See-Through Soil Reveals the Secret Lives of Roots

By Andrew Liszewski on at

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]