Wood is an example of an extraordinary cellular material that is highly porous yet lightweight, strong, stiff, hard and tough, a combination of mechanical properties that have not been achieved in synthetic porous materials. The objective of this proposal is to use computational and experimental analyses to create a fundamental understanding of how the multiscale structural organization of wood, from the molecular to the macroscopic, determines its mechanical properties and to discover design principles that may generally apply to multiscale hierarchical design of synthetic cellular materials. The outcomes of this research will include: (1) a simulation tool for multiscale modeling of polymeric materials from the atomic to the macroscopic, (2) a quantitative structural model of wood from molecules to wood tissue, (3) the multiscale structure-property relationship of wood, and (4) guidelines for hierarchical design of synthetic cellular materials.
If successful, this research will not only enhance our understanding of the unique mechanical properties of wood, but will also provide a theoretical tool for analysis and design of hierarchically-structured polymeric materials. It will contribute to the development of next generation multiscale, multifunctional composite materials. In addition, a fundamental understanding of the importance of the hierarchical structure of wood is also crucial for plant biologists who are interested in the genetic mechanisms that govern secondary cell wall formation. Simulation tools that give insight into how wood composition and structure determine its mechanical properties will also inform biologists about how wood composition can be modified to enhance specific end uses. This research necessarily merges materials science and mechanical engineering with biology, and, therefore, provides a unique opportunity to establish a multidisciplinary learning and training program that transcends the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines and offer students an integrated approach of team research and career development.