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Samuel L. Zelinka

Samuel L. Zelinka
Supervisory Materials Research Engineer
Building and Fire Sciences
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726-2398
United States
Current Research

For most materials, temperature is the most important environmental variable: properties like strength and electrical conductivity vary enormously depending on temperature. But in wood, moisture replaces temperature as the most important environmental variable. 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.

Wood-moisture relations have been studied since the 1950's, and have thus far been characterized empirically. Our research interests focus on developing a mechanistic understanding of wood-moisture relations so that more durable wood products can be created.

Research Interest
  • Electrical properties of wood
  • Corrosion of metal fasteners in wood
  • Fundamental research on wood-moisture relations
  • Microfluidics
Why This Research Is Important

Most "wood failures" are really "moisture failures". Except in extreme events (earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc.), wood fails in service 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 cycles- neither of which happen if the wood remains dry. 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

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ph.D., , 2009
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, M.S., , 2006
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.S., , 2005
Professional Organizations
  • Member,  ASTM International,  2008 - Current
    Non-voting member of D07.
  • Member,  ASTM International,  2008 - Current
    Voting member of G01 and the following Subcommittees: G01.05, G01.11, G01.14, G01.14.01
  • Vice Chairman,  National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE),  2010 - 2012
    Vice Chairman of STG 38.
  • Member,  National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE),  2008 - 2012
    Member of Specific Technology Groups (STG):02, 04, 28, 46, 60, 62, and Technology Exchange Groups (TEG) 097X, 189X, 232X, 311X, 428X
Awards & Recognition
  • Presidential Early Career Scientist Award (PECASE), 2011
    The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers.
  • Forest Service Award for Early Career Scientists, 2011
    The award recognizes scientists who are at the beginning of their research careers and have demonstrated, through personal accomplishments, outstanding capability and exceptional promise for significant future achievement.
  • Greater Madison Federal Agency Association Federal Employee of the Year (technical), 2011
    This award recognizes an employee whose sustained performance has made the greatest impact in meeting and achieving the goals, mission and overall success of his/her organization.
  • Finalist- Hertz Fellowship, 2005
    The Graduate Fellowships of the Hertz Foundation are widely considered to be among the most prestigious offered anywhere. 70 finalists are selected from over 700 applicants.
  • Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, 2004
    Widely considered the most eminent award in the U.S. conferred upon undergraduates studying the sciences, Goldwater Scholarships support study in the fields of mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences.
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Fire performance of CLT buildings

Year: 2017
Fire tests demonstrate that CLT buildings can be designed to withstand fire.

Scientists study how water changes wood

Year: 2017
Water causes a host of wood damage mechanisms such as mold, decay, fastener corrosion, and splitting. This research elucidates how water changes wood and leads to these wood damage mechanisms.

Water Freezing in Wood: How Low Can It Go

Year: 2012
The freezing and melting of water in wood gives clues about how water bonds to wood during processes such as wood decay and fastener corrosion

A percolation model for water and electrical conduction in wood with implications for durability

Year: 2010
Recently, researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory and University of Wisconsin have developed a new model of electrical conduction in wood that provides a good fit to experimental data, offers insight into the mechanism of conduction, and integrates well with other experiments that probe the st...

Corrosion of metals in wood

Year: 2011
Corrosion data are necessary for the safe design and construction of wood decks and patios. Previous research was unable to calculate corrosion rates because the surface areas of threaded fasteners are difficult to calculate. This work builds upon a method to calculate the surface area of threaded...

Desk Reference on Fastener Corrosion Created for Engineers

Year: 2013
Fastener corrosion is a design consideration when building exterior wood structures. Forest Products Laboratory researchers recently developed a desk reference for fastener corrosion with wood to help engineers select appropriate construction materials.

Examination of Historic National Park System Ship Eureka

Year: 2018
Researchers collaborated with the National Park Service (NPS) to examine a historic ship preserved at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

Improving the Accuracy of Automated Instruments for Moisture in Wood

Year: 2018
Automated instruments are increasingly used for measuring the equilibrium moisture content of wood. Research finds that common methods have much larger errors than claimed in the literature, so researchers developed a method to improve accuracy.

Development of New Kinetics Models for Water Vapor Sorption in Wood

Year: 2019
Wood is constantly exchanging water with its environment and these exchanges control nearly all of wood's amazing properties. USDA Forest Service research reveals that this process is still not understood and old models that were thought to explain these processes are not physically valid.

Monitoring Moisture Levels in Mass Timber Buildings

Year: 2019
Detailed measurements on moisture levels in mass timber buildings in the United States are scarce. USDA Forest Service researchers are working with Colorado School of Mines to monitor conditions in mass timber buildings in three different U.S. climates.

Improving the Tools and Practice for Designing Moisture-Safe Wood Buildings

Year: 2020
FPL researchers predict the future! Will this new wood structure be safe and durable in the climate for which it is designed?

Possibilities and Pitfalls of Computer Simulation for Building Moisture Analysis

Year: 2014
Moisture problems are much less expensive to correct in the building design phase than after the building is constructed. Computer-based simulation tools allow designers to gauge the risk of moisture problems. Although simulation can be useful as a design tool, designers must be aware of model limit...

New Insight into Wood Damage Mechanisms

Year: 2014
Wood fails because bad things start to happen when wood gets wet. Dimensional stability, mold growth, fungal attack, fastener corrosion, all are caused by fluctuations in moisture or an abundance of moisture in the wood. This research presents a new theory to explain the microphysical processes that...

Advancing Understanding of Wood Damage Mechanisms

Year: 2015
Forest Service researchers examined the diffusion of ions in wood using synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence microscopy. The researchers found that there was a threshold moisture content below which diffusion does not occur. These data can help to explain why certain wood damage mechanisms only ex...

Improving experimental techniques that probe wood-moisture interactions

Year: 2017
Prior methods using dynamic vapor sorption instruments mischaracterized the equilibrium moisture content of wood. Equilibrium is reached after much longer times than previously claimed. This project provides a basis for methods that improve accuracy.

Wood Adhesives at High Temperatures

Year: 2018
Researchers examined the performance of finger-jointed lumber to understand how it performs in fire.

Evaluating Fire Performance of Adhesives used in Cross-Laminated Timber

Year: 2020
Our research focuses on the study of how adhesives used to hold wood composites together perform under fire to ensure strong, fire-safe construction.

Investigating the Role of Moisture in Durability of Acetylated Wood

Year: 2020
FPL researchers join international effort to investigate fungal decay resistance of acetylated wood.

Centennial Edition, Wood Handbook—Wood as an Engineering Material

Year: 2010
The Wood Handbook—Wood as an Engineering Material serves as a primary reference document for a wide variety of users-from the general public through architects and design engineers who use wood in highly engineered structures.