Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is on a quest. He wants to replace the millions of street lights that dot our streets with bioluminescent trees. And while that may sound like something straight out of a science-fiction movie, it is not as far-fetched as you think.
Roosegaarde says he started thinking about this radical idea after observing how both fireflies and jellyfish can become luminescent on demand. This led him to wonder if we could somehow genetically modify trees that would be able to do the same.
Fortunately for him, biotech researcher Dr. Alexander Krichevsky and his team from the State University of New York, where the researcher used to be an assistant professor, had the same idea. They have been trying to grow bioluminescent plants for many years and have even founded a company that they aptly named BIOGLOW, to focus on just that. Their first glow-in-dark plant prototype that was released in 2010 was successful, but extremely weak. It took the team another three years, but in January 2014, BIOGLOW proudly unveiled Starlight Avatar, the world's first 'autonomously luminescent' plant.
Sold for 'ornamental purposes' only, the twenty units of the plant that were auctioned off for $800 USD each, emit a soft glow when placed in the dark, similar to that of the starlight after which the plant was named. Though magical, it is far from ready for the big leagues. That is because Starlight Avatar has a lifespan of only two-three months and more importantly, cannot be exposed to sunlight. Hence, there is clearly much work that needs to be done before the genetically modified plant is able to replace street lights.
But Dr. Krichevsky, who will not reveal the secret behind the plant except to say that it is on a cellular level, is not concerned. He is confident that future auto luminescent plants will be more resilient. He also believes that they will have the capability to emit not just blue-green, but also, red-yellow light. The best news is that when the bioluminescent trees are ready, the first installation will be somewhere in the USA - we for one cannot wait!
Roosegaarde who was one of the lucky recipients of the coveted glowing plants is not concerned either. He knows that his dream will be realized in the near future. That's because the progressive designer has been involved in many such impossible sounding projects. In 2013, he made headlines when he partnered with Heijmans Infrastructure to build the world's first smart highway in the Netherlands.
They began by painting a small stretch of highway lines with photo-luminescent powder to help provide drivers with additional light during the country's dark and rainy winters. What is super cool about the powder is that it is solar-powered and can recharge for up to ten hours, after being exposed to just a few hours of weak winter sunshine. And that is not all. On extremely cold nights, drivers are warned of the possibility of dangerous black ice by large snowflakes that magically appear across on the surface. If successful, the technology that is currently present only on a small 500-meter patch, may be soon implemented on highways all across Europe.
Resources: studioroosegaarde.net,takepart.com, dailymail.co.uk