Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Environmental responsiveness of plants inspires microfluidic device design

03 June 2022

Plant Based

Scientists often find inspiration in mimicking life’s machinery – microfluidic devices are tiny artificial networks of pipes to control the mixing of chemicals – inspired by those coursing fluids around animals and plants. But every idea has its limits, every design its boundaries, and here researchers push them. They wrap their microfluidics inside shapeshifting polymers that respond to humidity, temperature and light, mimicking how Oxalis corniculata leaves behave whenever the Sun comes out. These nastic movements are not directional – it’s phototropism that allows the plant to bend towards light – but instead use the light as a trigger for opening up in sunlight for photosynthesis. The resulting device pulls yet another engineering secret from life onto the drawing board, so it can be repurposed for different jobs – perhaps as a light-responsive microreactor, or in wearable electronics that help us to adapt to changes in the outside world.

Written by John Ankers

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