See-Through Soil Reveals the Secret Lives of Roots

To help them better understand root growth in plants, researchers at James Hutton Institute and the University of Abertay Dundee have developed a transparent soil that makes studying what happens underground as easy as staring through a window.

It took the researchers over two years to find and develop a material that could perfectly replicate the chemistry in soil allowing plants to grow naturally in it. And eventually they settled on a synthetic composite called Nafion that was developed by DuPont back in the 1960s, and is now used in modern fuel cells.

When saturated with a water-based solution they developed, the Nafion becomes almost completely see-through, allowing researchers to better understand the previously invisible process of root growth. And a better understanding could in turn let them develop plants that are better suited for a wide variety of soil conditions. The new see-through soil could also revolutionize playgrounds and backyards around the world, letting kids get as messy as they want without ever permanently damaging their clothing. [Albertay University via Phys Org]