Transparent wood developed by scientists | Inquirer Technology

Scientists are developing transparent wood

08:00 AM December 12, 2023

Scientists worldwide are developing transparent wood based on previous research. Wood nanotechnologist Qilang Fu claims it could be “as strong as glass” while letting light through it. Consequently, it could be a new aesthetic design for homes and buildings. More importantly, see-through wood could become structural support that provides soft, ambient light.

Many scientists devote massive amounts of time and effort to developing new materials. However, some find additional uses for existing materials, such as millennia-old wood. Transparent wood is one of the most interesting examples, as it could become a new architectural material. Also, we might turn it into an alternative to stained glass windows. 

This article will discuss how scientists are developing transparent wood as a construction material. Later, I will share another emerging use for wood.

How do you make transparent wood?

In 1992, German botanist Siegfried Fink published a paper explaining how to make see-through wood by bleaching plant cell pigments. Later, a Swedish material scientist named Lars Berglund and other experts worldwide stumbled across it. 


Ars Technica explains wood consists of several minuscule vertical channels, like a tight bundle of straws bound together with glue. The tube-shaped cells transport a tree’s nutrients and water.

Harvesting a tree causes its moisture to evaporate, leaving air pockets. Also, the glue is lignin, which holds cells together while giving tree trunks their brown color.

Scientists modified or removed that lignin to leave a bone-white skeleton of hollow cells. However, that structure is opaque, so the experts applied epoxy resin to make it transparent.

The material is thin, but materials scientist Liangbing Hu discovered transparent wood can outperform glass and plastic. He said it is three times tougher than transparent plastics and 10 times stronger than glass. 


“The results are amazing, that a piece of wood can be as strong as glass,” said Hu. As a result, it could become a tougher alternative to glass for display screens and windows. 

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Biochemical engineer Prodyut Dhar said transparent wood could also become an architectural feature. Transparent wood is a better insulator than glass, so it could help buildings block or retain heat. 

Hu and his fellow researchers also explored this possibility by adding polyvinyl alcohol or PVA to the material. As a result, it insulated heat five times better than glass. 

Ars Technica said other wood research could further improve the transparent alternative. Céline Montanari, a materials scientist at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, and her team could turn it into a phase-change material. Using her method on transparent wood could enable it to store heat when it’s warm and release heat when it’s cold. 

What is the other recent wood application?

Latest wood technology application - Advancements in sustainable solutions.
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Transparent wood is already amazing, but have you ever thought about using wood for space satellites? Kyoto University researcher Koji Murata believes it is possible.

“When you use wood on Earth, you have the problems of burning, rotting, and deformation,” he told CNN. “In space, you don’t have those problems. There is no oxygen in space, so it doesn’t burn. No living creatures live in them, so they don’t rot,” he added. 

Also, Murata stated the strength per weight of wood is the same as that of aluminum. That means it is a viable space construction material. Moreover, he and his team tested wood at the International Space Station and found it is remarkably resilient in outer space. 

He tested three wood types: Erman’s birch, Japanese cherry, and magnolia obovata. The first is common in East Asia, and the others are native to Japan. 

Cypress and cedar are more common wood types for construction. However, Murata said his team “chose materials that could withstand as much detailed work as possible because of the small size of the satellites.” 

Their final choice is magnolia wood because it has small and uniformly sized cells. These qualities make it easy for engineers to work with the material. 

It is also less likely to split or break. Moreover, Nikkei Asia reported electromagnetic waves pass through wood easily. As a result, a wooden satellite can house conventional orbital antennas.

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Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA will launch the wooden prototype LingoSat next year. Despite Murata’s research, JAXA engineer Tatsuhito Fujita says we know little about sending wooden structures into space.

The LingoSat passed initial safety evaluations with no critical concerns. Fujita declared, “JAXA also hopes for lighter, stronger structural materials that are less likely to generate debris and is conducting research to achieve this goal.”

Believe it or not, our space programs have been leaving a lot of garbage in near-Earth orbit. That trash may collide and destroy satellites and future space launches. 


Researchers are developing ways to make wood transparent so that it could be a viable replacement for plastics and glass. Also, they believe it could support future buildings.

Materials scientist Céline Montanari said she and her colleagues are figuring out how to create transparent wood with eco-friendly methods. “When you’re trying to achieve sustainability, you don’t only want to match the properties of fossil-based materials,” Montanari stated.

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Learn more about this transparent wood research from the publishing website De Gruyter. Also, check out more digital tips and trends at Inquirer Tech.


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