Friday, February 26, 2021

Transparent Wood


The piece of glass in the photo was made from wood. (Photo: USDA Forest Service)

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu in co-collaboration with colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Colorado have found a better way to make wood transparent. The conventional method involves a long process using chemicals to remove the lignin. In this new effort, the researchers are able to make wood transparent by changing the lignin rather than removing the lignin.

Wood’s lack of transparency comes from the combination of its two main components, cellulose and lignin. The researchers removed lignin molecules that are involved in producing wood color. First, they applied hydrogen peroxide to the wood surface and then exposed the treated wood to UV light (or natural sunlight). The wood was then soaked in ethanol to further clean it. Next, they filled in the pores with clear epoxy to make the wood smooth.

This method produces transparent wood that is 50 times stronger than the old method. The new method will be used to improve solar technology and window production. 

Transparent wood is one of the most promising new materials. The number of uses and benefits has yet to be fully realized. The production of transparent building materials will have an impact on the architecture of the future. It will be possible to live in a glass house made of wood!

Read more here and here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

An Unknown Planet?

The binary stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, and in the background the faint red dwarf Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri.

Astronomers have glimpsed what seems to be an unknown planet. In Nature Communications, the research team describes how infrared observations for 100 hours in May and June 2019 revealed a bright dot they have been unable to explain. If confirmed as a planet, the sighting would be the first to directly image an exoplanet around a nearby star.

Scientists spotted the bright dot near Alpha Centauri A, the closest star system to the Earth. It appears to be one of a pair of stars that swing around each other so tightly they appear to be a single star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. The binary star system is 4.37 light years away, a relatively short distance given the expanse of the cosmos. 

The researchers are referring to it as a “planet candidate” until further observations can verify the sighting.

The astronomers used the Very Large Telescope, or VLT, operated by the European Southern Observatory located in Chile’s Atacama Desert. A new coronagraph on the instrument blocks light from Alpha Centauri, making it easier to spot orbiting worlds.

Pete Klupar, the chief engineer of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said,“We’re trying to see a flashlight right next to a lighthouse.”

Read more here.