The spinach has always struck you as the boring, leafy green that your mom forced down your throat. But a new talent of the leafy plant has been discovered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists. It was published in in the journal Nature Materials.
MIT experts find that embedding tiny tubes in the leaves gives it the ability to pick up nitro-aromatics, These are chemicals found in landmines and related buried munitions. With a handheld device, it is possible to pick up information through the spinach.
The nitro-aromatics were conveyed to the spinach leaves. They were taken through the roots and leaves as droplets. The MIT experts shone a laser on its surface, making the embedded nanotubes radiate near-infrared fluorescent light.
Scientists were able to detect the rays with the help of a small infrared camera connected with a Raspberry PI computer. When the infrared filter is taken off, the signal was detected through a smartphone.
The study also shows that plants can help to locate anything. Earlier, carbon nanotubes were used as sensors to detect hydrogen peroxide, TNT and sarin, a nerve gas, according to MIT Chemical Engineering Professor Michael Strano, co-author of the study.
"The plants could be used for defense applications, but also to monitor public spaces for terrorism-related activities, since we show both water and airborne detection," Strano says. "Such plants could be used to monitor groundwater seepage from buried munitions or waste that contains nitro-aromatics."
It is interesting that though plants are not mobile, they are able to detect drought before we can. They are also able to find out what small changes occur in the properties of soil and water. If we can make use of their chemical-signalling pathways, we can access a lot of information.
Strano explained that the study shows us how we can overcome the plant/human communication barrier.