We first heard about artificial leaves many years ago, but at the time we were talking rather about using photosynthesis to generate energy for the home, and now scientists are focusing on creating life-saving drugs.
It cannot be denied that by observing the processes occurring in nature, many engineering problems were solved, so scientists regularly reach for the ideas of mother nature. One of them is the so-called artificial leaves that have been scrolling in various studies for a long time, and scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology (TEU) have just found new and, most importantly, effective applications in the production of medicines.
It's about the same process that happens with natural leaves that collect the sun's rays, and then the chlorophyll molecules use this energy to fuel a chemical reaction that turns carbon dioxide and water into glucose - plants use glucose for energy, and as a product bypass excrete oxygen. Artificial leaves have been designed to accurately imitate this process.
They are made of transparent materials that let in the sun's rays and redirect them towards a network of microchannels, reminiscent of leaf use, located on the entire surface. These channels contain a specific fluid, and the goal is to use solar energy to initiate a chemical reaction that turns the fluid into something useful, such as medicine or fuel. The new design of artificial leaves from TUE is based on their prototype from 2016, but it has seen significant improvements, e.g. instead of a silicone surface, we now have Plexiglas for several reasons.
Timothy Noel, lead project researcher, says: - This material is cheaper and easier to produce in large quantities. What's more, it has a higher refractive index, so the sun's rays are better shaped. But the most important thing is probably that we can mount more types of light-sensitive molecules in Plexiglas. As a result, to say the least, we have all chemical reactions across the entire visible spectrum.
It is worth noting that artificial leaves finally began to earn on themselves, that is, they finally managed to produce two specific drugs with them, i.e. artemisinin effective in the fight against malaria and ascaridole for the treatment of some diseases caused by parasitic worms. And given that artificial leaves are small and scale very easily, in the future they will most likely produce medicines directly in places where they will be needed, which will significantly reduce transport costs, which, due to the nature of the shipment, is additionally difficult. Scientists believe that one day astronauts will even be able to take them to space to make the necessary medicines themselves, because the leaves work wherever the sun is.