COLLEGE PARK, Md., May 19 (UPI) -- Materials scientists are giving wood a makeover. Last month, they made it transparent. Most recently, researchers made wood stronger than glass by adding epoxy.
In April, researchers in Sweden revealed a process for removing lignin, the part of the cell wall that gives wood its color. The scientists turned blocks of wood transparent by boiling them for two hours in a concoction of water, sodium hydroxide and several other chemicals.
Scientists at the University of Maryland built on the Swedish researchers' work, using the same color-removing process before adding their own twist -- pouring epoxy over the transparent wood block.
The simple additive process made the block four to six times stronger -- stronger than glass.
Researchers believe the new material could be used to make more resilient windows and other optical materials, like solar panels. While its transparency resembles glass, its structure is much different. The clear wood features design elements leftover from its life as a tree -- vascular structures that once carried water and nutrients up and down a tree's trunk and branches.
This piping helps channel light passing through the wood.
"In traditional material the light gets scattered," Liangbing Hu, a materials scientist at Maryland, told The New York Times. "If you have this waveguide effect with wood, more light comes into your house."
Hu and his colleagues -- who detailed their latest efforts in the journal Advanced Materials -- are now working on strategies for scaling up their production process, with the hopes of making larger blocks of transparent, epoxied wood.