Yes, you read the title correctly, transparent wood!
The same block of wood before and after treatment
A team at the University of Maryland has developed a process to remove the colour and light blocking properties that wood has, rendering it not only stronger and more insulating than glass but also more biodegradable than a lot of current plastics. Wow!
To turn the wood transparent, Dr. Hu and his team boil the wood in water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals to remove the lignin (an organic polymer that gives wood its colour) to leave behind the colourless channels of the wood’s natural cellular structure. They then pour epoxy over the block to increase the strength.
Video from New York Magazine
Ok, it doesn’t have the optical clarity of glass but for a material that is inherently opaque the transparency is impressively high. And don’t forget, this is only a recent discovery. I’m sure that with more research the process can be refined to improve the clarity beyond the current maximum of 90%.
The natural channels that remain in the wood have more than just an aesthetic quality to them. They actually guide light waves along the internal structure, focussing them rather than dispersing them. This means you could not only get more light in through “wooden windows” but you could also improve the yield of solar panels with a coating of transparent wood!
The potential for use as windows and in other building areas is incredible, particularly when you consider that it has the conceivable ability to surpass steel’s strength to weight ratio for structural elements.
I look forward to being able to build a transparent tree house for my daughter one day!