Transparent wood could be the construction material of the future
Wood is the preferred choice of construction material for numerous things, including furniture, wall panels and flooring. However, it could be soon used for fabricating windows, optical equipment and a lot more as well. Yep, you read that right. Researchers at the University of Maryland have come up with a way to remove colours and other chemicals from a block of wood, effectively making it clear and transparent like glass . Despite looking like glass, the transparent wood has more strength and better insulating properties than glass. It also has better biodegradability than ordinary plastic , and is shatter-proof as well. Making wood transparent is essentially a really simple process. The first step involves immersing blocks of wood in a boiling bath filled with water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals for about two hours. This causes a polymer, called Lignin, to percolate from the wood's cellular walls. Lignin is one of the most prevalent compounds in the plant world and its primary purpose is to make plant cells stiffer. Interestingly, Lignin also impart colour to the wood, and it turns white without the compound. For the next step, wood is soaked with an epoxy that not just strengthens it but also renders it clear. Surprisingly, the underlying structures of the wood remain intact even when its colour is gone. When filled with epoxy, these structures are turned into channels that allow light to pass through. The final product left after the process looks like plastic. However, the process is still in its early stages of development. Currently, only wood chunks that are about five by five inches in size can be made transparent. Future plans include scaling up the process to make it work for larger wooden blocks. Wood is already used for fabricating a diverse array of things, thanks to its advantages like insulating properties and strength. And transparent wood could be employed for making everything from windows to windscreens stronger and safer. Not just that, it could also be used to fabricate damage resistant optical lenses, smartphone touchscreens and a variety of other products. Transparent wood could one day completely eliminate the need for using plastic. And since it has better biodegradability than plastic, it'll be better for the environment as well. The possibilities are endless.