Robotic spinach

Credit: MIT

A research team at MIT has embedded carbon nanotubes in spinach leaves, turning them into sensors that are able to detect harmful chemicals found in explosives wirelessly and relay the results to a smartphone.

These plants could be used to monitor groundwater for signs of nitroaromatics, with the embedded carbon nanotubes emitting a fluorescent signal when the chemical is detected.  


The Rat Bomb

One of the many zany ideas of the British Special Operations Executive during World War II, the rat bomb was an explosive device featuring the corpse of a rat which was stuff with a small charge of high explosives.  While the explosive charge was small, it was enough to cause a devastating explosion if tossed into a steam boiler.  The idea was that the rat bombs would be smuggled into Germany, then placed in boiler rooms of factories, locomotives, or power stations. The stoker tending the boiler would throw the offending critter into the fire, the explosive would ignite, fracturing the boiler and causing a massive blast.

Several dead rats were acquired and converted into bombs. Some were also produced with timed delayed fuses. However, the first shipment of rats was intercepted by the Germans, thus none saw their intended use before the program was cancelled. In the meantime the Germans sent their captured rats to military schools for further study and set up security protocols to ensure that the British rats would never be exploded on German soil.  While the rat bombs never blew up a boiler, SOE concluded the program was effective because it wasted precious German manpower, redirected soldiers and security guards away from the war effort in order to search for dead rats.