Clean Power scientists in Taiwan use gold nanoparticles to make leaves emit light

Published on November 9th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


Gold Nanoparticles Could Make Trees Glow Like Street Lights

November 9th, 2010 by  

scientists in Taiwan use gold nanoparticles to make leaves emit lightScientists in Taiwan have discovered that gold nanoparticles can induce luminescence in the leaves of plants, making them emit a reddish glow. They came up with the process while searching for a way to create high-efficiency lighting that is similar to LED technology, but without the use of toxic chemicals such as phosphor powder. One use envisioned by lead researcher Dr. Yen-Hsun Su is the cultivation of gold-treated roadside trees that would provide street lighting while saving energy and absorbing carbon dioxide.

Bio-Luminescence and Alternative Energy

Biofuels can be thought of as a sort of first-generation, one-on-one (or gallon-to-gallon) substitute for fossil fuels. Bio-luminescence takes us a step beyond, by incorporating energy generation into an object rather than plying an engine with prefabricated fuel. As Dr. Su explains, chlorophyll can glow when exposed to high wavelength ultra violet light, but gold nanoparticles are excited by shorter wavelengths. By diffusing specially shaped nanoparticles in the leaves of a Bacopa caroliniana plant, Dr. Su’s team was able to induce the chlorophyll to produce a red glow.

Gold and Sustainability

Bio-luminescence is just one example of the roles that gold may play in our sustainable future. At Harvard University, researchers are using gold nanoparticles to develop energy efficient, non-toxic methods for manufacturing fragrances and fabrics, and scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have used gold nanoparticles to “grow” light-emitting nanowires.

Image (altered): Glowing tree and street light by Nagy David on

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • neal bainbridge

    Oh my.
    Next we’ll be infusing the defunct streetlights to grow some sort of fungus that will produce oxygen to compensate the lack of oxygen the trees can no longer produce.. *sighs*

    What a crock of she-eye’t.

  • Doug

    First, the scientists try to turn trees into fuel to power the street lights.

    Now, they cut out the middle-man and have the trees become the street lights.

    Brilliant (in a reddish hue).

  • What a cool concept; I am by no means a scientist, and could barely be considered even a science-novice, but this article caught my eye and totally got me interested. Thank you for publishing int. I will definitely start following some of these ideas more closely. Ii truly hope we start taking these innovative ideas more seriously instead of allowing the status quoa to continue to kill us.

    • Tina Casey

      Joeseyryan: Thanks for your comment. You don’t need to be a scientist to foresee the potential in new forms of sustainable energy, just as you don’t need to be a computer programmer in order to use a computer. As necessary as they have been, fossil fuels have boxed us into a particular way of doing things and we are only just beginning to realize that there many alternative possibilities in our future.

  • Theepan

    While reading this article i was bothered by the misuse of words for light, red light is longer wavelengths not shorter in comparison to uv, and thus lower energy packets of energy. So just for future reference high wavelength does not make any sense, use high energy or higher frequency light. However all aside I found this finding to be amazing and really blew my mind of whats possible and i didn’t even think of using trees in such a way.

    • Tina Casey

      Hi Theepan thanks for the info. Shorthanding kind of comes with the territory but it can sometimes lead to unclear or imprecise wording so feel free to catch me up next time you spot something!

  • Pingback: Interesting Reading #621 – Navy’s Superlaser, Nexus S, Glowing trees, currency wars and much more! – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks()

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