Wonderful Engineering

Scientists Make Wood Transparent. This Is How They Did It

The search for more sustainable, green architectural materials has led the scientists at the University of Maryland, College Park to develop a transparent version of the natural wood, flaunting superior qualities.

The newest material has been dubbed “the invisible wood” by Dr. Liangbing Hu from the Department of Material Science and Engineering at Maryland. The invisible wood comes with enhanced strength and thus, can easily replace the hazardous material for the environment like plastics. Apart from that, this wood has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the field of design with its breakthrough characteristics.


Image Source: University of Maryland


Fabrication of Clear Wood

The clear wood is manufactured in two steps. An organic substance named lignin is removed chemically. Lignin is present in all vascular plants and imparts a yellowish color to the wood. The paper manufacturing industry employs the same process to remove lignin and produce pulp.  The process strips wood of all its color.


Image Source: University of Maryland


Next, the wood channels are injected with an epoxy to strengthen it. This process lasts for an hour or so. Injecting veins of the wood with epoxy ensures that the makeup of the cellular nanofibers remains intact.


Image Source: University of Maryland


The cellular nanofibers make the walls of the channels, thus making them robust. Dr. Hu commented on the manufacturing process, stating:

“We don’t disturb these channels — and so for the first time, we can maintain the backbone structure of the wood, and make it transparent, while simultaneously making it stronger.”

The biodegradable nature of transparent wood makes it more environment-friendly than the plastic.


Image Source: University of Maryland


What does the ‘See-Through’ Wood Offer

A detailed report about the new material has been published in the journal named Advanced Materials. The journal article lists quite a few future uses of this material. Dr. Hu envisions that the invisible wood will ultimately replace glass being used in the architecture today.

The use of glass windows poses a significant design problem because they offer poor thermal isolation. As opposed to that, Dr. Hu explains the virtues of the transparent wood:

“As a natural insulator, wood could better insulate from the cold and keep areas cool in hot weather.”

The Journal also explains the potential use of the newly developed transparent wood in the solar cells. Apparently, the transparent wood offers high transmittance qualities or “high optical haze” which could be employed for conversion of the solar energy into the electrical energy.


Image Source: University of Maryland


The natural channels in the transparent wood, used by nature to supply water and food, now allow the flow of light through them. This implies that the solar cells can receive greater amount of sunlight, if the transparent wood is placed in front of it which can also control how the sunlight enters it. The scientists estimate an increase of up to 30 percent in the efficiency of the solar cells.

Incredible Strength of the Transparent wood

The material can be used to replace the traditional building materials with the new greener ones. Dr. Hu is quite optimistic about the prospects of the transparent wood:

“Potentially, the wood could be made to match or even exceed the strength of steel per weight, with the added benefit that the wood would be lighter in weight.”

Dr. Hu believes that the transparent wood will be available for sale in a few years. People are already inquiring him about the mass production of the clear wood.



The future of architecture seems greener with the development of new building and design materials like the biodegradable, transparent wood. It brings quite a new meaning to living in a glass house, doesn’t it?