Facts surrounding global warming are terrifying. Just try listening to the This American Life episode, “Hot in My Backyard,” without spending the rest of the day sobbing in bed, we dare you. As the population continues to increase, and the temperature continues to rise, the destruction we are causing to the planet is rapidly becoming exponentially more damaging. That’s incredibly scary. We are talking about the very future of humanity.
For many of us, it’s hard to comprehend the consequences our actions have had and continue to have on the planet. And much easier to simply ignore the problem — after all, reading statistics about global warming is really overwhelming. When you look at the bleak conclusions, it can seem easier to simply give up. To take the attitude of, “What am I, one single person, going to do that will change anything?” It’s much easier to choose apathy over panic, but global warming is not a problem that can be wished or ignored away. And we’re running out of time to reverse things.
Luckily for literally everyone alive, there are scientists (and everyday people!) all over the world who aren’t passive. They fight against that fear and apathy. These heroes create real change through innovative technology — feverishly working to combat global warming before it ends in the destruction of everything we hold dear. Heroes like Wyatt Pontius. Pontius was only a junior in high school when he decided he wanted to change the world.
Through hard work and trial and error, Pontius invented a way of changing the composition of leaves to make them significantly increase their oxygen production. He did this by putting the leaves in a blender (in his case spinach leaves) to isolate their photosynthetic chloroplasts. He then recreated the leaf (which now had nanoscale materials implanted inside).
And his innovation paid off. The result of his work was that the leaf was able to produce about 375% more oxygen than a typical leaf. It’s a potentially world saving discovery as we face increasingly lowering amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere. It’s also insanely awesome: the guy is literally disrupting the leaf game.
A recent study showed that at the rate that the oceans’ temperatures are rising, the photosynthesis of phytoplankton could be interrupted by 2100. This is a big deal. Phytoplankton produces two thirds of the world’s oxygen. If it stopped producing, we’d be looking at a mass extinction of life on Earth. Those modified leaves will become essential in a hurry.
“Once I actually realized it worked, I was in disbelief,” Pontius said.
Constructing a plant that can increase its oxygen production by 375% is an incredibly exciting discovery and one that may have multiple applications in our world and beyond. For instance, Pontius’ leaves may not only help to combat global warming, but also help to revolutionize space travel.
Hurtling through space, oxygen is one of the most expensive, heaviest pieces of luggage, Pontius told Uproxx. So since his plant technology is lightweight and reusable, it could lead towards longer trips through space at less cost. An important invention if we’re going to explore other planets in the future, and even potentially colonize another planet one day.
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the possibilities of colonization are very real. And Pontius’ work with plants could have a significant impact on that field too. This application is very exciting to the young inventor. He was a kid who dreamed of being an astronaut, so to contribute to space travel would be a dream of his come true. And opening up possibilities of planetary colonization could be an answer to our overpopulation concerns on Earth.
Though the advances he’s made so far are remarkable at his young age, and he’s won multiple awards, Pontius continues to work on perfecting the technology in his leaves. It’s an ongoing project, and one that he has big dreams for. Pontius hopes that his “releaf” can transform and combat many of our world’s problems in the future. And he will keep working on its innovation at Stanford where he now goes to college. Because through science and technology, Pontius strives to better the world. It’s a noble goal, and one that he’s well on his way towards achieving.