It seems like we are constantly getting a little bit closer to being able to live in outer space, but one teeny-tiny little detail keeps holding us back: oxygen. Plants just don’t like zero gravity environments, and toting around an indefinite oxygen supply isn’t really feasible. Enter the Silk Leaf: a manmade “plant” that can actually create endless oxygen using light and water.
Julian Melchiorri wanted to create a way to produce oxygen in space that could handle the harsh environment of interstellar travel. What he created is an artificial leaf that has the chloroplast from the plants we know and love actually suspended inside. Melchiorri used a silk fiber to suspend the chloroplast in place so that it can still act like a plant but with a sort of super-structure to make it extra durable.
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“I extracted chloroplasts from plant cells and placed them inside this silk protein. As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does, “Melchiorri told Dezeen. He also says that he wanted to build off of nature’s own system to take advantage of a proven method and the leaves won’t just be handy for exploring the far reaches of the galaxy. Back here on Earth, they can be used as biological air filters or oxygen producers.
Images via Dezeen/Julian Melchiorri