Untreated wood rots and pressure-treated wood can pose health and environmental hazards, so U.S. scientists are now turning to nanotechnology.

Michigan Technological University researchers say they have discovered a way to embed organic compounds in plastic beads only about 100 nanometers across. Six hundred of such beads would be about the width of a human hair.

MTU professors Pat Heiden and Peter Laks say the beads, suspended in water, are small enough to travel through the wood when it is placed under pressure.

Wood has a very fine, sieve-like structure, Laks said. You need particles small enough to fit through those very small channels.

The beads go right to the heart of the wood and stay there, protecting it from decay.

This is an emerging area, said Jim Baker, Michigan Tech’s director of technology partnerships. It’s nanotechnology being applied in a traditional industry that has used technology for some time, but which isn’t thought of as being high tech.

Baker noted the nanoparticles also reduce leaching, which will help protect the environment from whatever preservatives are used.