Royal College of Art graduate Julian Melchiorri has created the first man-made, biologically functional leaf that takes in carbon dioxide, water, and light and releases oxygen. The leaf consists of chloroplasts — the part of a plant cell where photosynthesis happens — suspended in body made of silk protein.
“This material has an amazing property of stabilizing (the chloroplast) organelles,” Melchiorri says in the video below. “As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does.”
In addition to its potential value to space travel, Melchiorri also imagines the technology literally providing a breath of fresh air to indoor and outdoor spaces here on Earth. The facades of buildings and lampshades could be made to exhale fresh air with just a thin coating of the leaf material.