At the base of the food chain, plants perform an everyday miracle: in the process of photosynthesis, they convert the sun’s energy into sugar, making it available to other life forms. A team of researchers has recently developed devices that use the sun’s rays to fuel chemical reactions, much as plants do. Shaped like the leaves that inspired them, these minute chemical reactors (pictured) are constructed from materials known as luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs), which absorb sunlight before re-emitting it at a specific wavelength, effectively concentrating its energy. Microchannels, visible as the veins of these artificial leaves, bring molecules into close contact with the LSCs, so the focussed solar energy they produce can power chemical reactions. Applied to processes used for drug synthesis, this versatile technique could enable medicines to be produced anywhere with daylight, efficiently, more cheaply and in an environmentally-friendly way, potentially revolutionising the pharmaceutical industry.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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