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Ilona Peszlen

Associate Professor

Biltmore Hall (Robertson Wing) 1022D


Dr. Ilona Peszlen, Associate Professor, came to NC State from the Department of Forestry at Iowa State University in November of 2001. Prior to that, she was a professor of wood science at the University of West Hungary in Sopron.

Dr. Peszlen teaches wood anatomy and property-related courses. Her research emphasis is on juvenile and reaction wood, effects of the environment on wood and fiber properties, genetic improvement of wood quality, and on properties and utilization of plantation wood.

Dr. Peszlen received her B.S. in Wood Technology (1978), her M.S. in Wood Engineering (1979) from the University Of Sopron, and her M.S. in Higher Education (1984) from the University of Godollo, Hungary. She was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and completed her Ph.D. in Wood Science & Forest Products (1993) at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia. She did post-doctoral research at North Carolina State University, Raleigh and at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Dr. Peszlen serves as the current Director of Graduate Programs in the Department of Forest Biomaterials.

Area(s) of Expertise

Wood anatomy and properties, effects of environment on wood and fiber properties, genetic improvement of wood quality and properties, and utilization of plantation wood


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Date: 09/01/18 - 8/31/22
Amount: $94,878.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

Materials are linked to human society’s progress that our historical eras are named after the dominant material of the time. This demand for raw materials has grown explosively that we are now beyond the planet’s carrying capacity. It is crucial to revise society’s techno-economic approach to development, which strongly correlates with environmental degradation, and embrace the concept of sustainability, which balances the competing demands of the environmental, social, and economic sectors. NCSU's Department of Forest Biomaterials has successfully instituted a STEM-based Sustainable Materials and Technology undergraduate program. Program faculty proposes to extend this success to K-14 students to prepare future workforce in the holistic discipline of sustainability. The grant will focus on minority women attending community colleges since historically they have been under-represented in the forest biomaterials field. The goal is to expand their opportunities for professional careers and educational equity in sustainable materials science and engineering. This will be accomplished by providing a multitiered support system at every phase of the student’s postsecondary academic career --- specifically through community support, academic mentorship, experiential learning, community research projects, professional development, and university scholarship/admission guidance. The project will enhance participants’ scientific and professional competencies, leadership and communication skills, professionalism, critical and problem-solving skills, and team-building ability. The project is based on accountability; project-component outcomes will be assessed using proven methodologies. The project goal and objectives are aligned with NIFA’s Strategic Sub-Goal 1.7 and address WAMS’ Education Need Areas of Student Experiential Learning, and Student Recruitment, Retention, and Educational Equity.

Date: 12/01/20 - 5/30/21
Amount: $49,968.00
Funding Agencies: Solenis LLC

Solenis is exploring the opportunity to develop effective/efficient wet-end additives to control the dust generated during tissue manufacturing and converting processes. From a manufacturer perspective, dusting and linting represent aspects of major concern as both factors jeopardize productivity, safety, and manufacturing costs. Additionally, recent consumer-based surveys indicate that linting propensity is becoming an important feature driving tissue purchasing decisions since consumers consider “lack of residual lit” to be as important as other key performance attributes such as strength and softness (Vu, 2020). Addressing these issues implies developing (i) the ability to characterize dusting components in terms of type, source, size, and propensity, and (ii) control dust release by understanding how retention relates to dusting at various stages of tissue manufacturing, converting, and product end-use.

Date: 10/01/19 - 11/30/20
Amount: $50,000.00
Funding Agencies: Compania de Empaques

NC State University proposes to develop and implement a science-based business plan to foster commercial applications of fique fiber, for that we will: • Benchmark fique properties (surface chemistry, mechanical properties) against abaca fiber • Identify potential commercial applications of fique fibers, screen options based on technical and financial feasibility and demonstrate proof of concept at bench-scale • Evaluate business cases based on profitability, supply chain, risks, and go-to-market strategies. • For those alternatives selected, propose a business development plant for operational implementation.

Date: 07/15/19 - 5/31/20
Amount: $50,000.00
Funding Agencies: Lignetics, Inc.

The use of bio-bulk is proposed as a bio-based additive to considerably upgrade furnish properties for the manufacturing of hygiene tissue. Preliminary lab analyses show that by adding 4% of bio-bulk to tissue furnish, softness and bulk can increase by 15% and 12% respectively. As softness and bulk are important drivers for price on the shelf for hygiene tissue products, herein we propose a research project to evaluate the use of bio-bulk to upgrade tissue furnish, estimate the impact on final product price and develop the data set needed to file invention disclosure and patents. Our preliminary and conservative estimation values bio-bulk at ca. $4,000 per ton.

Date: 01/15/12 - 1/14/17
Amount: $159,000.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

With the rapid increase in the world?s population, demand for wood as a material and as a fuel is expected to increase exponentially in the future. Biotechnology will play a major role in meeting this future wood demand. Traditional tree breeding has been proven effective in increasing forest productivity. Genetic engineering is also being used to produce trees that efficiently sequester carbon, are more amenable to treatment for biofuel production, and have desired wood properties. The tailoring of trees with desired characteristics for optimal processing offers a tremendous potential for the forest products industry in the United States. One factor that is crucial in this integration of biotechnology and manufacturing is the availability of individuals who have the skills of both a tree biologist and a materials engineer. The proposed fellowship?s goal is to address this issue. The project objective is to develop a training program to produce graduates with strong background in forest biotechnology, biometrics, and wood engineering. Two doctoral students will be trained in the Conservation and Renewable Natural Resources discipline (Code C) of the Forest Resources Targeted Expertise Shortage Area. One student will have an engineering background but will undergo expansive training in biometrics and forest biotechnology. The other student will have a forestry or biology background but will be provided additional training in the field of wood materials science and engineering. The fellows will start a new breed of scientists with interdisciplinary perspectives to tackle issues ranging from environmental sustainability to renewable energy.

Date: 05/01/10 - 4/30/11
Amount: $50,000.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Water Resources Research Institute

The goal of this project is to increase our understanding of the water quality impact of sediment (turbidity) and nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Carbon) derived from stream bank erosion of ?legacy? sediments across the Piedmont physiographic province of North Carolina. Legacy sediments are defined as sediment that was eroded from upland hill slopes after the arrival of early Colonial American settlers and during centuries of intensive land uses; that was deposited in valley bottoms along stream corridors, burying pre-settlement streams, floodplains, wetlands, and valleys; and that altered and continues to impair the hydrologic, biologic, aquatic, riparian, estuarine, and chemical functions of pre-settlement and modern environments. We hypothesize that the erosion and transport of legacy sediments may be a significant ?smoking? gun when it comes to identifying nonpoint sources of sediment and nutrients delivered to regional waterways during periods of increased steam flow. The quantification of the physical and chemical processes, rates, and volumes of bank-eroded legacy sediments and associated nutrients will improve our understanding and modeling of nutrient pollution in coastal watersheds, which will be critical to reducing N and P fluxes to North Carolina?s eutrophying estuaries. In addition, this research has important implications for interpretation of alluvial sedimentation, stream channel form and evolution, and the multi-million dollar stream restoration industry in North Carolina. Nonpoint source contributions of nutrients and fine sediments often account for greater than 50% of the total annual load in piedmont and coastal waterways. Yet, modeling of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) allowances for a given pollutant typically relegates the collective importance of nonpoint sources to ?background? concentrations, including previously-unrecognized legacy sediments. Reducing pollutant loads from known point sources is critically important for meeting 1972 Clean Water Act requirements; however, reductions from point-sources alone may not be significant enough to meet agreed-upon TMDL reductions. The research proposed here will specifically delineate a significant and previously overlooked source of sediment and nutrients to North Carolina?s piedmont streams and estuaries, and will quantify a new nutrient source addition to basin-wide planning models. We will test our hypothesis via a multidisciplinary approach within the Crabtree Creek watershed (CCW) of Wake County. First, we will map the area (km2) of legacy sediment surfaces in the watershed by utilizing historical datasets, field mapping, Lidar (light detection and ranging) and aerial photograph remote sensing techniques. By mapping the legacy sediment surfaces along stream corridors, we will be able to estimate both how much legacy sediment has been removed by vertical and lateral channel incision and how much remains as a potential source of continued pollution adjacent to stream channels. Second, we will inventory concentrations of total N, P, and organic C stored in legacy sediments vs. non-legacy sediments along Crabtree Creek and its tributaries and determine percentages of nutrient TMDLs derived from bank erosion of legacy vs. non-legacy sediments. Thrid, we will determine single storm event-to-decadal volumes of fine-grained sediment and nutrients entrained via bank erosion processes by combining time-integrated 3D terrestrial laser scanning of eroding banks with long-term bank erosion estimates derived from dendrochronology of tree roots progressively exposed by bank erosion. The impact of differing land use effects on stream and estuarine water quality is of critical importance in North Carolina. We posit that erosion of legacy sediment represents a significant unrealized nutrient and sediment contaminant source. Further, we expect that N and P loads from legacy sediments will be much greater than from non-legacy sediments due to the addition of nutrient-rich organic matter formed in the millponds that trapped legacy sedimen

Date: 09/01/05 - 8/31/10
Amount: $421,688.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA)

Genetic engineering provides an alternative to traditional genetic selection approach by targeting specific traits of importance to wood utilization. With genetic engineering, significant genetic gains in trees can be realized in just a matter of years instead of the centuries required with natural selection. In forestry, DNA transfer has been achieved to impart herbicide, pest, and disease resistance to several species of hardwoods and softwoods. Recently, genetically engineered trees were produced wherein the expression of lignin biosynthetic pathway genes were downregulated using antisense technology. The transgenic trees have lower lignin content, modified lignin composition, or both. In addition, the cellulose content increased and the growth of the transgenic tree was substantially enhanced while structural integrity was maintained. The results of the study point to the tremendous potential of controlling the growth and development of trees. It is suggested by the researchers who developed the transgenic trees that the lower lignin content will lead to crops with improved pulping efficiency and digestibility. It could very well result also in wood with reduced compressive strength and less dimensional stability. This project will evaluate the anatomical, physical, and mechanical properties of the transgenic trees in order to provide a fundamental understanding of the role of lignin on shrinkage anisotropy, mechanical support of the crown, and wood viscoelasticity. This study will be the first to use transgenic trees as surrogate materials for understanding the mechanism of lignification as it relates to biomechanics and biophysics.

Date: 05/01/05 - 6/30/08
Amount: $250,000.00
Funding Agencies: NC Biotechnology Center

Fraser fir is important to North Carolina both ecologically and economically. It is a key component of the spruce-fir ecosystem found at the highest elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, including scenic areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also a major component of the Christmas tree farming industry, which brings over $100 million annually to rural regions of the state. Fraser fir populations in North Carolina have been devastated by an introduced pest, the balsam woolly adelgid (BWA). Death of BWA-infested Fraser fir seems to be due to an over-zealous defense response by the tree, rather than any direct effect of insect feeding. Other fir species from Asia or Europe are either completely resistant to BWA, or tolerant of BWA feeding without the excessive defense response found in Fraser fir. This research will use modern tools of biological research to understand why BWA-infested Fraser firs die, and to look for ways to prevent fir death.

Date: 12/01/05 - 6/30/07
Amount: $10,000.00
Funding Agencies: Forest Biotechnology Industrial Research Consortium (FORBIRC)

An experimental procedure will be developed to assess variation in MFA of wood from young transgenic Eucalyptus plants and to make comparisons to those from wild-type trees. Specifically, the research objectives are (1) to develop a rapid method to enhance visualization of orientation of microfibrils in fiber walls on longitudinal section, (2) to measure MFA using image and evaluate the variation within fibers, within plants radially and along the length of the stem, and between treatments. MFA will be determined on longitudinal (radial or tangential) sections (~15um thick) cut by hand using razor blades or with microtome after the sample blocks are saturated with water. Sections will be exposed to quick drying and rewetting and treatment by solutions of cobalt and copper salts and/or iodine to enhance visualization of microfibrill arrangements. Ultrasonic treatment is also applied. Following the treatments, sections will be rinsed and mounted on slides for observation under microscope. MFA will be measured using an image analyzer system. Data will be used for different statistical analyses to determine variation within the stems, between treatments and also to find correlation between mechanical properties that will also be investigated on the same test material.

Date: 07/01/04 - 6/30/06
Amount: $10,000.00
Funding Agencies: Forest Biotechnology Industrial Research Consortium (FORBIRC)

The projects will assess different wood quality traits of genetically engineered wood for specific applications including solid wood, fiber, composites, and energy and thus enhance the utilization potential of the forest biomaterial. Anatomical properties of wood from transgenic aspen and compare them to those from wild-type trees will be determined. Specifically, the research objectives are (1) to characterize the fiber and vessel anatomy on transverse sections, (2) to measure fiber length and coarseness on macerated materials. Anatomical properties will be measured on the same samples that will also be tested for mechanical strength and elasticity. For wood and fiber characterization, sample disks of 2 cm thickness will be used to characterize the radial growth rate and any eccentricity of the stem. Transverse microtome sections will be sliced from each sample block. After staining with safranine and fast green to distinguish the normal fibers from the gelatinous fibers, anatomical characteristics including vessel lumen diameter, vessel lumen area fraction, fiber lumen diameter, fiber lumen and fiber wall area fractions, and total cell wall area fraction will be determined on the mounted slides using an image analyzer system. Average fiber characteristics of the stems will be determined by a Fiber Quality Analyzer. Those fiber qualities include fiber length and fiber coarseness. Fiber length is measured as a true contour length of the fiber. Fiber coarseness is the mass of oven dried weight of fiber in mg divided by the total contour fiber length of all fibers measured by the FQA. Data obtained from the measurements described above will be used for different statistical analyses using SPSS 8.0 statistical software package to determine variation within the stems, between treatments and also to find correlation between mechanical properties that will also be investigated on the same test material.

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