Congratulations to associate professor Mariapaola Riggio, who was recently named the Richardson Chair in Wood Sciences and Forest Products. The Ward K. Richardson Family endowed chairs are directed toward a theme of understanding and explaining the implications of changes in the use and management of forest resources on society. The Chair in Wood Science and Forest Products focuses on the efficient use of forest resources to meet the growing needs of society for wood products. Get to know Mariapaola:

Tell us about your background – what drew you to your specialty area?
My fascination and deep interest in wood as a building material originated during my time as an architecture student in Florence. One of my deepest passions lays in cultural heritage preservation. Most of the projects we were exposed to at school were predominantly centered around masonry buildings. So, the prevailing perception was that our cultural heritage predominantly consisted of stone and bricks. In 1997, a powerful earthquake struck Umbria, a central region in Italy, resulting in the loss of invaluable monuments. During site inspections, a clear observation emerged: many damages to masonry buildings and vaulted structures resulted from interventions carried out in the previous decades. These interventions involved the replacement or supposed reinforcement of original timber roofs with reinforced concrete. The underlying cause of these misguided practices and the prevalent mistrust in wood as a building material became evident – a long-standing educational system that disregarded the importance of traditional materials and exclusively trained designers in the use of modern materials. For my master’s thesis, I began examining a specific traditional timber system: timber vaults. The ingenuity of this technique lies in its light weight and flexibility, that reduces the risk of damage to masonry walls in the event of an earthquake. After graduation, I engaged in the restoration of some of these structures. My interest in pursuing a PhD in the Timber Engineering Group at the University of Trento stemmed from this experience and my objective to enhance diagnostic procedures to avoid invasive interventions on timber cultural heritage.

What courses do you teach / labs do you lead?
WSE 225 “Building design innovation with wood” introduces students to the fundamentals of building design and the relevant technical requirements, the solutions available and the specific applications, with a focus on wood-based products and other ligno-cellulosic materials. The main goal of this course is to help students develop a multi-disciplinary understanding of design and construction principles that facilitate communication between manufacturers, architects, engineers, and clients.

WSE 425/525 “Timber tectonics in the digital age” is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional effort in collaboration with University of Oregon Architecture enrolls Architecture, Engineering and Wood Science students. The course is designed to prepare future professionals for integrated design practices in modern wood construction, emphasizing experiential learning and soft skill development. In this course, students engage in hands-on project, engaging with real clients and industry partners throughout the learning process.

The faculty-led study abroad program that I lead, Tradition and Innovation in the Wood Construction Industry: A Journey in the Italian Alps, provides an international perspective on tradition and innovation of forest products application and sustainable practices in the built environment. I’ve designed this program to offer students firsthand experience in the working environments and practices of the host country through job-shadowing opportunities with local companies, encouraging them to reflect on practices in their home countries. In the next iteration of the course, I plan to collaborate with local stakeholders in the US to connect students’ international experiences with tasks related to a real project back home.

Another chance to immerse students in both tradition and innovation within the sector, involving them in a tangible project and providing them opportunities for community engagement, is the course on “Structural Health Assessment and Monitoring of Timber Structures“ that I offer to graduate students. During the class offered last spring, for instance, students actively participated in assessing timber trusses at the Arauco facility in Albany. They offered valuable feedback to the client regarding the structure’s conditions and they identified causes of damage. Additionally, the students had a chance to talk about their project during the historical preservation month.

I teach and co-developed WSE 540 Introduction to Wood Science and Engineering. This is the first hybrid introductory course of the new WSE Graduate Core.

Tell us about a recent/current research project you are working on
With the two wood innovation grants received with my colleague Lech Muszynski, our objective was to leverage underutilized wood species to create CLT panels for an untapped market segment: modular deployable units. These units can serve as temporary and transitional solutions, such as post-disaster scenarios, and are designed to be disassembled and reused in other contexts. This exploration aims to optimize resources during the production stage, extend the service life of applications that are typically short-lived, and reintegrate resources into the loop. It aims to support the resilience of the natural and built environments, promote sustainability in forest management, and foster economic development within communities. Since its initiation in 2017, this research stream has garnered significant attention from both academia and industry. As mass timber products represent just one facet of an integrated approach to create a more resilient and sustainable ecosystem, I am currently working on expanding and enhancing our portfolio of alternative wood-based products and construction systems. This involves exploring alternative ligno-cellulosic sources and a dedicated focus on context-sensitive approaches for material and construction method selection. For example, when addressing shelter and housing needs, I am working on developing partnerships with affected communities to develop culturally appropriate solutions that make the most of locally available resources.

What are today’s students most eager to learn?
Students are passionate about learning how to contribute to solutions for a more sustainable future. They thrive on engaging in projects that offer tangible results and address real-world issues.

What’s the one thing you wish people knew about the Wood Science degree program?
One aspect I’d like people to know about the Wood Science degree program is that it’s a rewarding environment for individuals passionate about sustainability, innovation, and global impact.

Learn more about the Wood Innovation for Sustainability Degree and the Wood Science graduate programs!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a reply

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>