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March 8, 2019

Wood research branches out

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Nobody can accuse University of Wisconsin-Madison materials science and engineering graduate students of failing to see the forest for the trees.

 Nayomi Plaza-Rodriguez
Nayomi Plaza-Rodriguez

In fact, two alumnae (who now work for the U.S. Forest Service) recently earned national notice for their research on wood.

Nayomi Plaza-Rodriguez, who finished her PhD in fall 2017, received the 2018 Forest Products Society Wood Award for her paper, “Small angle neutron scattering as a tool to understand moisture-durability in adhesive infiltrated wood cell walls.” The award recognizes timely research that has the potential to be helpful to the forest products industry, and only two papers earn distinction each year.

Plaza-Rodriguez won first place because the tool she described could aid in the development of treatments to make wood products more durable and moisture-resistant. It’s an important problem, because wet wood swells and changes shape, which can cause glues to fail.

 Laura Hasburgh
Laura Hasburgh

The first-place prize earned Plaza-Rodriguez $1,000, a plaque, and complimentary conference registration to the Forest Products Society International Convention, June 26-29, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia, where she will present her research as a poster in a technical forum.

While Plaza-Rodriguez’s work focuses on the harmful effects of water on wood, moisture is far from the only force that can destroy forest products. In fact, water’s opposite, fire, can be just as damaging.

And fire research was a hot topic at the 2018 World Conference on Timber Engineering, where Laura Hasburgh, who graduated with her doctoral degree in 2018, won the grand prize for the Young Scientist Award.

Hasburgh developed a testing procedure to evaluate how wood contributes to safety and property damage during a full-scale compartment fire, which is a crucial question as cross-laminated timber becomes increasingly popular as a construction material for mid-rise and high-rise residential buildings.

The researchers constructed five full-scale models of two-story apartments and ignited each test structure. While the apartments burned, they collected data on air temperatures, smoke, and toxic gasses—important hazards for firefighters battling a blaze or residents escaping an inferno. The results could help inform future building codes for wood-built residences.

Hasburgh and Plaza-Rodriguez were both advised by Materials Science and Engineering Professor Donald Stone during their graduate studies.