Petrified Wood in Days

Jan 25, 2005
Cross section of wood that was artificially petrified in days

California has Silicon Valley. Could a Silicon Forest in Washington be next? A team of materials scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is on it.
Yongsoon Shin and colleagues at the Department of Energy lab have converted wood to mineral, achieving in days what it takes nature millions of years to do in such places as the Gingko Petrified Forest, an hour up the Columbia River. There, trees likely felled in a cataclysmic eruption and, buried without oxygen beneath lava, leached out their woody compounds and sponged up the soil's minerals over the eons.

Petrified wood is a type of fossil, in which the tissues of a dead plant are replaced with minerals (most often a silicate, like quartz). The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood or woody materials suddenly become buried under sediment. Mineral-rich water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant's cells and as the plant's lignin and cellulose decays away, a stone cast is left in its place.

Shin's petrified wood journey began in a less dramatic fashion, a few minutes away at Lowe's, Shin's group reports in the current issue of the journal Advanced Materials, in the do-it-yourselfer chain's lumberyard,. There they picked up their raw material: pine and poplar boards. Back at PNNL, they gave a 1 centimeter cube of wood a two-day acid bath, soaked it in a silica solution for two more (for best results, repeat this step up to three times), air-dried it, popped it into an argon-filled furnace gradually cranked up to 1,400 degrees centigrade to cook for two hours, then let cool in argon to room temperature.

Presto. Instant petrified wood, the silica taking up permanent residence with the carbon left in the cellulose to form a new silicon carbide, or SiC, ceramic. The material "replicates exactly the wood architecture," according to Shin.

Although SiC chips are unlikely to replace computer chips, materials scientists are interested in the novel properties of ceramics built on templates of wood and, in Shin's lab, other natural materials such as pollen and rice hulls. The intricate network of microchannels and pores in plant matter provide enormous surfaces--in wood, 1 gram of material flattened out would cover a football field--that may prove useful in industrial chemical separations or filtering pollutants from gaseous effluents.

The acid-leaching method yields an identical, positive reproduction of the wood. If Shin wants to capture a negative impression, he can alter the pH to favor the base end of the scale.

"The positive replica is a lot better in terms of surface area and uniformity," Shin said. "Negative forms collapse easily, but it is possible to make fiber-type materials," where the minerals fill in wood-grain openings.

Explore further: Performance measures for CEOs vary greatly, study finds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Back to the future with mummified trees

Mar 17, 2011

When in Quttinirpaaq National Park in the Canadian Arctic, Ohio State University Earth scientist Joel Barker initially spotted some pieces of dead trees scattered on the barren ground near a glacier. Immediately, ...

Moon Rock Turns Out to be Fake

Sep 01, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Dutch national Rijksmuseum made an embarrassing announcement last week that one of its most loved possessions, a moon rock, is a fake -- just an old piece of petrified wood that's never ...

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

2 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

5 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

6 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...