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The nanoscopic architecture of wood was studied to increase its strength

Press Release

Wood has been used for thousands of years to build houses and buildings until the concrete has spread. In recent years, interest in this material has returned to building construction as a more sustainable alternative to steel and concrete. However, the mechanical properties of wood are not compatible with these two other materials, and paradoxically this is also due to a lack of understanding of the composition of the wood itself, particularly at the cellular and atomic levels.

A new study published in Frontiers in Plant Science has tried to close this gap. The results of the research are explained by Jan Lyczakowski, a researcher at the Institute of Biochemistry at Cambridge University: “The molecular architecture of wood determines its strength, but the exact molecular arrangement of the cylindrical structures was previously unknown to us called macrofibrils in wood cells. This new technique has enabled us to recognize the composition of macrofibrils and the differences in molecular arrangement between plants and to understand how this could affect the density and strength of wood.”

The researchers who published their study on Frontiers in Plant Science used the technique of low-temperature scanning electron microscopy (cryo-REM) to observe frozen wood samples at temperatures as low as -200 ° C. The researchers were able to observe the temperature of the frozen wood samples at a temperature of up to -10°C. They were, therefore, able to observe the architecture of tree cells up to the size of the nanoscale and analyze cell walls under the microscope that are 1000 times narrower than the diameter of a human hair.

With these methods, it will be possible to study possible modifications of the wood itself, such as those related to the modification of the layout, and some polymers within its molecular architecture to change its strength. If we succeed in increasing the resistance of wood, we could indeed see in the future more and more buildings, and ever higher and more imposing, made of wood instead of steel or concrete, as indicated by Paul Dupree, one of the authors of the study.

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Janice Walker