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Could printed electronics help plants to talk to us?

The benefits, or otherwise, of talking to plants have been discussed with varying degrees of enthusiasm over the past couple of decades. One of the proponents of the approach is Prince Charles, who has said that not only does he talk to plants, he also ‘instructs them’.

But plants haven’t been known to talk back. Could this change? Possibly. Researchers at MIT have used printed electronics to determine a plant’s state of health, particularly whether it needs watering.

It’s all to do with how quickly stomata – pores on plant leaves – open and close. If a carbon nanotube based circuit is printed across a stomata, it conducts electricity when closed, but doesn’t when the stomata is open. By measuring opening and closing times, the plant’s state of health can be assessed.

The MIT team believes there could be opportunities in agriculture, where signs of drought could be detected more quickly. But there’s also a possible opening for someone to develop a little device based on the technology which generates a plaintive cry of ‘water me, water me’. Another device you never know you needed.

Graham Pitcher

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