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Gold Nanoparticles Turn Trees Into Streetlights 348

Posted by samzenpus
from the elf-approved dept.
An anonymous reader writes "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 recently 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."
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Gold Nanoparticles Turn Trees Into Streetlights

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  • Ha! (Score:4, Funny)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:36PM (#34191060) Journal

    I welcome our reddish glowing leafy overlords.

    • Re:Ha! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:49PM (#34191208) Homepage Journal

      Yes! And the additional health-benefit [nih.gov] of inhaling loose, blowing nano-particles [nanowerk.com] - and the subsequent introduction to the pulmonary systems of city-dwellers [discovermagazine.com] - is surely the cincher on this!

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Gold is a bit "healthier" than other, more reactive, metals. But not sure how much worse would be compared with what (fuel powered) cars already do.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by PitaBred (632671)

        Gold is non-bioreactive in humans. It won't matter if it enters our lungs, as it doesn't cause any issues.

      • Re:Ha! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Thursday November 11, 2010 @12:30AM (#34193364) Homepage Journal

        You're over-reacting.

        I mean, they're just talking about making trees luminescent. What could possibly go wrong?

        I know it's a triviality to most of us, but I wonder what the birds and insects will think of trees that glow all night? I remember when Chicago went from mercury vapor lights, which were sort of silver, to sodium vapor lights, which were much brighter and a harsh yellow. We lost several species of birds and bats from the entire metropolitan area. That coincided with a huge jump in the mosquito population, which we dealt with by having trucks drive down the streets spraying...something.

        But that's a small price to pay if we can save some oil so we can drive giant SUVs for a few more years. I mean, not having birds is one thing, but having to drive a downsized sport-utility vehicle is just too much to bear.

        It reminds me that the last time I was in Southern Europe (Italy, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro), there didn't seem to be any songbirds at all left. You found tons of pigeons, but no songbirds. So it goes.

  • Now... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:37PM (#34191062) Journal

    Make it occur naturally.

    Or rather - aren't there some kinds of mushrooms and other flora that glow in the dark? Why not just splice that plant with a tree. I know, I use the term splice like its an easy task.

    • by ajrs (186276)

      Make it occur naturally.

      Or rather - aren't there some kinds of mushrooms and other flora that glow in the dark? Why not just splice that plant with a tree. I know, I use the term splice like its an easy task.

      actually, splicing is fairly easy with trees- or did you mean genetic splicing?

      • by pspahn (1175617)

        When you say 'easy', sure, the mechanics of it are pretty simple, but there is a lot of science that goes into figuring out which root stocks are the best for different grafted tops. It's not exactly as simple as "graft random root stock to random top".

        I am certainly no expert on the anatomy of mushrooms, but I would imagine that a tree's vascular system is dramatically different than a mushroom. Don't think that would be possible. You would be better off trying to get the mushrooms to simply grow in the w

    • Re:Now... (Score:5, Funny)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:54PM (#34191264) Journal

      Look pal, I saw that movie. I'm willing to invite reddish glowing leafy overlords, but I put my foot down at glowing leafy fungal overlords.

    • by tmosley (996283)
      It is an easy task--at least much easier than introducing gold nanoparticles into thousands of trees somehow. Bioluminescence genes spliced into the germline will give you completely free lighting, rather than having to spend money on nano-gold.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      aren't there some kinds of mushrooms and other flora that glow in the dark?

      Yeah, but they're not quite as ubiquitous along paths you'd like to light up as -trees- are. They also don't seem to be bright enough.

      Why not just splice that plant with a tree

      There's the issue of releasing genetically engineered organisms into the environment. If they were spending significant amounts of energy glowing at night, they might not grow as well as normal trees, if you spliced something in to make them artificially competitive you'd worry about that leaking out into other plants.

    • Re:Now... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @07:12PM (#34191416)

      First of all, they're shining high wavelength ultraviolet light at the chlorophyll in the leaves (useless in New England this time of year). This is not an advance in passive lighting but basically a molecular version of putting florescent paint on plants. It is a conversion of projected light. Secondly, the article doesn't state how much UV light is required so there's no way to know whether this is even a reasonable replacement in terms of energy savings (to say nothing of how hard it is to set up gold-leaf trees instead of street lights). That this is even considered a replacement for real streetlights here on Slashdot is a pure flight of fantasy. You might as well talk about how Unicorns will replace chicken as a primary protein source for Americans.

  • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:38PM (#34191070)
    Yeah because mining gold and refining it and the turning it into nano-particles takes zero energy....
  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:39PM (#34191072) Homepage Journal

    I'd be chopping down trees everywhere!!!!

    Nah, I know the particles are so small it would make the effort a waste of time. That aside, on a serious note, what happens to the "streetlights" when the Fall comes each year?

    • by snowraver1 (1052510) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:47PM (#34191178)
      Use fir trees. Bonus: Your X-mas tree no longer needs lights!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dwywit (1109409)
      1. Buy a broom

      2. ????

      3. Profit!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pspahn (1175617)
      The plant these guys used in TFA is a perennial, so it's not going to matter until they can figure out how to do the same in a large tree. At that point, I would imagine they would focus efforts on broadleaf evergreens (boxwoods, euonymous, some others). I don't know why conifers wouldn't be possible either, there's just generally a much lower surface area.
      • The plant these guys used in TFA is a perennial, so it's not going to matter until they can figure out how to do the same in a large tree. At that point, I would imagine they would focus efforts on broadleaf evergreens (boxwoods, euonymous, some others). I don't know why conifers wouldn't be possible either, there's just generally a much lower surface area.

        What the hell?!?!?! C'mon!!!! There's a rule here against RTFA!!!!

        Oh, wait... I forgot... The rule actually is:
        - one set of people here needs to NOT RTFA
        - the other set has to RTFA so they can tell the first group of people they shoulda RTFA.

        Next week I think I am in the "Must RTFA" group.

        ;-)

        • by pspahn (1175617)
          Sorry. I've been illustrating trees all day and had to find something relevant to work while at the same time a little distracting.
  • Autumn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:40PM (#34191084)

    The nice thing about street lights, though, is that they don't fall off every autumn.

  • Even better (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hope Thelps (322083) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:40PM (#34191088)

    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.

    Even better, a group of US capitalists has discovered that setting fire to the trees produces an even more luminous glow, at no cost to the company, keeping the gold available for executive bonuses.

  • When I Was a Kid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:40PM (#34191092) Homepage Journal

    When I was a kid, sprinkling heavy metals around was considered a bad thing.

    My, how times change.

    -Peter

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by M. Baranczak (726671)

      Gold is a "heavy metal", but it's non-toxic. That's why they can make dental crowns out of it.

      There are many reasons why this is a stupid idea, but that isn't one of them.

      • Just goes to show what you can learn by posting snarky comments on slashdot!

        -Peter

      • Yes, but we're talking about nanoparticles. Asbestos is not chemically toxic, but its phsycial properties render it hazardous. Who knows what gold-dust might do? Just sayin'.
      • by sznupi (719324)

        Drinking it won't harm you, too. [wikipedia.org] Well, sort of...

        PS. Street lighting is as much about perception of safety (drinking the above helps also with that BTW). Even if I'd like something which impacts night vision less (red light is a very good direction)...many people probably wouldn't. In truth, it could complicate effectiveness of stop lights. Some people could also get the idea that it's a conspiracy to turn everything into red districts...

        • by xaxa (988988)

          I'm not bothered about street lighting for reducing crime -- I use it to see my way home when it's dark!

          • by sznupi (719324)

            Same thing applies, too often people want to trick themselves into almost daylight-like perception, "the more the better."

  • Winter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Necron69 (35644) <jscott DOT farrow AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:40PM (#34191096)

    I can see at least one problem with this idea...

    Necron69

  • Fluorescence effect (Score:5, Informative)

    by Scareduck (177470) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:41PM (#34191098) Homepage Journal

    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.

    So it appears as though the effect requires an outside energy source to be useful. Nothing to see here, move on.

    • by nomel (244635)

      Agreed. A very very small portion of the UV light will end up actually causing fluorescence. At least with standard fluorescent bulbs, almost all of the UV light will be converted. This is more more like using a spotlight pointed up at the sky that's shining on confetti to light the surroundings.

    • by blincoln (592401) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @07:39PM (#34191660) Homepage Journal

      Nothing to see here, move on.

      Furthermore, if this isn't immediately obvious to anyone, the photos in TFA are not of the fluorescence. Some of them are near-infrared photos of trees, and the others look like a tree illuminated at night by conventional lighting.

      Definitely nothing to see here.

  • I am sure that gold nanoparticles in leaves that need to be replaced at least once a year are going to be really cheap. Plus if you RTFA, they need to shine a black light on the trees to get them to glow and that will suck up a lot more power than the LEDs that glowing trees could replace.

  • OK, so while the tree's giving off light, can it still make sugars etc and feed itself?
  • Awesome. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pspahn (1175617) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:41PM (#34191106)

    I am speaking strictly out of self-interest here when I say this would be incredibly awesome.

    As someone who's family has been in the tree business for a few generations, I would love our products to have a new utility that people actually see as practical. Currently, not many consumers understand that trees are not just for aesthetics, but can provide many practical benefits. Make 'em light up and people (municipalities, really) will be all over 'em.

  • by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:43PM (#34191124)

    > but it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities.

    By replacing street lights with a different kind of street light? One without an apparent "off" switch?

    It would seem to make more sense to just reduce the number of lights, or make them smart enough to be on-demand.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      ...or stop calling light "pollution"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nomel (244635)

      Read the article. The trees don't just glow...they glow because a UV light is shining on it, converting the UV to visible, similar to a standard fluorescent light...except with a standard light, you get nearly all of the UV interacting with the fluorescing particles...and it doesn't have to go through glass, which isn't so good/cheap at transmitting UV.

  • Why not like stick a solar panel on top to power a few LEDs as the lightpost?

    I'm pretty sure its cheaper and more environmentally friendly then inserting Gold Nanoparticles and then shining light with a specific wavelenght.
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:47PM (#34191182)

    The article says:

    ...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. ...
    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.

    So it sounds like the trees need a "high wavelength of ultraviolet light" to get them to glow. Seems like they are just replacing the phosphor that makes a white LED glow with these gold implanted leaves. But you'd still need a UV light source (which could be an array of UV LED's?).

    I'm not sure that this is really an environmental win -- replacing an array of white LED's that last 10 years with an array of UV LED's that point to trees that need their leaves to be impregnated with gold (and replaced annually?) doesn't sound all that environmentally friendly. How bad is the LED phosphor for the environment?

    • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @07:00PM (#34191316) Homepage
      Not to mention that people would be exposed to significant UV light at night, when their pupils are most dilated. So we get retinal damage, skin cancer, plus the cost of deploying both the gold nanoparticles and the large-scale UV light infrastructure.

      How did this story make it into the news stream? Why can't my goofy half-baked ideas get me fame and fortune?
    • And how bad is intense UV light on everything else? (Hint: Tanning Booths)

      Unless we're trying to make the world look like Avatar, I just don't see the point. Somebody else's idea to genetically manipulate plants to produce natural phosphorescence makes quite a bit more sense (and likely quite a bit harder).

      Nothing to see here, move along.
      • by sznupi (719324)

        Unless we're trying to make the world look like Avatar

        That might have been the point of this research...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The article (more of a quick summary) doesn't really say specifically what wavelength of UV is needed for the stuff to glow, but if the wavelength needed is what makes it to the Earth's surface from the Sun, that could explain their excitement.

      Also, it seems some of the interest comes from the luminescent leaves absorbing their own light back in for photosynthesis. I wish that article were more in depth, since it seems we're getting half the story.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:48PM (#34191196)

    Once again, proof that journalists should just stick to describing the research rather than coming up with groundbreaking applications which, as you'd almost certainly expect, don't work. The nanoparticles don't make the leaves glow "naturally", you have to shine UV light on them. Then they fluoresce red. But if you want to light streets using this technology, can I recommend just coating the UV light with leaves and doing away with the tree (we don't want to waste UV light after all)? In fact, ignore the leaves - just use a fluorophore. Actually, better yet, why not use a fluorophore that doesn't emit red light? How about something more akin to natural light, like yellow? And make it sensitive to blue light rather than UV (because generating UV is harder). And finally, while we're at it, make the light source solid-state.

    Congratulations, you've just invented the white LED.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      just use a fluorophore. Actually, better yet, why not use a fluorophore that doesn't emit red light?

      To be fair, the article did answer your question:

      However, phosphor powder is highly toxic and its price is expensive.

      It's not clear that replacing the fluorescing phosphor coating and an entire tree is really a better solution, but they did say why they want to replace the phosphor.

  • Ultraviolet light (Score:3, Interesting)

    by topham (32406) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:50PM (#34191226) Homepage

    They are shining an ultraviolet light on the trees, with the gold particles they are glowing red by transforming the ultraviolet to red light.

    neat, but kinda useless as ultraviolet is dangerous. (not useless on a small scale; but you can't go and light up a neighbourhood with ultraviolet)

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:52PM (#34191240)

    But, I also likes savings the electricity

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @06:52PM (#34191252)
    Valar call prior art!
  • in ways which we yet cannot fathom, by disturbing the natural rhythm that trees developed in billions of years of evolution for day/night cycles...
    • by sznupi (719324)

      We are causing sixth extinction event as is anyway; I'm quite willing to accept that such tinkering with city trees won't make much difference.

  • Trees shed leaves all the time. How many baskets of leaves will it take to contain one ounce of gold? I can hardly wait.

  • ... an astronomer's head just exploded.

    How much light pollution with these emit?

  • oh really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @07:02PM (#34191340)

    "...not only would it save on electricity costs and cut CO2 emissions, but it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities."

    What a stupid thing to say. If they provide enough light to replace street lights, then they contribute just as much to light pollution as the street lights do.

  • We can use an oak tree, with gold injected into it's leaves, a high power UV light generator to induce a reddish glow and a variable CO2 generator to adjust brightness.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by md65536 (670240)

      To generate the extra CO2 we could always burn some trees.
      Maybe we could use these super-bright trees with some magnifying glasses to start the fires. Then not only does it save billions of dollars per second in electricity costs, but it is also self-sustaining.

      Wait a minute. We could use the light from the super-bright trees to grow more trees! Then we'll have so much extra energy... Maybe we could use it to power fusion devices that turn lead into gold. My god... I think we have the makings of a perpetual

  • by inviolet (797804) <slashdot&ideasmatter,org> on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @07:04PM (#34191364) Journal

    Unless and until we switch over to electric cars en masse, street lights are NOT wasting electricity.

    One of the two primary purposes of street lights is to consume the power generated by base-load powerplants that mu$t spin 24/7. Without our vast numbers of street lights, night-time voltages would rise above 130 and start frying your appliances.

    Ever wondered why the electric company does not charge money, if you ask them to add a street light to the pole near your house? That's the reason.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Worst case - it can be stored (and is) in pumped-storage hydroelectric facilities.

      • by inviolet (797804)

        Worst case - it can be stored (and is) in pumped-storage hydroelectric facilities.

        That is the best case. Those things are expensive to build, and can't be built just anywhere.

    • by Khyber (864651)

      Thermodynamics would like to disagree with out.

      Especially given the typical HID only emits about 30% of power drawn as light, the rest is heat and non-visible wavelengths. The surface of said bulbs hits almost a thousand degrees.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dan East (318230)

      Uh, I have a streetlight on the power pole in my backyard, which AEP charges me around 9 bucks a month to power. It's their light, on their pole, but they charge me to power it. Sounds like I'm being ripped off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mdmkolbe (944892)

      The electric company has no problem dealing with low total loads. The only problem is when the load is unpredictable or changes quickly. The biggest generators take a while to spin up/down. Night time tends to be a fairly predictable change though so city lights aren't really burning "free" electricity.

  • This might work for part of the year, but what about the time from November through April when most trees have lost their leaves? Also, how much energy will be needed to collect all of those fallen leaves since gold, like oil, is not a limitless resource.

  • by kheldan (1460303) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @08:09PM (#34191904) Journal
    How does the tree feel about all this?
    Seriously, is this healthy for the tree? More to the point, can you get the tree to grow with this feature as a natural part of it's genetic makeup?
    Sorry to sound cynical but this sounds like another one of those "news" stories that exist solely to get attention, not because it's about anything really practical.
  • Great Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jshackney (99735) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 @11:19PM (#34192996) Homepage

    We know that silver does this [prince.org]. I've always wondered what gold would do.

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