11 Feb

The ability to design a study and conduct research has been a dream of mine since high school, but I was never able to attain an internship position at an institution or independently organize a study of my own.

Hence, when I applied to college, especially as the young medic I hoped to be, I looked for two important attributes outside of the typical academic setting: clinical/career experience and research opportunities. This post will explore my first attempt at conducting an independent study (research-like opportunity) in continuation of the works of scientists who were published in the journal Science

I will explain how I discovered the professional study, my initial objective of implementation, the faculty and professors who helped me, and my first thoughts (part 1).

IMPORTANT NOTE: The method of cell wall engineering via partial delignification to induce moldable wood is NOT my idea, but it is the innovation of distinguished scientists (see citation in footnote)*. My goal the independent study was to repurpose this engineering technique for the objectives of student woodcraft, which is my Berea College Co-Op student labor position.

Part 1: Initiating the study and repurposing an innovation

Within the first few weeks of college as a first-year, I wanted to explore the contents of the campus library—the resources, the study spaces, the books, and especially the academic journals. Though, not knowing where to search first in Hutchins Library, I had eagerly turned for help.

A faculty member had introduced me to the all the journals and academic publications the library housed, which was quite a lot for a small liberal arts school.

The two I was interested in most were Science and Nature. Both of these peer-reviewed journals offer the latest cutting-edge research in multiple disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, biomedicine, etc. This was perhaps the one resource in college I was most excited about as a high schooler.

After that day, I would often visit the library to do homework and read an article or two that captured my interest. At first, all the scientific jargon, the methodology, and even the figures were difficult to comprehend in some articles. However, over time I would develop the insight to be able to understand the concepts displayed in the articles. 

Come October, there was an issue of the journal Science that caught my eye in particular. It featured wood, but not just any kind of wood, “moldable” wood.

Since my labor position was woodworking, I had the idea of sharing the publication with my labor supervisor, who had also found it to be fascinating. While I can’t provide the publication itself on this website, I can encode a link to the abstract (though the publication can be viewed upon purchase from AAAS Science): Lightweight, strong, moldable wood via cell wall engineering as a sustainable structural material.

To briefly summarize, anyway, the scientists had discovered that, through partial aqueous-based delignification (the process of removing lignin from plant cells) and subsequent water shock, wood can become highly foldable, with the ability to take many new forms that it couldn’t before. All while sustaining its intrinsic mechanical properties.

From what I have read, it seems that the objectives of the study is to find a sustainable alternative to polymers and metal alloys by testing wood as a potential candidate for a better structural material. From the findings depicted in the article, the scientists make a really good case for this revolutionary technique for engineering applications, and it may even be applied in the near future.

However, despite the intentions of the authors here, I eventually developed the idea that we could implement this technique for the purposes of woodcraft in my labor department. It would be a detour from an engineering application to an new technique in design. 

By late November, with encouragement from my supervisor, I had taken the idea from my labor department and over to the chemistry department. I had introduced the idea to my first semester chemistry professor, and given that the experiment required only the essential materials and procedures commonly found in any college laboratory, I was able to initiate my first independent study.

Here is the independent study proposal I wrote in order to portray my thoughts and intentions, as well as the procedures we would need to implement:

As it was the end of the first semester, anyhow, we would agree to begin the project at the beginning of the second. So, through two important close connections I made in my first few months of college, I was able to organize and begin my own study-like experience, something I was never able to do before, and am very grateful for finally attain. 

My two great mentors through this development were my labor supervisor, Jedidiah Radosevich, and my chemistry professor, Dr. Rashmi Shrestha.


  • Xiao S., Chen C., Xia Q., Liu Y., Yao Y., Chen Q., Hartsfield M.,  Brozena A., Tu K., Eichhorn S., Yao Y., Li J., Gan W., Shi S.Q., Yang V.W., Ricco M., Zhu J.Y., Burgert I., Luo A., Li T., and Hu L. (2021). Lightweight, strong, moldable wood via cell wall engineering as a sustainable structural material. Science. 374(6566), 465-471. DOI: 10.1126/science.abg9556

Lightweight, strong, moldable wood via cell wall engineering as a sustainable structural material.

* The email will not be published on the website.