Sun plays a vital role in our ecosystem, being an incredible and rich source of energy. Plants harvest this energy from the day-star and offer food to other creatures. Leaves have a god-gifted technology which enables them to gather sunlight. After that, molecules of chlorophyll use this energy to transform carbon dioxide and water into glucose. Plants use this glucose and emit oxygen as a by-product. This entire process often referred to as photosynthesis, is a natural one. On the other hand, scientists from the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) have attempted to create an artificial leaf. It is not an ordinary leaf or any showpiece; it has the potential to produce drugs.
Yes, you got it right, scientists have designed the artificial leaves to simulate the process of photosynthesis. Those leaves are made up of translucent materials which also includes small microfluidic routes like veins. The material enables sunlight to enter inside and head it towards the channels. After that, the energy combines with some liquid present in the channels and result in a useful by-product. Here, the concept is that the sunlight energy initiates a chemical reaction in that liquid, transforming it into a fuel or medicine. The TEU team had developed the leaf back in 2016. At the time, they had used silicon rubber to make the device. But the latest version they have used Plexiglas.
As per Timothy Noël, lead scientist of the team, they have used the material because it is low-cost and easy to produce in a massive quantity. Apart from that, Plexiglas offers the ability to add excessive types if light-responsive molecules in it. Thus, scientists can use the reactor across the whole array of visible light. After testing the latest human-made leaves, scientists have found that it can turn out two distinct drugs. Firstly, it emits artimensinin, an active drug to treat malaria. Secondly, it releases ascaridole, which is used to tackle some parasitic insects. Authors of the study note that with its small size and adaptivity, the artificial leaf could help develop medicines and other molecules. The leading scientist says there are almost none of the barriers to putting this device in reality, except that it functions only on sunlight.