A functioning man-made leaf that absorbs water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, just like natural leaves, has been created by an art graduate. The new material could provide a steady source of oxygen for humans on long missions in space and even help us colonise new planets. Julian Melchiorri claims that the leaves could also transform life on Earth as we know it, because buildings could be clad with the material to oxygenate homes and polluted urban areas.
Mr Melchiorri, who lives in London, was working on his leaf while on the RCA’s Innovation Design Engineering Course and collaborated with scientists at Tufts University silk lab in Massachusetts to engineer the material. It is made up of chloroplasts from plant cells that are suspended in a web of silk protein. The protein is extracted from natural silk fibres. ‘This material could allow us to explore space much further than we can now,’ he said.