January 24, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

How To Make Instant Petrified Wood

“Want to petrify wood without waiting a few million years?  Try this,” EurekAlert teases.  The recipe: pick up some pine or poplar wood chips from your local lumber store, soak them in an acid bath for two days, then soak them in silica solution for two more.  Air dry, then put into argon-filled furnace at 1,400°C for two hours.  Let cool in argon to room temperature.  “Presto.  Instant petrified wood.”  The press release from the DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory states, “The acid-leaching method yields an identical, positive reproduction of the wood.”  One of the researchers concurs; it “replicates exactly the wood architecture.”
    Nature, however, works much more slowly, according to the report:

Yongsoon Shin and colleagues at the Department of Energy lab have converted wood to mineral, achieving in days what it takes nature millions of years to do in such places as the Gingko Petrified Forest, an hour up the Columbia River.  There, trees likely felled in a cataclysmic eruption and, buried without oxygen beneath lava, leached out their woody compounds and sponged up the soil’s minerals over the eons. (Emphasis added.)

The article adds an interesting factoid about wood tissue.  “The intricate network of microchannels and pores in plant matter provide enormous surfaces—in wood, 1 gram of material flattened out would cover a football field,” it says.  Scientists are interested in creating ceramics that mimic these properties.  With instant petrified wood, they might be able to separate chemicals in the lab, or filter pollutants from escaping gas.

A million years is an awful, awful, awful long time.  Think about everything that has transpired since the first record of human civilization: all the wars, natural disasters, climate changes, environmental and population shifts.  Now multiply that thought by a hundred – that is less than one million years, let alone 10 million or a hundred million.  Don’t you think in all that time, with all the volcanoes going off and continents drifting around, all the weathering and erosion, all the pressure and temperature changes, nature couldn’t figure out how to petrify wood a little faster, if we can do it in less than a week?  Why do you think this article claims it took millions of years?  Evidence?  … or maybe another reason?

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