Spinach makes light work of research



The power of spinach was never lost on Popeye, but Heriot-Watt scientists are now working to use the green vegetable to transform production of prosthetic limbs. A project is underway to use green chemicals inside spinach leaves to bring metallic nanoparticles embedded in plastics back to the surface to form a conductive circuit, with a number of practical applications ranging from smart prosthetics to antimicrobial surfaces.

The project, called Photobioform II, is led by Prof Marc Desmulliez of the University's School of Engineering and Physical Sciences. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) has awarded the project just over £700,000 under its 'Manufacturing with Light' Programme and the research team, working in collaboration with Leeds University, also has support from manufacturers.

Photobioform II uses plants such as spinach leaves or carrots to accelerate the production of metals originally present in treated plastic materials. Selective formation of metallic nanoparticles in plastics has a wide range of uses including the generation of conductive tracks for electronics interconnections, the creation of antimicrobial surfaces and the fabrication of sensors and actuators.

These applications could find commercial interest in companies specialized in the manufacturing of mobile phones, artificial legs and arms, smart surfaces and medical devices for hospitals.