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13enigma
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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 01:08
why is it impossible to make synthetic wood and metals


Why is it impossible to create synthetic wood and synthetic metal but it is possible to create synthetic gemstones like rubies and emeralds? What is the main reason scientist have a problem wen trying to make synthetic metal and wood?
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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 01:17


Please define synthetic wood: is it grown in labs from biological culture? It is made directly from elemental carbon or from hydrocarbons in a reaction vessel?
And how would one make synthetic metal? Nuclear transmutation of elements?




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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 01:36


Well wood is made up of plant cells and a vast mixture of chemical compounds, it would be incredibly difficult to replicate it down to the microscopic detail, and practically pointless considering the availability of better materials and the ease of their manufacture. Plus, trees are fairly common, if you need wood then the tried and tested method is to simply cut one down, and there are many varieties for different needs.

Synthetic metals are possible and have been made, although this is done via nuclear transmutation (the addition or removal of protons in an atom to change the element or neutrons to change isotope) in particle accelerators. The only reason we haven't seen their widespread use is how much energy it takes to do so, I think it takes somewhat on the order of billions of years to create even a few grams of gold with a PA running at full capacity. Like with wood, if you want metals then you can find them in nature, also a wide selection so we have no demand to make them artificially.

Gemstones are crystals as I'm sure you gathered, and they're pretty simple to grow. Rubies and sapphires for instance are two different forms of aluminium oxide, which belong to the corundum gems. Yes, that's all it is, nothing exotic about their chemical composition because you can find the stuff on kitchen foil. Because it doesn't dissolve in water, unlike if you wanted to make copper sulphate for example, they need to be grown by different methods. A common way to grow synthetic gemstones is the Verneuil process, in which powdered alumina and metal oxides are passed into a furnace, spraying tiny droplets onto a rod which eventually grows as a large, single crystal. Other crystals, like diamonds, are grown by heating them up to the point they vaporise and then depositing this vapour onto a seed crystal which causes it to grow.




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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 01:43


- adjective: synthetic
- (of a substance) made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product.

So most metals are in fact synthetic. A few noble ones like gold might be called "natural" as they exist in nature in their elemental form, but that definition feels somewhat , eh, artificial.

Gemstones are naturally formed crystals. They are made in the mantle under extreme temperature and pressure, a process we can replicate to some extent.

Wood on the other hand is made in a biological process, and it's simply not possible to replicate this process with today's technology. But we can make a wide range of materials that can resemble wood in some aspects.




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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 01:44


Almost all metals are synthetic.

PGMs and coinage metals can occur as such in nature, also meteoric nickel-iron. Aside from that, virtually all metals on the surface of the Earth require a chemical reaction to exist as metals.
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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 06:39


When I was in high school, I drove a car with synthetic wood panels on the side.

A 2x4 costs $2 at Home Depot though. Forget whether we could make synthetic wood, why would we ever want to? Wood is a natural organic polymer though, and we DO make lots of synthetic organic polymers, we just don't call them "synthetic wood".

I think your problem is in your presumed definition of "synthetic", though.




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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 15:57


I believe you could clarify what you mean by synthetic - aren't all metals synthetics? (Gold often goes through refining to purify it.) Finding it in mineral form is nice, but it wouldn't be a pure metal.
I don't think it's possible to find metals that aren't synthetic, by by definition.

As for wood, it's not as simple a chemical formula like CH4.
It's a biological section made up of cells containing thousands of individual parts, each often containing their own parts. We can synthesize some of these in the the lab, such as chlorophyll, but synthesizing the entire living cell wood (Geddit?) be incredibly expensive, and serve no other purpose than "Cool!" (And maybe show us some things about cellular biochemistry)
I think we should totally do it, but synthesizing wood is currently not something we can do with our knowledge.

You can get synthetic wood boards, which are usually recycled plastic that is textured and painted to look like wood. I rebuilt a deck with my father with this stuff a couple years ago...
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[*] posted on 11-11-2017 at 17:15


This thread is very baffling to me. I don't think of metals as synthetic just because they don't exist in nature as the free metal. This seems to me to be a very restricted definition of "synthetic."

As for synthetic wood, it is nuts to think of making oak, for example, that is indistinguishable from oak from an oak tree. I think a synthetic wood would be made from relatively simple starting materials and have properties akin to real wood, but not be identical to real wood. I think there is some confusion between "synthesize" and "replicate or clone."

But this is just my spin on the topic, and I may be completely missing the boat. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.:D
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[*] posted on 12-11-2017 at 04:17


I think indeed the question is: what is synthetic? There has been a bacterium with a fully synthetic chromosome. Now is this synthetic life? or just life with a synthetic chromosome? and what with the offspring of this bacterium? The copied DNA is made by life, but that life was encoded by synthetic DNA...
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[*] posted on 12-11-2017 at 04:30


Quote: Originally posted by CharlieA  
This thread is very baffling to me. I don't think of metals as synthetic just because they don't exist in nature as the free metal. This seems to me to be a very restricted definition of "synthetic."


I share your views on this, once upon a time those metal atoms were created by nature (where exactly depends on the position in the periodic table of course) and we find their natural reaction products here on Earth, and sometimes the free metal in space which is how pretty much all of it arrived here. All we do to get the metals from nature is remove some other atoms, tack on one or more electrons, and we reverse the process - the metal nuclei are unchanged.

On the other hand, there are elements that simply do not exist in nature, at least not long enough for us to detect, and that humanity is solely responsible for bringing into existence from our point of view. In this context, these are synthetic elements, and depending on their position, metals. Using the same processes, common elements are also synthesised and so they are classed as such because they were not born in nature. This also includes man-moderated nuclear syntheses, so whilst you may find technetium in nature, most commercial sources are in fact extracted from spent nuclear fuel rods. Then you have Americium, which is not found in nature but finds its most well known use in smoke alarms.

I guess it could be met half way and metals are really semi-synthetic. Natural in and of themselves, but require human mediated chemical processing to be useful.

[Edited on 12-11-2017 by LearnedAmateur]




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[*] posted on 12-11-2017 at 07:44


The problem with "synthetic" is that it's entirely subjective. You could even argue that everything is natural because humans are part of the natural world and therefore everything we do is a natural process! Practically speaking though, there aren't many materials that are not "semi-synthetic" at least. Even modern lumber is sliced up into fixed lengths and treated with chemicals and pressure to improve its strength and durability. It doesn't resemble the trees it came from whatsoever. Unless you're building an old fashioned log cabin with untreated trees and natural mud/clay as mortar, all of your building materials will be semi-synthetic, even the wood.



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[*] posted on 12-11-2017 at 09:07


The main dependent factor is really the degree to which something is altered from its natural form, in my opinion. Anyone can tell what is wood and what isn't - with some exceptions like fibreboard and some extreme imitations, it is easily identifiable by grain and general feel. Polymers are different though, a piece of plastic is always associated with being artificial, sometimes to the point of seeming fake because there isn't anything to compare it with in the natural world. The crude oil that is seen as the natural precursor to 'plastic', to the layperson, has a completely different set of properties and requires a lot of steps to get to their products. Metals are in between really, of course they don't appear like their ores and are typically associated with industry and manufacturing, but they are usually quite simple to make from nature. I personally view metals based on how natural they are, how simple they are to purify; something like this: gold -> copper -> iron -> uranium -> magnesium -> potassium. I get there are different ways to do so, but there's a big difference between panning a stream and complex, precise electrolytic cells or centrifuging high purity isotopes, and this is evident when you look back on humanity's experience with these elements.



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[*] posted on 17-12-2017 at 02:37


We do make synthetic wood. Its called MDF, or you got wood chip boards and compressed sawdust boards, these are all synthetic. Even plywood is synthetic, those logs designed for wood burning stoves...Synthetic, they are fine particles of sawdust that is heated and compressed.

If you mean why cant you take copper sulphate (for example), apply a process and get wood from it, then thats simple. Its the same reason you cant take moon dust and make people. You have to have the main components already there, or at the very least the main bits have to be able to be derived from it.
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[*] posted on 18-12-2017 at 18:37


Quote: Originally posted by NEMO-Chemistry  
We do make synthetic wood. Its called MDF, or you got wood chip boards and compressed sawdust boards, these are all synthetic. Even plywood is synthetic, those logs designed for wood burning stoves...Synthetic, they are fine particles of sawdust that is heated and compressed.

If you mean why cant you take copper sulphate (for example), apply a process and get wood from it, then thats simple. Its the same reason you cant take moon dust and make people. You have to have the main components already there, or at the very least the main bits have to be able to be derived from it.

Is it possible to create synthetic agarwood and oak?
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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 07:21


Quote: Originally posted by 13enigma  

Is it possible to create synthetic agarwood and oak?


Did you read any of the replies above?




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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 08:53


You can put an oak veneer over some MDF or chip board....


Think of it like this - the gems are orientations of atoms in a crystal structure. It is pretty easy to replicate natural gems because we just grow a crystal and there are numerous ways of doing this and books have been written about it.

The metals, as stated above, have already been synthesised from their ores. Man smelts them down and produces them from the ground.... so - already synthetic.... and numerous books have been written about it.


Wood... as also stated above, was a living plant. I assume that you have an idea of why we can't synthesise a tree? Or a dog for instance? Do you think it would be easy to synthesise a dead dog? Nothing like this has ever been attempted afaik..... so you won't find anything on it in the literature I presume.








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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 09:17


The word synthetic is one of those "words".

If you think about it, what do you do in chemistry? For example, let's say that I put some hydrogen and oxygen in my flask and burn it. I made water but is it synthetic? What did I do that is different than what nature would do? I'm not the one assembling the atoms together.

When they grow a crystal of silicon, they just hang a single crystal of Si in molten silicon and with some temperature control, the Crystal grows. Nature is automatic.

For oak, maple, birch and other trees. They are all based on the cell, which is a molecular machine. All that we need to do is prepare a DNA, RNA and the rest of what a cell needs (that requires chemistry), then let it run its chemistry and you have a "synthetic tree". Again, nature is automatic. All that a human does is bring the molecules together in a flask.




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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 15:50


Quote: Originally posted by vmelkon  
The word synthetic is one of those "words".

If you think about it, what do you do in chemistry? For example, let's say that I put some hydrogen and oxygen in my flask and burn it. I made water but is it synthetic? What did I do that is different than what nature would do? I'm not the one assembling the atoms together.

When they grow a crystal of silicon, they just hang a single crystal of Si in molten silicon and with some temperature control, the Crystal grows. Nature is automatic.

For oak, maple, birch and other trees. They are all based on the cell, which is a molecular machine. All that we need to do is prepare a DNA, RNA and the rest of what a cell needs (that requires chemistry), then let it run its chemistry and you have a "synthetic tree". Again, nature is automatic. All that a human does is bring the molecules together in a flask.


I really like the way you think and approach this concept. When you say nature is automatic, would you think it is possible to make more of those silicon crystals than you had before since they can't continously replicate out of nowhere like DNA does.
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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 16:04


Quote: Originally posted by 13enigma  
I really like the way you think and approach this concept. When you say nature is automatic, would you think it is possible to make more of those silicon crystals than you had before since they can't continously replicate out of nowhere like DNA does.

Elemental silicon oxidizes too easily to be found in nature in appreciable quantities. However, one of the more commonly-used examples of order arising from disorder, is the formation of ice crystals. Every winter, you'll see complex ice formations everywhere in nature, and then every spring they disappear again.




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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 16:13


DNA doesn't actually replicate out of nowhere, it's synthesised in the cell by enzymes, using amino acids obtained by metabolism of proteins (peptide hydrolysis) in foods, as well as sugars and other compounds in food. As described above, cells are a molecular machine (or many machines, if you're looking at the enzymes inside) which do what human chemists would do to produce many biological compounds in a flask, albeit omitting the benefit of multiple synthetic pathways, some of which are impossible for organisms to do.



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[*] posted on 19-12-2017 at 18:37


For the nonce, I will take 'synthesise' as short for 'human controlled partial synthesis'. I'll further suppose that what you are after is a wood-like substance, one that shares enough of the mechanical and gross visual properties of a given species of wood to suit your purpose. Just for the heck of it, I'll say that you want your wood to be anisotropic (i.e. to have grain), and that it should saw like wood, split like wood, carve, bend, stain, etc. like tree-grown wood. For some reason you want to make a type of wood that would not be found in nature. Maybe you want to directly form 3-D wooden objects with arbitrarily controlled grain direction, say a piece of wood where the grain forms a continuous ring.

What is wood, though? Chemically, most of wood's properties come from the specific 3-D arrangement of just three compounds: micro-fibrils—polymers—of cellulose (40%–50%) and hemicellulose (15%–25%), with lignin (15%–30%) embedded within them.

So, suppose you have a 3-D printer that takes as its main feedstocks micro-fibril slurries or precursor (monomer?) solutions of these three compounds. The motion of the printhead and selective deposition of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin would not be enough to produce a wood analogue, though. You would also need to have fairly decent control over the cross bonding of each compound at micrometer (if not nanometer) scales. In other words, now you are dealing with a machine that operates in a regime somewhere in between an ordinary 3-D printer and an atomic force microscope.

Assume for the moment you have worked out how to perform both the oriented deposition and site-specific catalysis of the polymer bonding. The overwhelming characteristic of the machine would be how SLOW it operates if it has just one 'print head', likely orders of magnitude slower than trees grow wood naturally. To speed it up, you would have to figure out how to make your 3-D printing scheme massively parallel, perhaps with a large number of ganged print heads or maybe with a layered photocatalytic scheme where successive 2-D image slice exposures do most of the heavy lifting.

With true molecular nanotechnology—so-called machine-phase chemistry—this would all be fairly straightforward. I doubt whether anything short of machine-phase chemistry could ever even remotely compete with what trees already provide.
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[*] posted on 13-1-2018 at 02:07


The word "synthesis" is not applied to elemental substances such as metals, you usually speak of "isolation" of elements. Therefore, metals are "isolated", not "synthetic".



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[*] posted on 13-1-2018 at 17:08


Quote: Originally posted by ave369  
The word "synthesis" is not applied to elemental substances such as metals, you usually speak of "isolation" of elements. Therefore, metals are "isolated", not "synthetic".


touche! I guess it all comes down to semantics! To me, you can't synthesize (in the sense of "make") elements. You can synthesize compounds (e.g. water CaWO4, MeOH, etc.) and even mixtures (simple ones), but not mixtures on the order of "wood."
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[*] posted on 14-1-2018 at 00:13


Can we please detritus this thread? Or move it to somewhere that enjoys arguing about what vaguely defined words mean?



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