An Update from the Department Chair - January 2022

A department update from Rich Kobe, professor and department chair in MSU Forestry.

Rich Kobe outside in a forest hiking

Dear MSU Forestry Alumni and Friends,

Like many of you, I love wood as much as I love trees. At home, most of our floors are white oak planks. Our coffee table is an alligator juniper slab, a reminder of sabbatical in northern Arizona. In the Department of Forestry’s space in the Natural Resources Building, whenever feasible, we use furniture constructed from wood recovered from campus trees. The color variation and complex grain patterns of wood convey a warmth that is hard to match. Perhaps this perception of ‘warmth’ arises from biophilia –the innate human instinct to connect with nature and natural elements.

Not only does wood largely comprise our house and its furnishings, it also keeps us warm in Michigan’s cold winter months. From my view, there is no better warmth than a wood-burning stove. As fire is essentially the reverse of photosynthesis, I like to think of the flames in our wood stove as the release of stored sun from a warm summer day. 

This issue of the MSU Forester is focused on several programs in MSU Forestry centered on the wonders of wood. As a building material, wood provides incredible strength for its weight, a property arising from the evolutionary pressure for trees to grow taller and shade, rather than be shaded by, their neighbors. These structural properties of wood are well suited for mid-rise buildings, like the mass-timber STEM Facility on MSU’s campus, the first building in Michigan incorporating cross-laminated timber. In collaboration with MSU Extension and School of Planning, Design, and Construction, our MassTimber@MSU program is extensively engaging with the building sector, including owners, developers, architects, and constructors. 

The molecular constituents of wood, such as lignin, also hold tremendous promise as a feedstock for sustainable and bio-based products (see page 6). Scientists in MSU Forestry are researching lignin properties and its use in manufacturing foams (for example, car seats), adhesives, and coatings.

Because 50% of wood (by weight) is carbon taken up from the atmosphere, storing carbon in durable wood products also could be an important strategy to mitigate climate change, a focal point of our Forest Carbon and Climate Program.

We also recently initiated a new minor in Sustainable Bioproducts Science and Technology, educating a new generation of professionals for the wood products industry.  

With rising consumer demand for more sustainable bio-based products and wood-based construction (especially mass timber), and with the climate and carbon benefits of wood compared with other materials, it’s a wonderful time to be involved in wood products. 

The wonders of wood! I hope that you enjoy this issue’s focus on the various ways that MSU Forestry is elevating wood to be even more wonderful.

Go green!

Rich signature




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