Ceramic Wood That's Hard As A Rock

Nature takes millions of years to make petrified wood, the rock-hard material that forms as minerals slowly seep into the wood's cells. Now, University of Washington researchers have mimicked nature to make tough wood-ceramic compounds.

In a process that takes just days, the wood is soaked in a solution containing silicon compounds, which are widely used to make ceramics. Just as in petrification, the solution fills the pores of the wood. Then the material is cured in an oven at about 80C. The resulting wood-ceramic compounds are 20% to 120% stronger than wood and less brittle than ceramics, says Daniel Dabbs, research manager of the university's Advanced Ceramic Materials Lab.

The composites could be good for structural uses, or for harder, stronger furniture and floors, for example. Dabbs says the ceramic component also makes these materials more resistant than wood to mold, insects, and even salt water.

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