A New Rose Is Part Plant, Part Color-Changing Machine

Innovation has never looked so pretty

Fabio Petroni/Corbis

Imagine this: It’s time to buy your sweetie some flowers, so you head to the florist’s, press a button and watch a dozen roses change to your partner’s favorite color before your eyes. It sounds like a far-fetched scenario, but it could eventually become a reality: Materials scientists have created a partially electronic rose that has color-changing leaves, Katherine Bourzac reports for Scientific American

This feat of science was achieved by incorporating electronic materials into everyday roses. In a paper published in Science Advances, researchers explain that they took advantage of roses’ capillary systems to infuse them with a conductive (and water soluable) polymer called PEDOT.

The rose pulled the PEDOT up its tissues as it would nutrients in water, the PEDOT assembled itself into wire-like formations. Scientists created working electronic circuits in the rose by attaching gold probes to the PEDOT wires.

But the true showstopper came next, writes Bourzac:

Researchers put rose leaves in a syringe full of a solution of PEDOT mixed with cellulose nanofibres. By applying a vacuum, they expelled air from the tissue, and then drew the PEDOT solution into the empty spaces left behind. When a voltage is applied, the bionic leaves subtly change colour between bluish greenish hues.

The prospect of color-changing roses is certainly cool, but what’s the point? It has to do with better understanding what goes on inside plants, say researchers.

In a release, they explain that by augmenting plants with electronics, they hope to learn how to better manipulate their inner workings. That could lead to more robust tools for plant researchers—and, eventually, the ability to do things like use photosynthesis to create fuel.

Riffing off of plants’ abilities is certainly nothing new—scientists recently were able to create an “artificial leaf” that performs photosynthesis. But manipulating plants themselves to change color or act as what Bourzac calls “living fuel cells”? That’s an idea that feels as fresh as a bouquet of roses.

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