Gold nanoparticles turn trees into streetlights


November 11, 2010

We might someday be using glowing trees as streetlights thanks to a discovery by Dr. Yen-Hsun Su (Image: Daniel Schwen)

We might someday be using glowing trees as streetlights thanks to a discovery by Dr. Yen-Hsun Su (Image: Daniel Schwen)

The discovery that gold nanoparticles can induce luminescence in leaves has opened up the prospect of using roadside trees as streetlights. Post-doctor Yen-Hsun Su of Research Center for Applied Science (RCAS), Academia Sinica, Taiwan, implanted gold nanoparticles into Bacopa caroliniana plants and found that, when exposed to high wavelength ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles can produce a blue-violet fluorescence that triggers a red emission of the surrounding chlorophyll.

Dr. Yen-Hsun Su is a former student of the Department of Physics at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Taiwan where he was supervised by Prof. Wei-Min Zhang of Department of Physics and Assistant Prof. Shih-Hui Chang of Institute of Electro-Optical Science and Engineering.

Upon learning of the discovery, Assistant Prof. Shih-Hui Chang said: “Light emitting diode (LED) has replaced traditional light source in many display panels and street lights on the road. 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 which is less toxic to replace phosphor powder which can harm human bodies and cause environmental pollution. This is a major motivation for him to engage in the research at the first place.”

Prof. Wei-Min Zhang, Assistant Prof. Shih-Hui Chang and Dr. Yen-Hsun Su have emphasized that the technologies and bioluminescence efficiency need to be improved for the trees to replace street lights in the future and reach the goal of energy saving and environmental protection, but Dr. Yen-Hsun Su is hopeful.

“In the future, bio-LED could be used to make roadside trees luminescent at night. This will save energy and absorb CO2 as the bio-LED luminescence will cause the chloroplast to conduct photosynthesis,” said Dr. Yen-Hsun Su in an interview with Chemistry World.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Using bioluminiscence to induce plants to conduct photosynthesis seems like a great idea but is it really intelligent to do so ? Plants give off CO2 at night as a result of their own metabolic cycle and tampering with the circadian cycle (as is the human habit of tampering with all of nature\'s cycles) of plants is going to create more problems.

Soumitra Bhattacharjee

This may be an interesting effect, but what is the point of shining ultraviolet light on trees just so they can glow. How is that any more efficient than using ultra-efficient LED\'s in the first place?



We don\'t need to tamper with all trees in nature. We can plant a few ones on the streets and make\'em to glow, there\'s no need to make the Amazonia florest to glow lol


Pandora? From the movie Avatar! What could possibly go wrong?

Edward Ramos

...of course...why da ya think we had black lights at \'60s hairy buffalo keg pAHties...we\'d always light up the trees...geez...oh, those were my tree-trunk legs in the bell-bottoms...under the black say? ooops, i digress...

Ken Rowland

Glowing trees can save energy. We don\'t have use any energy to light up our streets in the dark of night. Especially in the age of global warming today, save more energy means lessen carbon in the atmosphere. So that this discovery can save our planet just like any alternative energy. Do you guys understand?

David Yuan

Now all my Hip-Hop neighbors are gonna want a bling tree next to their crib.


Try this site. I love it! Especially the comments section.

Roberta Wilson

The purpose is not to plant glowing trees and make our streets pretty. Think beyond that. The vast amount of energy we could potentially save is one of the most important accomplishments of this study. The results of this discovery can enormously reduce Light Pollution, and as a result, the negative impacts of it on the environment, ecological systems, and human health (mental and physical). This is amazing.

Kiumars Q. Amiri

Hmmm - why do journalists ever so frequently write in the presumptive and speculative - and when you think it through, it\'s usually about dumb things; i.e. \"We might someday be using glowing trees as streetlights thanks to a discovery by Dr. Yen-Hsun Su\"

Then you get comments from people who don\'t do the \"2 2\" link - of many trees are deciduous (annual leave droppers), although they may not be the target species, gold is expensive ($$$$$), and they have to aim high frequency Ultra Violet light at the trees (lights power) just to make the trees glow.

Sure it\'s an interesting discovery, and the relative power levels are not discussed etc., but simple issues are not raised like how many lumens of UV are put into an entire tree, and how many lumens does the tree give out.

As far as messing with the tree like that - I am doubtful that the tree is really happy about getting messed with.

Again - it\'s more of that \"Oh I have an idea\" and the journalists dream up more pie in the sky bullshit to sell the story..... \"\"One day entire cities may be lit by soaking all the trees in ultraviolet, by injecting 10,000 tons of gold into them annually, by driving the UV lights with enough electricity at double the amount and cost of regular street lighting....\"

Got the hand on more than just the pen.

Mr Stiffy

Wow, I\'m amazed at the \'doomsayers\'. Thanks for the dire warnings. Glad there are some people who are willing to take the reigns and see just what we can do with nature. Where would we be if scientists handn\'t spliced a pig gene, converted into a plant gene, in to a corn plant? Don\'t forget the amazing human/flower cross breed. The Edunia :D Well, I guess time will tell where \'messing with nature\' will get us. But I\'m not bored anymore. How about you folks?


Simply set fire to those trees if you need a light. But why would I ?

\"Hello darkness my old friend...\" Simon & Garfunkel


I dont understand how if we have to shine ultra violet light on the trees to get them to glow, that we are saving ANY energy? Also, plants NEED to rest, just like humans. You stay up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and see what happens to you. Stop messing with mother nature.

Nick Thompson

Mr Stiffy? To whom were you referring with that last sentence? It would be better for all, Especially you!!, if you were not so abrasive.


To those that do not understand because Dr. Yen-Hsun Su\'s English is well......

The idea here as I understand it, there is streaming from the sun all day the UV light Dr. Yen-Hsun Su is talking about. At night the process turns into flourishing reddish light and I am sure is probably there during the day as well. This is a phenomenal idea with how much a carbon footprint each lamp post represents. In States like Ohio with coal fired power-plants it is a huge price to pay. In California with e-Cars needing to charge off the grid and the electric trains coming in the near future, where does all that extra burden on the power grid come from?

I will tell you where, not one but several nuclear reactors. You want that in your back yards. So that is why this idea has relevance and is a powerful concept that if it works well, this could begin a new desire for trees and ones that take existing light poles out of the grid thereby making more power available to the future where we might not have to build a nuclear power plant.

For those who dare desire to criticize: \"The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.\" William Makepeace Thackeray 1895

Chris Parkinson

@ Roselense:

Yeah your so right. As always.

Mr Stiffy
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