Tiny Sugar Factories Inside Plants

by Jahan Dawlaty for the children in pursuit of knowledge.

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Jahan Dawlaty
Plants are amazing things. They make sweet mangos, bananas, and coconuts. Where do they get the sugar to make their fruits sweet? Have you ever wondered? No one adds sugar under their mango trees. That would be too expensive. Plants must have their own way of making sugar.

A cook needs rice, onions, and tomatoes and spices to make dinner. A tree also needs ingredients to make sugar. It takes water and some other nutrients from the ground. It absorbs another component from the air. All of this goes to their leaves. Then they need the sunlight to mix all of these together into sugar. Inside each leaf, there are many, many teeny-tiny little factories, where all of these ingredients are mixed and made into sugar. All of the warmth of the sunshine goes into the sugar. The sugar then leaves the leaf and goes into the mango. This keeps happening every day from sunrise to sunset. At night, when there is no sun, the little factories inside the leaf stop working and go to sleep.

When you eat the fruits, you get a little bit of the sugar that the plant has made. You take a little bit of the warmth of the sun that was stored in the sugar. That fills you up when you are hungry and gives you strength to play and study and eat.

We want to learn how the teeny-tiny little factories inside the leaf work. How do they use sunlight to make sugar? We have instruments that make little bursts of light, just like the sunlight, but in very, very short flashes. These instruments are called lasers. You can make a small burst of light too. You can turn on the switch for the room light, and then very, very quickly turn it off. The light will probably be on for just long enough for you to blink once. Our instruments make light flashes that are much, much faster than the speed of your eye blinking.

Why do we need these fast blinking flashes of light to study the tiny little factories in the leaf? Just like a car has an engine, wheels, and body, these factories also have different components. The difference is that the parts of the tiny factories move very fast, much faster than the speed of your eye blinking. We use our fast blinking lasers to see how fast each components moves. The little burst of light from our laser goes and jiggles one part of the tiny factory. Then that part goes and jiggles another one, which goes on to move other parts and so on. We use many bursts of light to understand the jiggling, and wiggling and twisting and turning of the components of these little factories.

Our lasers only make one kind of bursts of light. They are very short, but powerful flashes of light. Every time it hits one of the tiny factories, the whole entire factory shakes and jiggles. All parts and components of the tiny factory begin to move. Sometimes, this makes studying of the little factory hard. We want to make a special kind of light bursts that only moves some parts of the tiny factories and not others. That way, we can jiggle only one component of the factory and watch what happens to the other components.

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