Think Like the Scientist: Sam Zelinka
Meet the Scientist | About the Study


Sam Zelinka, Materials Research Engineer
USDA Forest Service scientist

I am currently conducting research on the interaction of water and wood. Moisture within the wood affects the mechanical properties of wood and can change physical properties such electrical conduction by as much as ten orders of magnitude (ten billion times). Many of the challenges of using wood as an engineering material (e.g. decay, corrosion of fasteners, and dimensional instability), arise from changes in the wood moisture content or an abundance of moisture within the wood.

Example of a simple research question I have tried to answer

How can we develop a mechanistic understanding of wood-moisture relations so that more durable wood products can be created?

Most Exciting Discovery

My most exciting discovery was that most "wood failures" are really "moisture failures". Wood fails because (1) it is attacked by mold, decay fungi, or other wood-degrading organisms or (2) it is weakened by splitting/checking caused by dimensional instability through moisture. The ultimate goal of my research is a transformative change in the way people understand how wood absorbs moisture, resulting in completely new methods of wood protection.

Dr. Samuel L. Zelinka, Research Materials Engineer

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  • Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • USDA Forest Service Scientist
  • A materials engineer develops and improves materials that you use in your everyday life by understanding and altering the microstructures of materials.