Hygroscopic swelling and shrinkage of latewood cell wall micropillars reveal ultrastructural anisotropy
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AbstractWe document the hygroscopic swelling and shrinkage of the central and the thickest secondary cell wall layer of wood (named S2) in response to changes in environmental humidity using synchrotron radiation-based phase contrast X-ray tomographic nanoscopy. The S2 layer is a natural fibre-reinforced nano-composite polymer and is strongly reactive to water. Using focused ion beam, micropillars with a cross section of few micrometres are fabricated from the S2 layer of the latewood cell walls of Norway spruce softwood. The thin neighbouring cell wall layers are removed to prevent hindering or restraining of moisture-induced deformation during swelling or shrinkage. The proposed experiment intended to get further insights into the microscopic origin of the anisotropic hygro-expansion of wood. It is found that the swelling/shrinkage strains are highly anisotropic in the transverse plane of the cell wall, larger in the normal than in the direction parallel to the cell wall's thickness. This ultrastructural anisotropy may be due to the concentric lamellation of the cellulose microfibrils as the role of the cellulose microfibril angle in the transverse swelling anisotropy is negligible. The volumetric swelling of the cell wall material is found to be substantially larger than the one of wood tissues within the growth ring and wood samples made of several growth rings. The hierarchical configuration in wood optimally increases its dimensional stability in response to a humid environment with higher scales of complexity.