US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Samuel L. Zelinka

Supervisory Materials Research Engineer
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
United States

Phone: 608-231-9277
Contact Samuel L. Zelinka

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 Interests

  • 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

  • ASTM International, Member (2008 - Current)
    Non-voting member of D07.
  • ASTM International, Member (2008 - Current)
    Voting member of G01 and the following Subcommittees: G01.05, G01.11, G01.14, G01.14.01
  • National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE), Vice Chairman (2010 - 2012)
    Vice Chairman of STG 38.
  • National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE), Member (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 & Products



Research Highlights


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

Recently, researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory and University of Wisconsin have developed a new model of electrical conduction in wood ...


Advancing Understanding of Wood Damage Mechanisms

Forest Service researchers examined the diffusion of ions in wood using synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence microscopy. The researchers found ...


Centennial Edition, Wood Handbook—Wood as an Engineering Material

The Wood Handbook—Wood as an Engineering Material serves as a primary reference document for a wide variety of users-from the general publ ...


Corrosion of metals in wood

Corrosion data are necessary for the safe design and construction of wood decks and patios. Previous research was unable to calculate corrosion ...


Desk Reference on Fastener Corrosion Created for Engineers

Fastener corrosion is a design consideration when building exterior wood structures. Forest Products Laboratory researchers recently developed a ...


Development of New Kinetics Models for Water Vapor Sorption in Wood

Wood is constantly exchanging water with its environment and these exchanges control nearly all of wood's amazing properties. USDA Forest Servic ...


Evaluating Fire Performance of Adhesives used in Cross-Laminated Timber

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


Examination of Historic National Park System Ship Eureka

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


Fire performance of CLT buildings

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


Improving experimental techniques that probe wood-moisture interactions

Prior methods using dynamic vapor sorption instruments mischaracterized the equilibrium moisture content of wood. Equilibrium is reached after m ...


Improving the Accuracy of Automated Instruments for Moisture in Wood

Automated instruments are increasingly used for measuring the equilibrium moisture content of wood. Research finds that common methods have much ...


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

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


Investigating the Role of Moisture in Durability of Acetylated Wood

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


Monitoring Moisture Levels in Mass Timber Buildings

Detailed measurements on moisture levels in mass timber buildings in the United States are scarce. USDA Forest Service researchers are working w ...


New Insight into Wood Damage Mechanisms

Wood fails because bad things start to happen when wood gets wet. Dimensional stability, mold growth, fungal attack, fastener corrosion, all are ...


Possibilities and Pitfalls of Computer Simulation for Building Moisture Analysis

Moisture problems are much less expensive to correct in the building design phase than after the building is constructed. Computer-based simulat ...


Scientists study how water changes wood

Water causes a host of wood damage mechanisms such as mold, decay, fastener corrosion, and splitting. This research elucidates how water chan ...


Water Freezing in Wood: How Low Can It Go

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


Wood Adhesives at High Temperatures

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


Last updated on : 11/09/2021