Can't see the wood for the trees? Maybe it's because it's...see-through wood (ba-dum-tsshhh).

A group of researchers at the University of Maryland have successfully turned wood transparent, making it both stronger and more insulating than a piece of glass.

This grand feat of science was achieved by carefully pulling away the colour and chemicals from a chunk of wood. The researchers first boiled the wood in water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals for a couple of hours, which flushed out lignin – the molecule responsible for giving wood its colour.

Then, they poured epoxy over the wood, making it four to five times stronger – albeit slightly less environmentally-friendly – than your standard log. What was left over was a curious material that retained the structure and natural channels of its former self, but was unmistakably see-through – almost like a slab of frosted glass.

Those micro-channels are key to how the material could be an effective material in our homes one day. This is because they can deliver light in a similar way to how they moved nutrients around in the wood’s former life as a tree. Liangbing Hu, one of the researchers who wrote about the project in Advanced Materials, said, “In traditional material the light gets scattered. If you have this waveguide effect with wood, more light comes into your house.”

Wooden windows are a way off yet, though, because the team could only manage the effect with 5X5-inch blocks of wood with varying thicknesses, ranging from paper thin to around a centimetre in depth. They are working on scaling up the experiment to larger pieces of wood.