21 Nov

Grant writing is an elemental skill in all fields of science. Writing a grant application inquires an adept presentation of knowledge in the field for which the grant is being submitted. Successful grant writing demonstrates the ability to mobilize a scientific idea into fruition with the financial backing of the granters. Recently, I had just submitted my first grant proposal for a project encompassing the sustainable development of transparent wood.

While still a premed chemistry student, I decided to practice my newly attained scientific writing abilities (from Aspirnaut) and exercise my scientific curiosity for the field of material sciences. The inspiration for which came through my student labor position at Berea College and the independent study conducted through the spring semester of my first year.

Several advanced literature searches during the independent study allowed me to successfully attain moldable wood, the desired material in the project, but I had also stumbled across another unique wood-based material in the literature—transparent wood.

Particularly, I was preparing alkaline delignification solutions for the development of structural moldable wood, but my version of the experiment failed several times. Though, when browsing the literature for experimental troubleshooting in preparing delignifying solutions, I noticed that several reengineered wood-based materials utilize this method. Of course, one of which was transparent wood.

Hence, entering the new academic year as a sophomore, I had presented the idea of transparent wood to the Woodcraft Department, where I am involved in student work study. Though, the idea was too incredible to be believed possible, but I had presented my case well in the initial proposed study for the Student Crafts and Chemistry Departments.

Here, I will detail my proposal, grant writing experience, and where I stand on the project as the Fall 2022 semester comes to conclusion.

Sustainable Developments of Transparent Wood

I had always wanted to exercise my passion to investigate scientific inquiry and explore new knowledge within the field of biomedicine, but I haven’t always been able to attain such experiences due to limited resources, transportation and affordability, and the ensuing pandemic.

Though, once I arrived to college, I decided to create my own opportunities for an initial experience in science. 

Conveniently, in my second year of undergraduate study, I designed a study involving the sustainable development of transparent wood materials in a student- and worker-feasible manner. Essentially, I wanted to take a novel scientific discovery and commercialize the process for scalable manufacturing and creative design in the woodcraft industry.

The process I am translating into the craft industry involves the photocatalytic depolymerization of lignin macromolecules on chromophore groups followed by resin infiltration. More simply stated, I am exploring the feasibility of a light-catalyzed bleaching process that works by removing color-reflecting chemical groups, and subsequently impregnating to bleached wood template with a transparent polymer resin.

This process was first detailed by the Hu group in Xia et al, 2021 and Xia et al, 2021 (both papers describe this chemical process and was published by the same group in the same year). Though, I recognize that, while the patternable method of transparent wood (or what they call photonic wood) is significantly more feasible, waste-reducing, and sustainable than previous methods, the use of toluene and its toxicity profile poses a health hazard on industry workers.

Although I am sure workers of an industrial manufacturer would execute proper safety protocols when developing transparent wood in this way, I did not want to translate this method into the Berea College Woodcraft Department where students are devising new craft designs and innovations.

Furthermore, apart from toluene as a substituting reagent, I also noted that the Hu group used 10% Sodium Hydroxide and 30% Hydrogen Peroxide, which are very concentrated solutions of these reagents. This is not optimal for undergraduate use outside of the laboratory setting, so I wanted to investigate whether lesser concentrations, but additional coatings, of these reagents would also achieve transparent wood. 

Hence, I wanted to design a study testing a less-hazardous method of wood bleaching for the sustainable, user-friendly development of transparent wood materials in woodcraft.

My proposal was developed on experiment.com, a crowdfunding platform (like Go Fund Me) but specifically for scientific experimentation and investigation. Researchers and funders, alike, represent projects from various disciplines of science and from around the world. Anyone, regardless of level of expertise or background, can begin a project proposal.

My project, titled New practicable, eco-friendly methods in the generation of sustainable transparent wood materials, seeks to attain a campaign goal of $1,735 budgeted for a vacuum pump and chamber, epoxy resins, chemical reagents, UV-A lamp, and other necessary materials.

You can read more about my project here!

Additionally, I exercised a semi-professional version of grant-writing skill to attract and receive backers from the scientific community. In doing this, I was compelled to explore the available literature surrounding transparent wood and other engineered wood-based materials.

Genuinely, whether my funding campaign is fully successful or not, one of the most rewarding experiences in writing a proposal and launching a campaign is the ability to explore and to become involved in the scientific community.

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