Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rotten to the core

02.04.2019

Fungi that decompose tree trunks can conjure up real works of art in wood. In nature, however, the decay-causing fungi not only decorate the tree, but also destroy it. Empa researchers are now teaching the fungi how to draw. The result: upscale marbled wood that can be processed into design furniture or musical instruments.

Sometimes there is true beauty to be discovered in very unusual places. Like Phoenix from the ashes, the coveted truffle beech is made from rotting wood on the forest floor. Uniquely patterned, it has been a sought-after as a raw material for furniture production since antiquity.


Marbled wood from the lab: Depending on the kind of fungi used, the course of the pattern in the wood can be controlled. Image: Empa

However, the search for natural truffle beeches is tricky. Even those who deliberately leave tree trunks to rot in the forest have to wait years before they can hope to obtain wood that is decorated with fungal-induced patterns and, furthermore, still usable.

Empa researchers have now developed a technology, with which hardwoods such as beech, ash and maple can be specifically treated with fungal cultures so that the patterns in the wood can be controlled.

The fine black lines running through the wood are the traces of a battle. Sometimes they meander turbulently towards each other and separate small plots with lightened background. In other places, the dark drawings flow calmly as if they wanted to remind us of a boundary that none of the participants likes to cross:

Fungi that have fought in a battle for territory and resources in the wood clearly separate themselves from each other with pigmented lines. With these demarcation lines, the fine threads of the fungal community not only protect their colony from other fungi – the black boundary also ensures that bacteria and insects stay away and the habitat retains an ideal amount of moisture.

“We were able to identify fungi growing in nature and analyze them in the laboratory to select those with the most favorable properties as wood finishers,” says Hugh Morris, a scientist in Empa’s Applied Wood Materials lab in St. Gallen.

For example, the brittle cinder fungus and the Turkey-tail when matched with each other leave black lines caused by the pigment melanin and at the same time bleach the surrounding wood thanks to the fungal enzyme laccase. “This creates a pattern with a particularly strong contrast in the wood” explains Hugh Morris.

Depending on the combination of fungal species, the lines are wild and impetuous or almost geometric. The researcher is convinced that the fungi can even, in time, be trained to write words in the wood. The gentle bite of the fungi that are used in the Empa laboratory is particularly favourable: Despite their pronounced talent for drawing, the selected candidates hardly gnaw their substrata.

“Although fungi generously supply the wood with pigments, the wood retains its stability and shape,” says Hugh Morris.

However, the fact that the artistic process can be controlled and geared towards the desired result is not only owing to the type of fungus, the researchers also developed a process, with which the wood is ready for processing within weeks. One of the reasons for this rather fast processing is that the selected fungal species are able to grow in the wood with considerably lower moisture levels. This means that the raw material does not have to be dried long, costly or energy-intensive before being processed into furniture.

Together with the industry partner Koster Holzwelten AG, the researchers are now in the process of implementing an efficient and ecologically sustainable production method. This also includes the use of regional wood. “Beech wood is a hardwood that is common in Switzerland but appears uninteresting to furniture designers,” explains Managing Director Jakob Koster. With marble wood from local beech trees, however, it is possible to offer sought-after products on the Swiss timber market with an annual volume of around 3 billion Swiss francs.

In addition to furniture, parquet floors and kitchen fronts, marble wood can also be used for decorative objects and musical instruments. Unique pieces have always been created from patterned wood. With the new technology, spalted wood can now be produced faster, more sustainably and with the desired marbling.

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Further information

Dr. Hugh Morris
Applied Wood Materials
Phone +41 58 765 7429
hugh.morris@empa.ch
Editor / Media contact

Dr. Andrea Six
Communication
Phone +41 58 765 61 33
redaktion@empa.ch

Weitere Informationen:

https://www.empa.ch/web/s604/marmorholz

Cornelia Zogg | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

Further reports about: Empa forest floor fungi moisture musical instruments raw material

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Theoretical tubulanes inspire ultrahard polymers
14.11.2019 | Rice University

nachricht New spin directions in pyrite an encouraging sign for future spintronics
14.11.2019 | ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New opportunities in additive manufacturing presented

Fraunhofer IFAM Dresden demonstrates manufacturing of copper components

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden has succeeded in using Selective Electron Beam Melting (SEBM) to...

Im Focus: New Pitt research finds carbon nanotubes show a love/hate relationship with water

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are valuable for a wide variety of applications. Made of graphene sheets rolled into tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, CNTs have an exceptional strength-to-mass ratio and excellent thermal and electrical properties. These features make them ideal for a range of applications, including supercapacitors, interconnects, adhesives, particle trapping and structural color.

New research reveals even more potential for CNTs: as a coating, they can both repel and hold water in place, a useful property for applications like printing,...

Im Focus: Magnets for the second dimension

If you've ever tried to put several really strong, small cube magnets right next to each other on a magnetic board, you'll know that you just can't do it. What happens is that the magnets always arrange themselves in a column sticking out vertically from the magnetic board. Moreover, it's almost impossible to join several rows of these magnets together to form a flat surface. That's because magnets are dipolar. Equal poles repel each other, with the north pole of one magnet always attaching itself to the south pole of another and vice versa. This explains why they form a column with all the magnets aligned the same way.

Now, scientists at ETH Zurich have managed to create magnetic building blocks in the shape of cubes that - for the first time ever - can be joined together to...

Im Focus: A new quantum data classification protocol brings us nearer to a future 'quantum internet'

The algorithm represents a first step in the automated learning of quantum information networks

Quantum-based communication and computation technologies promise unprecedented applications, such as unconditionally secure communications, ultra-precise...

Im Focus: Distorted Atoms

In two experiments performed at the free-electron laser FLASH in Hamburg a cooperation led by physicists from the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear physics (MPIK) demonstrated strongly-driven nonlinear interaction of ultrashort extreme-ultraviolet (XUV) laser pulses with atoms and ions. The powerful excitation of an electron pair in helium was found to compete with the ultrafast decay, which temporarily may even lead to population inversion. Resonant transitions in doubly charged neon ions were shifted in energy, and observed by XUV-XUV pump-probe transient absorption spectroscopy.

An international team led by physicists from the MPIK reports on new results for efficient two-electron excitations in helium driven by strong and ultrashort...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

High entropy alloys for hot turbines and tireless metal-forming presses

05.11.2019 | Event News

Smart lasers open up new applications and are the “tool of choice” in digitalization

30.10.2019 | Event News

International Symposium on Functional Materials for Electrolysis, Fuel Cells and Metal-Air Batteries

02.10.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Theoretical tubulanes inspire ultrahard polymers

14.11.2019 | Materials Sciences

Can 'smart toilets' be the next health data wellspring?

14.11.2019 | Health and Medicine

New spin directions in pyrite an encouraging sign for future spintronics

14.11.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>