Magazine article USA TODAY

Spinach Can Detect Explosives

Magazine article USA TODAY

Spinach Can Detect Explosives

Article excerpt

Spinach no longer is just a superfood. By embedding leaves with carbon nanotubes, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, have transformed spinach plants into sensors that can detect explosives and wirelessly relay that information to a handheld device similar to a smartphone.

This is one of the first demonstrations of engineering electronic systems into vegetation, an approach that the researchers call plant nanobionics. 'The goal is to introduce nanoparticles into the plant to give it non-native functions," says lead researcher Michael Strano, professor of chemical engineering.

In this case, the plants were designed to detect chemical compounds known as nitroaromatics, which often are used in landmines and other explosives. When one of these chemicals is present in the groundwater sampled naturally by the plant, carbon nanotubes embedded in the plant leaves emit a fluorescent signal that can be read with an infrared camera. The camera can be attached to a small computer similar to a smartphone, which then sends an email to the user. …

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