Researchers at the University of Maryland have found a way to make wood transparent. To remove the wood’s natural coloration, they chemically treated it to break down a compound called lignin, which gives the wood its tan-brown color. After removing the natural color, they hardened the remaining structure with a transparent epoxy.
Material insulates better than glass
The epoxy leaves the wood 4-6 times stronger than it would be naturally. As an added benefit, the wood is a better insulator than traditional plate glass. So far, the research team has only worked with small blocks of wood, but from a materials perspective, the results are promising.
Removing the lignin does not remove the wood’s natural ringed structure. That’s actually good from a materials perspective because it affects the way light is transmitted through the wood. The natural “channels” in the structure of the wood mean that light enters the channels and scatters differently than it would through ordinary plate glass.
Because the light is guided by the wood’s natural internal structures, it could be used in place of glass on a device like a computer monitor to reduce glare. The scientists also believe it could be adapted for use in automobiles, and could improve the ability of solar cells to trap light.
In their experiments, researchers used linden wood, and compared how the material performed when sliced both against and with the natural wood grain. Slicing the material with the grain allowed researchers to transmit light through the longer dimension of the block. The light penetrated the long channels of the natural wood structure and provided a relatively focused light transmission. Slicing the wood against the grain and transmitting light through the shorter dimension of the block diffused the light, but did not significantly impact the amount of light transmitted.
The research is far from complete, and wood may or may not ever serve as a replacement for glass, but the insulative properties of wood could make this an interesting materials choice for buildings and a lower-cost alternative for some mobile devices.
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Photo Credit: Niels Rameckers, via FreeImages.com