This will save energy and absorb CO2 as the bio-LED luminescence will cause the chloroplast to conduct photosynthesis,” Dr. Yen-Hsun Su said in an interview with Chemistry World. The Royal Society of Chemistry, the largest organization in Europe for advancing the chemical sciences, applauded the discovery and published the paper by lead scientist Dr. Yen-Hsun Wu in the journal Nanoscale.

Via Electro IQ

Lead image via Shutterstock

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41 Comments

  1. Golden Nanoparticles Tr... July 18, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    [...] Via [...]

  2. venturai January 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Easy… Just put the nano particles into a cactus. They don’t have trees that fall and they have chlorophyl :)

  3. 7yler January 9, 2011 at 2:37 am

    Not to be a bother, but has anyone asked what happens when bugs, birds, and this little guy [http://goo.gl/WP0iW] eat from these golden tree-lights?

  4. Erik van Lennep January 2, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Sometimes I despair….. another article leaping to unfounded conclusions, touting so-called benefits of technology-over-Nature. Sure it’s interesting, even a bit cool in a passing way. But useful? It seems to me like yet one more instance of our vast misunderstanding of how systems link causes with effects, as well as our cluelessness regarding natural organisms and their functions. I don’t understand why this was even listed in Inhabitat.

  5. tmara December 25, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    this is a real good idea. except for anything eating the gold, or trying to live in the trees at night, or the trees themselves. or eventually us. modifing nature has always worked out so well for human.

  6. treestoryguy November 29, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    That is awesome.

  7. stev3 November 22, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Amazing

  8. weave November 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    VANCOUVER, CANADA – November 16, 2014 – Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson called for better police enforcement in parks and forests at an environmental rally yesterday in now-treeless Stanley Park. “It’s incredibly unfortunate that we can no longer have trees in downtown Vancouver,” stated Robertson, at a Save the Trees rally. “It’s been a losing battle ever since we switched to nanoparticles, and our local meth addicts realized they could get cash for gold.”

    Oh, come on, you know it’d happen. :)

  9. nyhippie November 15, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    No, this finding was for LEDs ALONE – “The principal characteristic of diodes sold for lighting purposes is the high proportion of blue in the white light emitted and their very high luminance (“brightness”). The issues of most concern identified by the Agency concern the eye due to the toxic effect of blue light and the risk of glare.”

    Here’s the report from ANSES (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) – http://via-verlag.com/fileadmin/PDFs/ANSES_PR_LED_risks_e.pdf

  10. Hyncharas November 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    nyhiipe said:
    “shining UV and blue light from LED is just simply a BAD idea – the lights emitted from LED in the UV and blue spectrums are already proven to be HARMFUL to the human eye and children under the age of 12 are extremely susceptible to this – …the intense blue-white light exerts “toxic stress” to the retina, with a severe risk of glare. Children are particularly sensitive to this health hazard since their eyes are still developing and the lens is not capable of filtering out the harmful wavelengths.”

    I don’t think that’s what they’re suggesting at all. Under lab conditions artificial UV light is required, but in the real world such organic LEDs would be powered by the Sun’s rays, and then probably a chemical reaction that released the energy stored by the nanoparticles as a form of “chlorolight” would be used every night that didn’t damage the collection process.

    Having said that, blue and UV light is emitted from neon lamps and such, so I doubt we’ll be seeing manufacturers changing those because of a health risk anytime soon. White, pink, amber and green lighting would be best from what you’ve said, however, which are more common from the old street lamps and probably wouldn’t create the same medical problems.

  11. Rosita November 15, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Can the trees be turned off? If the branches are lopped off do they glow? What is the effect on humans who live close to the trees for a few years?

  12. HelloWorld November 14, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    FYI the images provided are unrelated. They’re trees under normal lighting.

  13. nyhippie November 14, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    shining UV and blue light from LED is just simply a BAD idea – the lights emitted from LED in the UV and blue spectrums are already proven to be HARMFUL to the human eye and children under the age of 12 are extremely susceptible to this – …the intense blue-white light exerts “toxic stress” to the retina, with a severe risk of glare. Children are particularly sensitive to this health hazard since their eyes are still developing and the lens is not capable of filtering out the harmful wavelengths.

    don\’t put a relatively new idea into too many CREATIVE IDEAS without the proper testing and trials first.

  14. nyhippie November 14, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    get your FACTS right – fluorescent powder is toxic, phosphur is NOT.

  15. Waslop November 14, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    A much less confusing article about this is on new scientist. This does need constant UV, the gold particles will need constantly replacing, and it results in a very dim red glow; “…perhaps for decorative effect or even to provide faint illumination” http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19675-glowing-plants-have-gold-in-their-veins.html

  16. conundrum49 November 13, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I was about to read through these responses and leave the article be…. but one of my biggest pet peeves is when people are *improperly* corrected.

    agenlate said:
    “BTW it doesnt need UV light to glow….the article said the leaves glow red in normal light, and go blue in UV light…”

    *Actually*, I would like to point out, as explicitly stated in the original article:

    “Under a high wavelength of ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles were able to produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission in the surrounding chlorophyll.”

    Let us analyze that sentence, shall we?
    UV light makes the nanoparticles glow blue/violet, the blue/violet glow of the nanoparticles then triggers a RED emission in the chlorophyll. The mechanism is very clearly UV -> nanoparticles -> chlorophyll -> red glow. You might have been able to argue that, perhaps, the nanoparticles’ blue/violet glow created the overall color, except that the the article also specifically stated earlier that “A group of scientists in Taiwan recently discovered that placing gold nanoparticles within the leaves of trees, causes them to give off a luminous reddish glow”, and that “scientists were able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission”. All of these things invalidate agenlate’s statement.

    as for Jeff Shaner… why are these responses moronic? People are expressing their opinions (whether right or wrong) as per their own understanding of the science. Maybe if most people think the idea is a bad one, it could actually be bad? Or maybe the writer of this inhabitat article simply mis-interpreted the intent of the original article. I don’t know. But don’t put people down uselessly

  17. Hyncharas November 13, 2010 at 5:03 am

    I have mixed reservations about this project; particularly in the hues that the trees will be able to generate. Most people with Photosensitive Epilepsy suffer as a result of continuous shifts in the colour when they are looking at it. When the trees are “breathing” light in this part of the spectrum, people with the condition may suffer a seizure.

    If, however, the same technique can be used to generate additional colours, I see no reason why it couldn’t be approved as a viable technology.

  18. agenlate November 13, 2010 at 1:51 am

    BTW it doesnt need UV light to glow….the article said the leaves glow red in normal light, and go blue in UV light….

  19. jeff shaner November 13, 2010 at 12:23 am

    I am simply amazed by the truly moronic responses to this wonderful science story.

  20. audrey fischer November 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    You know, TerraHertz has a very good point, “How about we humans just stop trying to make night like day?”

    I, for another, would like to have the beautiful dark night sky and stars back in the city. How about you? Citizens working together, can reclaim a starry night sky back into healthy family living. We can grow up finally… most lights provide us with the “feeling” of security… and little more other than pollution and expense to the taxpayers.

    There is plenty of room for balance and compromise of how much artificial light we allow UP in the sky without an ounce of compromise to human safety or comfort.

    Read more: Gold Nanoparticles Could Transform Trees Into Street Lights | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World

  21. Audrey Fischer November 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    ya know, TerraHertz has a very good point:

    \”How about we humans just stop trying to make night like day?\”

    I, too, would like to have the beautiful dark night sky and stars back in the city. What about you?

    Together, we can do this.

  22. Audrey A Fischer November 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Fascinating. . . but, what is the goal here? to illuminate the tree or the ground beneath it?
    Look at the deep shadows beneath the trees… how can that simulate the effects of a properly designed streetlight? btw, it is rare to even see a properly designed street light. Most streetlights greatly contribute to light pollution unnecessarily so, simply because the wrong design was chosen… and many are not even needed at all! Citizens are way too complacent to permit BAD LIGHTING installed in their neighborhoods… many shining into the privacy of their own homes. Even, otherwise thoughtful, homeowners seem to be totally oblivious to their security lights shining into their neighbors’ property and windows. We are way too excited to grab onto new technology clueless to its effects to human health or to the environment. Be careful with nanotecno and blue LEDs… and, it is wise to cautiously limit artificial light at night both inside and out as much as you practically and safely can. Don’t take my word for it; there is compelling, interesting research to back these concerns. search it out.

  23. jaybray November 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Awesome idea! I hope this actually happens. What if you live in the desert? Can they make tumbleweeds glow, or maybe the cacti?

  24. Audrey Fischer November 12, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    what is the goal here? to illuminate the tree or the ground beneath it?
    Look at the deep shadows beneath the trees… how can that simulate the effects of a properly designed streetlight? btw, it is rare to even see a properly designed street light. Most streetlights greatly contribute to light pollution unnecessarily so… and many are not even needed at all! Citizens are way too complacent to allow it. We are way too excited to grab onto new technology clueless to its effects to human health or to the environment. Be careful with nanotecno and blue LEDs… and, it is wise to cautiously limit artificial light at night both inside and out as much as you practically and safely can. There is compelling, interesting research to back these concerns.

  25. Raveendranathan November 12, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Excellent development!

  26. psolomon November 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

    In addition to the excellent point made by others, I’m concerned about the rush to employ nanotechnology while we still know very little about the effects of nanoparticles on humans and other biological systems. We already know that the size of particles can make a huge difference to biological effects. For instance, air pollution due to ultrafine particles is much more harmful than pollution containing larger particles.

  27. GerryPower November 12, 2010 at 12:45 am

    “…it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities.”

    I’m a professional lighting designer and this statement makes no sense. The way to reduce light pollution is to aim the source at the task, e.g.; all the light from a street light should aim down. It seems laughable to assert that all the leaves will point in the same direction.

  28. Helpful November 12, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Hint for the Taiwanese scientists: trees will give off even more light… when you burn them.

  29. conundrum49 November 11, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    @Brook

    Its not that I want them to drop it all and say \”my life is useless\”… if nothing else, science gets by much better when people are adding ALL their ideas to the conceptual stew.

    Just, their suggested application seems nonsensical, and reporting it as \”the future of streetlamps\” seems a little distant from the truth.
    If they were proposing to use the red-glow ability to, in the future, engineer trees that can display advertisements in glowing red during the daytime (when UV radiation is actually substantial), then at least that would make sense. What they are currently saying is akin to saying \”We tried putting water skiis on our feet, and we were able to waterski behind a boat and stay above the water\’s surface. Perhaps in the future, these advanced skiis will let us walk over any water body at our leisure.\” Without the motorboat and/or cruising velocity, there\’s no chance of waterskiis letting you just walk across water. In the same way, there\’s a small chance of these glowing trees working at night when there is practically no UV radiation to power them.

  30. crazyGreen November 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    it worked on Pandora, so why not earth!

  31. Brook November 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Wow. This clearly isn\’t a practical application, yet but with all these comments you guys would prefer this person to give up. This is exciting if for no other reason than the ideas it will generate.

  32. War_lothar November 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    “Ummm, what happens in fall / winter when the leaves start dropping?”

    Evergreen tree…

  33. MrEMann November 11, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Be nice if the pictures actually showed the stuff in action instead of daytime pics with applied color effects or the one night time pic with obvious uplighting.

  34. TerraHertz November 11, 2010 at 4:53 am

    Yes, to everything kpoole asked. Plus, pics of some red-glowing leaves or it didn’t happen. All the illustrations to this article are near-IR photographs of ordinary scenes.

    How about we humans just stop trying to make night like day? I for one would like to have the beautiful dark night sky and stars back in the city. Vehicle lights, and cheap, efficient, non-light-polluting personal LED lights at night – who really needs more?

  35. xs400 November 11, 2010 at 2:36 am

    How does it affect the trees themselves?

  36. jltnol November 10, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    What do the trees think about this?

  37. avdspm November 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    at over $1000 an ounce, I hardly think gold will be used in the near future to light up trees.

  38. conundrum49 November 10, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    hmmm… based on what I remember about chlorophyll, when the molecules are free (eg not attached or “plugged in” to the photosystems in the plant chloroplasts)they will fluoresce red under radiation. This behaviour comes about because the energy has nowhere to be transferred after absorption, and becomes re-emitted as light. When chlorophyll is properly incorporated in a photosynthetic framework, it doesn’t glow because its extra energy powers the rest of photosynthesis.

    Based on these points…. it seems reasonable to assume (to me) that the gold nanoparticles are somehow disrupting the ability of chlorophyll to transfer its energy to the photosynthetic pathway. IF this is the case (granted I don’t know for sure that it is), then any plant with this modification would not remain healthy for long. Disrupting photosynthesis means no production of carbs, amino acids, etc, and would probably lead fairly quickly to the death of the plant.

    Additionally, it would require gold (not cheap), which would get lost as the plant lost leaves. And, perhaps most uselessly, without ultraviolet radiation, there would be no glow. Hence, at night, when the light is actually needed, the trees would be dark as ever. I agree with kpoole that chemical illumination is a far better path, like that found in fireflies or jellyfish.

  39. dizzymonkey November 10, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Ummm, what happens in fall / winter when the leaves start dropping?

  40. kpoole November 10, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    So, we implant Gold nanoparticles into the leaves of trees which then fluoresce when exposed to ultra violet light.

    Who collects the gold in the fall when the leaves drop, where does the gold come from to implant each year, how much gold would be required to activate a large tree, WHERE does the ultraviolet light come from at night to make the trees glow so they can replace the street lights, ultraviolet street lights?

    It might be better to use the some type of chemiluminescence, as fireflies use, rather than depending on one source of light to create another source of light.

  41. ltsiros November 10, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    How about the birds? I’m sure this would affect their behaviour

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