Scientists have come up with a revolutionary new use for wood. They have devised a way to make it transparent. This could totally change the way many things in our lives are used and made. See-through wood could one day replace glass and be used in windows and tables, for iPhone screens, and in a whole assortment of other building materials. The innovation has come from researchers at the University of Maryland in the USA. They experimented with different ways to extract the chemicals from wood that give it colour. Researcher Liangbing Hu said: "We were very surprised by how transparent it could go. This can really open applications that can potentially replace glass and some optical materials."
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The researchers worked with a small block of linden wood. They boiled it in water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals for about two hours. A molecule called lignin, which gives wood its colour, disappeared during the boiling process. This left behind colourless cells, which effectively made the wood transparent. The see-through wood is a lot stronger and less dangerous than glass. It is better at insulating against the cold and it is biodegradable. Research is still in its infancy and the process can currently only be done on 10cm by 10cm blocks of wood that range in thickness between paper-thin and a centimeter thick. The researchers will now focus on applying the process on a much larger scale.