Understanding Molecular Self-Assembly Opens Door For New Sources Of Wood-Like Materials

March 24, 1999

(Blacksburg, VA) -- A better understanding of how the cell wall of wood forms will someday help wood scientists assemble wood-like composites without using trees. Virginia Tech wood science and forest products professor Wolfgang Glasser will review recent discoveries about the way cell-wall of wood self-assembles and present examples of self-organizing cellwall-like polymers, including several cellulose derivatives and lignins, in a paper being presented at the 217th American Chemical Society National Meeting on March 21-26 in Anaheim.

"Work by former doctoral student Ulrike Becker taught us to recognize when and under what conditions molecules self assemble," Glasser says. "I tell my undergraduates that some molecules behave like cats. They will never organize. While other molecules behave like adult Germans. They spontaneously organize. Using Ulli's work, we've found a way to describe -- perhaps less colorfully -- the way molecules assemble."

The hypothesis is that the cell-wall of wood does not require biochemistry to form, but self-assembles spontaneously because of structural features, Glasser says. "Cellwall-like, multiphase polymeric (supramolecular) architectures may be a result of thermodynamically-driven self-organization," he says.

"This could open the door for producing wood-like materials from other plant-derived molecules -- such as straw -- and save the forests," Glasser says.

"This is just a dream; a vision! But understanding molecular self-assembly is a key stepping stone towards that dream."

Glasser will deliver the paper co-authored with Becker on "The Self-Assembly Behavior of Cell Wall-like Polymers," (Cell #73) on Wednesday, March 24, at 8:30 a.m. in the West Coast Hotel, room Palm East.
Contact for more information:
Dr. Wolfgang Glasser at 540-231-4403 or wglasser@vt.edu during the week of March 15 and after the conference.

Virginia Tech

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