Dutch scientists' artificial leaf can create medicine anywhere

Even future Mars residents could use it to make medicine on the red planet.

Wouldn't it be great to have the ability to concoct medicine anywhere the sun shines, even if it's on another planet? A team of Dutch scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology have developed an artificial leaf-like device that could make that happen. The researchers, inspired by plants that can make their own food through photosynthesis, used materials that can match leaves' capability to capture and store sunlight for later use. These materials are called luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs), which have special light-sensitive molecules that can capture huge amounts of incoming light.

The team designed a device that looks like a leaf by incorporating thin, microchannels mimicking veins in a silicon rubber LSC. By pumping liquids into those channels, their molecules can get into contact with the sunlight absorbed by the LSC. The energy is intense enough to trigger chemical reactions. According to the researchers, the device's chemical production was 40 percent higher than the rate demonstrated by similar experiments without LSC. "Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars," lead researcher Dr. Timothy Noël explained. "All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory."