Silk leaf maker says material could aid space journeys (w/ Video)

July 30, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog
Silk leaf. Credit: Julian Melchiorri

A graduate of the Royal College of Art has developed a synthetic biological leaf. Potential applications range from the material being used on buildings' facades, or even for support on space journeys for oxygen.

Julian Melchiorri talked about his project, called Silk Leaf, which has been on show at the Royal College of Art. Silk Leaf, he said, a man-made, biological . He said it involves a material extracted directly from the fibers of silk. Melchiorri said the synthetic biological leaf he developed, which absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, is like a real leaf, and could enable long-distance space travel, according to a report in Dezeen. This material, he said, has an amazing property.

"I extracted choloroplasts from plant cells, and placed them inside this silk material." The material work and breathes as a leaf does. "It's very light…low energy-consuming." He also said, "My idea was to use the efficiency of nature in a man-made environment." The synthetic leaf could, among other applications, be used to make long-distance space travel that much more imaginable. The Dezeen report includes pictures of the leaf transformed into lighting and building applications. He said he thought about applications on smaller and larger scales. He imagined its being used as a free surface in interior design, or for outdoor applications. "So facades, ventilation programs…You can soak up air from outdoors, pass it by way of these biological filters and then carry oxygenated air inside."

He also noted the leaf material may be applicable to space travel. "NASA is researching different ways to produce oxygen for long-distance space journeys to let us live in space," he said. "This material could allow us to explore space much further than we can now." A CNET article called it "an oxygen factory for ." Writing in CNET, Eric Mack brought the significance of the NASA idea to light in asking, "what if we could take those biological factories into space with us, but without all the land, sun, water, soil, and gravity that forests tend to require?"

The Silk Leaf project was developed by Melchiorri as part of the Royal College of Art's Innovation Design Engineering course in collaboration with Tufts University silk lab.

Explore further: Synthetic silk: researchers imitate the egg stalks of lacewings

More information:

Related Stories

Synthetic spider silk strong enough for a superhero

March 5, 2014

Spider silk of fantastical, superhero strength is finally speeding toward commercial reality—at least a synthetic version of it is. The material, which is five times stronger than steel, could be used in products from bulletproof ...

Japanese gold leaf artists worked on a nanoscale

July 2, 2014

Ancient Japanese gold leaf artists were truly masters of their craft. An analysis of six ancient Namban paper screens show that these artifacts are gilded with gold leaf that was hand-beaten to the nanometer scale. Study ...

Recommended for you

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Jul 30, 2014
6CO2 + 6H2O (light ->) C6H12O6 + 6O2

In the video there is just talk of CO2 and O2... how is H2O delivered to the system and what happens with the production of sugars?
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
exactly, what happens with the carbon?
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
Well I think that that was an amazing technology with a lot of potential for further development. What I am more astounded by is the fact that this sensible, useful product was developed by an art graduate!
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
"as you may know plants doesn't grow in zero gravity"
I did not know that.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 30, 2014
Imagine an airship made out of PET. The hydrogen lifting gas would get it out to the edge of the atmosphere, a rocket would take it to where the thrust of a 1 km + long ion accelerator would overcome whatever residual atmospheric drag remained.
The airhip would be at least 1 km long with a diameter of 100m. (PET is cheap).
The hydrogen would be combined with oxygen to power the ion driver through a fuel cell.
When the hydrogen was depleted, the craft would be spun on its axis.
The transparent skin would allow the leaf to produce oxygen.
A magnetic field would be required to deflect charged particles.
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
They should just continue making those leaves and using them to make low-maintenance artificial office and house plants, like they're doing now anyway but without the oxygen producing leaves. Just plug them in and breathe oxygenated air.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
Well I think that that was an amazing technology with a lot of potential for further development. What I am more astounded by is the fact that this sensible, useful product was developed by an art graduate!

Response from an Artist - don't be...:-)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.