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Synthetic Tree

September 30, 2008

A synthetic tree wicks water more effectively than a real plant.


The tiniest tree…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A tree is a marvel of hydraulic engineering. It manages to pull water from its roots all the way up a long trunk without needing any kind of mechanical pump. Now, scientists have created a synthetic tree that mimics this process. The device is not as big as a real tree. It’s just palm-sized. But according to Abraham Stroock, a chemical and biological engineer at Cornell University, it wicks water several times more effectively than a real plant.

And we found that we could in fact build a very good negative pressure pump. Very good in the sense that it could generate very large negative pressures to move the liquid from the root to the leaf.

Stroock says systems based on their synthetic tree concept could be used to cool vehicles and buildings, for irrigation, or to help clean up contaminated soil. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.