If you’re looking to build something transparent, but want to retain the Earthiness of wood, this could be the building material of a very shiny future.
Engadget reports scientists at the University of Maryland have developed a technique to strip away the color from a block of wood and essentially turn it transparent. Yeah, you read that correctly: It makes see-through wood. Researchers say the final material is stronger and better insulating that glass, while also being more biodegradable than plastic. Even the researchers admitted “surprise” at just how transparent they were able to make it.
Here’s how they did it: First, you boil the wood in water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals for approximately two hours. This process expels lignin, the specific molecule that gives wood its unique, wood-y color. Once the wood is stripped, the researchers then covered it in epoxy to make it 4-5 time stronger than it would be.
Though the process does turn the wood transparent, it still manages to retain the texture and look — which can actually help guide in more light, when using the material as a window. There’s just one problem: They can’t actually produce this stuff any larger than 5x5 inch blocks, and they’re still working to make it thick enough to be truly handy as a building material.
But, it’s looking good, and once they figure everything out this could be one very handy, new material.