Researchers fold origami with light

May 10, 2012 by Lisa Zyga feature
A six-sided box fabricated by photo-origami is constructed by straining and irradiation to form hinges. (a) The photo-origami protocol; (b) a fabricated closed box; and (c), (d), and (e) a simulated box with closed, partially open, and open tops. Image caption: Ryu, et al. © 2012 American Institute of Physics

(Phys.org) -- Replacing the need for nimble fingers, researchers have demonstrated how to make origami using light of a specific wavelength. They call the new folding technique photo-origami, and it could potentially be used as a way to manufacture 3D structures.

The team of mechanical engineers led by Professor Martin Dunn of the University of Colorado at Boulder has published a paper on their simulations and experiments of photo-origami in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters.

“[We have developed] a non-contact method to bend and fold polymer films in precise, 3D programmable ways, guided by computational simulations,” Dunn told Phys.org.

As the researchers explain in their study, there are several different methods for creating materials that can fold by themselves in a programmable manner. Most of these methods involve attaching an actuator onto the material and applying an external actuation force. Finding a way to make the material fold by itself without using these “parasitic elements” could greatly simplify the process, which could enable more diverse applications.

Because photo-origami only uses and a mechanical straining force to fold materials, it could potentially serve as a simple, automated sequential folding process. In their study, the researchers experimentally demonstrate how photo-origami works using a flat, two-dimensional polymer that contains photoinitiators. First, the polymer is stretched to create a mechanical strain. Then light is applied to a specific area of the polymer, such as along a line to be folded, which causes the photoinitiators to disassociate into free radicals. The highly reactive radicals then fragment and reform polymer chains, resulting in stress relaxation in the chosen area. This redistribution of stress through the material causes a change of shape as the material strives to achieve mechanical equilibrium, folding along the chosen line.

That process results in a single fold. For each additional fold, the irradiation, and potentially straining, steps are repeated. When the steps are performed in a specific sequence, the technique can produce complex shapes. To demonstrate, the researchers fabricated a heart and a six-sided closed box.

“In principle, this could make many complex structures consisting of bends and folds in arbitrary directions and sequences,” Dunn said. “The computational simulations can be used to design myriad structures, many that we could not conceive without simulations.”

As a form of technical origami, photo-origami could enable applications far beyond origami's original purpose as a creative art. Technical origami can be used in situations in which an object must be stored and transported and later deployed for use. This need arises, for example, for space-based solar arrays, automobile airbags, tissue engineering, shopping cartons, and photovoltaic cells that optimally capture sunlight throughout the day. could also be used to fold molecules into specific shapes for the purpose of tailoring their molecular properties.

Although this demonstration involved macroscopic-scale folding, the approach could also be used at the micro and nano scales. In the future, the researchers plan to further investigate how photo-origami can be extended to manufacturing processes.

“We plan to create smaller, more precise mass-fabricated structures and endow them with multiple physical functionalities,” Dunn said.

Explore further: A new generation of storage—ring

More information: Jennie Ryu, et al. “Photo-origami – Bending and folding polymers with light.” Applied Physics Letters 100, 161908 (2012). DOI: 10.1063/1.3700719

Journal reference: Applied Physics Letters search and more info website

4.1 /5 (7 votes)

Related Stories

Origami solution found for folding steel shopping bags

Mar 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Origami, the ancient Japanese art of folding objects in simple, yet complicated ways, has in recent years been applied to various engineering challenges, such as how to fold up a solar array ...

Google pays tribute to origami pioneer

Mar 14, 2012

Google paid tribute on Wednesday to the "father of the modern origami" Akira Yoshizawa by transforming its celebrated homepage logo into an homage to the folded-paper art pioneer.

Origami: Not just for paper anymore

Apr 27, 2011

While the primary job of DNA in cells is to carry genetic information from one generation to the next, some scientists also see the highly stable and programmable molecule as an ideal building material for ...

Recommended for you

A new generation of storage—ring

1 hour ago

A bright synchrotron source that emits over a wide part of the electromagnetic spectrum from the infrared to hard X-rays is currently being built in Lund, Sweden. The MAX IV facility presents a range of technical ...

Universe may face a darker future

5 hours ago

New research offers a novel insight into the nature of dark matter and dark energy and what the future of our Universe might be.

High-intensity sound waves may aid regenerative medicine

Oct 30, 2014

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a way to use sound to create cellular scaffolding for tissue engineering, a unique approach that could help overcome one of regenerative medicine's ...

Formula could shed light on global climate change

Oct 30, 2014

Wright State University researchers have discovered a formula that accurately predicts the rate at which soil develops from the surface to the underlying rock, a breakthrough that could answer questions about ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.