People Innovation Excellence

Here’s looking through you, wood


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In general, wood is stronger and a better insulator than glass – but just a wee bit difficult to see through. That may be changing via research from the University of Maryland, College Park, where a two-step process has stripped away a wooden plank’s tan and brown color and made it clear, The New York Times reported.

“We were very surprised by how transparent it could go,” said Liangbing Hu, an author of “Highly Anisotropic, Highly Transparent Wood Composites,” which appeared in May in the journal Advanced Materials. “This can really open applications that can potentially replace glass and some optical material.” Hu and his team first boiled the block of wood in a bath of water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals for about two hours. This removed the lignin that gives the wood its color but left behind its colorless cell structures. They next poured epoxy over the block, which made it four to six times stronger.

The result, which also is more biodegradable than plastic, one day could be used in windows, tables and other building supplies. The transparent wood’s natural channels that once pumped water and ions now direct light along their canals. This “waveguide effect,” Lu said, allows more light to come into the house. The team is currently working to scale up the process because, so far, their largest blocks are about the size of a hand.

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