Courtesy University of Maryland

Engineers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering have discovered a process that can make wood stronger than steel or titanium alloys. The method begins by removing the wood's lignin—the part that gives wood its color and rigidity—via boiling the material in an aqueous mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfate. The remaining wood panel is then compressed at 150 F in order to collapse the cell wall and rid the material of weak spots. This process also allows for tight hydrogen bonds to be formed, furthering strengthening the wood. “This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings—any application where steel is used,” said Liangbing Hu, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, and a member of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute, in a press release. [University of Maryland]

Beloved Danish toy company Lego Group will be releasing a series of landscaping elements—including leaves, bushes, and trees—made of plant-based plastic instead of petroleum-based plastic for its Lego kits this year. The horticultural elements are made of a polyethylene derived from sugarcane. [ARCHITECT]

Researchers from Soochow University in Suzhou, China, have designed a new type of solar panel that also uses the motion of raindrops to generate energy. [American Chemical Society]

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has announced a new grant program that awards cities pursuing LEED for Cities certification "with the financial and educational support to improve performance," according to a press release. Initial grant recipients include San Jose, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Atlanta, Ga.; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago, Ill. [USGBC]

Physicists at MIT and Harvard have found a way to make highly durable graphene—a single layer of carbon atoms—into both a superconductor and an insulator by layering two honeycombed sheets of the 2D material at different angles. [MIT News]

Courtesy MIT

In an article for The New York Times, authors Quoctrung Bui and Roger Kisby document the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 competition at this year's World of Concrete, and postulate whether masons are at risk for having their jobs taken over by robots in the near future. [New York Times]

Introduced this week at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland, Goodyear's new tire concept Oxygene aims to tackle air pollution in urban environments. The concept tire is outfitted with moss on its sidewall to "absorb and circulate moisture and water from the road surface, allowing photosynthesis to occur and therefore releasing oxygen into the air," according to a company press release. [Goodyear]

International firm HOK has unveiled a new virtual reality (VR) application for iOS and Android devices that will allow users to experience panoramic, 360-degree renderings in two different viewing modes. [ARCHITECT]

Call for Entries: ARCHITECT invites design firms, manufacturers, researchers, students, startups, and innovators in all building-related disciplines to enter our 12th annual R+D Awards by April 20. Winners will be featured in our July issue and online. [ARCHITECT]