In their latest feat of engineering, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology have taken an ordinary white button mushroom from a grocery store and made it bionic, supercharging it with 3D-printed clusters of cyanobacteria that generate electricity and swirls of graphene nanoribbons that can collect the current.
The work, reported in the Nov. 7 issue of Nano Letters, may sound like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland, but the hybrids are part of a broader effort to better improve our understanding of cells biological machinery and how to use those intricate molecular gears and levers to fabricate new technologies and useful systems for defense, healthcare, and the environment.
Researchers used a robotic arm-based 3D printer to first print an “electronic ink” containing the graphene nanoribbons. This printed branched network serves as an electricity-collecting network atop the mushroom’s cap by acting like a nanoprobe — to access bio-electrons generated inside the cyanobacterial cells.
Next, they printed a” bio-ink” containing cyanobacteria onto the mushroom’s cap in a spiral pattern intersecting with the electronic ink at multiple contact points. At these locations, electrons could transfer through the outer membranes of the cyanobacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons. Shining a light on the mushrooms activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis, generating a photocurrent.
Significance and applications of Bionic mushrooms:
This bionic mushroom produces electricity. By integrating cyanobacteria that can produce electricity, with nanoscale materials capable of collecting the current, researchers were able to better access the unique properties of both, augment them, and create an entirely new functional bionic system.
The amount of electricity these bacteria produce can vary depending on the density and alignment with which they are packed, such that the more densely packed together they are, the more electricity they produce.