Magazine article ASEE Prism

Smart Growth

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Smart Growth

Article excerpt

In the 1970s, a pseudoscientific bestseller called The Secret Life of Plants argued that plants think and have feelings. It spawned a documentary with a Stevie Wonder score. Now comes Lorna Gibson, an MIT professor of materials science and engineering who makes a convincing case that plants do, indeed, have secrets to reveal - but not of the New Age variety. In a recent paper, Gibson shows that the mechanical properties of plants at the microscopic level are far-reaching and quite marvelous. Plant cells use only four main building blocks: cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin. Stiffness or strength is determined by the composition and number of layers in a cell wall, how its cellulose fibers are arranged in those layers, and how much space the cell wall takes up. …

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