FPL Scientist and UW-Madison Bring Science and Art Together

Alex Wiedenhoeft invention contributes to new Audubon Exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art

Detail of Carolina Parrots from The Birds of America, John James Audubon. Photo courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art

Alex Wiedenhoeft has contributed so much of his hard work and knowledge to the Forest Products Laboratory in the more than 20 years he has been with us. One of his most useful inventions is the XyloTron, a desktop device that provides high-resolution images of wood.

In his effort to make the XyloTron less costly and more portable, Alex also developed the XyloPhone, a small device that attaches to a smartphone and provides the same resolution as the much larger XyloTron.

In just a few months, the Xylophone has contributed greatly to the ability of scientists in the field to identify and photograph wood. But not just wood.

Artist Emily Arthur, associate professor in the UW-Madison art department, learned about the XyloPhone through her colleague Anne Pringle, professor of Botany at UW-Madison, who studies lichens and fungi in her lab. During Emily’s ongoing collaborative research with Robin Rider, curator of special collections, Memorial Library, the XyloPhone became a way to examine rare books and works on paper.

“I knew this device would be invaluable for the purposes of this research,” said Emily Arthur. “And I was right! Being able to examine the hand-colored engravings from The Birds of America at such a detailed level has revealed new information on the printing techniques that were used in its production between 1827-1838.”

Alex Wiedenhoeft demonstrates wood identification using the XyloTron system. He also developed the XyloPhone as a smaller, more portable device that attaches to a smartphone, but with the same remarkable scanning ability. Photo by Andrew Averil, Hardwood Floors Magazine

The focus of the exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art is not just the gorgeous creations of the renowned naturalist, John James Audubon, but in particular the methods that formed a tradition of exactitude in engraving that lies behind the work of printmakers like Robert Havell, Jr.

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FPL’s XyloTron Helps Timber Industry in Ghana

The XyloTron, a Forest Products Laboratory (FPL)-developed, field-deployable digital imaging device for wood, is having a positive impact on timber industries worldwide.

In 2018, a Ghanaian wood identification expert and three inspectors from the country’s Timber Industry Development Division, spent time at FPL learning how to use the Xylotron so they could train others to use the equipment when they returned home.

This recently released video tells the story of how the device is now being used in Ghana, where more than two million people earn their living in the wood and timber industry.

Philippine Partnership : FPL Hosts Southeast Asian Scientist

The Center for Wood Anatomy Research (CWAR) at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) is pleased to host Mr. Mario Ramos, Senior Science Research Specialist from the Anatomy and Forest Botany Section of the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI), Department of Science and Technology, Philippines.

FPRDI main image

The Forest Products Research and Development Institute, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. FPRDI is one of just a handful of state-funded forest products labs. Photo credit FPRDI.

Ramos’ official program title is “Training Course on Wood Anatomy, Identification, and Imaging” and includes training and preparatory work toward long-term cooperation with CWAR’s XyloTron wood identification program.

The XyloTron is a machine-vision-based wood identification system that uses a custom-designed wood imaging device (the XyloScope), image analysis, and statistical processing software run from a laptop/netbook. With it, users can identify over 150 species of wood more accurately than trained law enforcement personnel. The technology could help combat the global problem of illegal logging by empowering law enforcement agents to make field identification of wood.

In addition to learning how to construct and maintain a XyloTron, Ramos will begin to prepare and image the CWAR’s extensive holdings of Philippine woods, and when he returns to FPRDI with a XyloTron, he will carry on the work there.


Mario Ramos at his microscope in the Center for Wood Anatomy Research, Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI. Photo credit R. Soares.

“I am very fortunate and privileged to be part of FPL’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research team,” said Ramos. “While brief, my training at FPL’s CWAR will definitely have great impacts particularly on improving the wood anatomy laboratory facilities and the services we offer at FPRDI. I am excited for my involvement with the machine vision project given its impacts on the preservation of threatened and/or endangered wood species in the Philippines.”

“The Philippines is extremely rich in natural resources, especially timber, and is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world,” said FPL’s Alex Wiedenhoeft, Research Botanist and Team Leader for the CWAR.  Anything science can do to extend the forest resources, encourage wise use and good management, and prevent illegal logging is time well-spent.”

Ramos and Wiedenhoeft had corresponded for a number of years, always with the hope of being able to arrange a scientific exchange and initiate a cooperative research program. The cooperation was made possible by a Philippine training grant program and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between FPL and FPRDI.

The MOU establishes a framework for partnership in range of research areas in addition to wood anatomy, including cellulose nanomaterials; wood composites; wood decay and preservation; lignin and products from lignin; fire and fire testing; life cycle assessment; non-destructive testing; and, other areas of mutual interest.


The Center for Wood Anatomy Research team that Mr. Ramos has joined. From the left, Alex C. Wiedenhoeft, Research Botanist and Team Leader; Adriana Costa, postdoctoral visiting scientist from São Paulo, Brazil; Richard Soares, visiting scientist from São Paulo, Brazil; Mario Ramos, visiting scientist, FPRDI, Philippines; Rafael Arévalo, postdoctoral visiting scientist, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo credit A. Wiedenhoeft.

“FPL is pleased with the success of our initial scientific exchanges, and we hope that this cooperation and our MOU paves the way for additional exchanges and cooperative work,” said FPL’s Michael Ritter, Assistant Director for Wood and Wood Products.

Mr. Ramos’ Anatomy and Forest Botany Section is analogous to the CWAR, and FPRDI, established in 1954 as the Forest Products Laboratory in the Bureau of Forestry, was modeled in part on FPL’s organization and mission. FPRDI, like FPL, is one of just a handful of national forest products labs around the world that still enjoy state funding.

Contributed by Alex Wiedenhoeft