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Wood or Poo, Against Tradition? A Cutting Tale of Two Knives

Would wood ever be a better choice than the metals generally used to make commercial table knives? Alternatively, what about using frozen human feces? The first of those questions has a new answer, delivered in a study called “Hardened Wood as a Renewable Alternative to Steel and Plastic,” by Bo Chen, Ulrich H. Leiste, William L. Fourney, Yu Liu, Qiongyu Chen, and Teng Li, published in the journal Matter, 2021. The authors, at the University of Maryland, report:

We demonstrate a potential low-cost and sustainable hard material made from natural wood. Through a simple and effective approach, bulk natural wood can be processed into a hardened wood (HW) with a 23-fold increase in hardness. To demonstrate the potential applications of HW, we show that an HW table knife can be made nearly three times sharper than commercial table knives. An HW nail can be as functional as a steel nail with comparable performance but is immune from rusting, a key failure mechanism of steel nails.

Further details are plumbed and videologized in Jennifer Ouellette’s article about the study, in Ars Technica.

Wood or Poo?

An attempt to answer the metal-versus-frozen-poo question, done by researchers at Kent State University, not only answered that question but also won the 2020 Ig Nobel Prize in physics. That prize was awarded to Metin Eren, Michelle Bebber, James Norris, Alyssa Perrone, Ashley Rutkoski, Michael Wilson, and Mary Ann Raghanti, for showing that knives manufactured from frozen human feces do not work well.

They documented that research, in the study “Experimental Replication Shows Knives Manufactured from Frozen Human Feces Do Not Work,” Metin I. Eren, Michelle R. Bebber, James D. Norris, Alyssa Perrone, Ashley Rutkoski, Michael Wilson, and Mary Ann Raghanti, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, vol. 27, no. 102002, October 2019.

Improbable Research