Origami inspires research into materials that self-assemble when exposed to light (w/ Video)

August 23, 2012
Researchers will use experiments and computational models to evaluate the folding process in order to develop new multi-functional 3-D structures that can form rapidly while retaining precise control over their shape. This work builds on previous research from NC State. Credit: Michael Dickey, North Carolina State University

A multi-university research team led by North Carolina State University will be developing methods to create two-dimensional (2-D) materials capable of folding themselves into three-dimensional (3-D) objects when exposed to light. The effort, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is inspired by origami and has a broad range of potential applications.

"We're pulling together a diverse team of designers, engineers and mathematicians to advance our understanding of how to manipulate photoresponsive materials," says Dr. Jan Genzer, Celanese Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State and the primary investigator under the NSF grant. "Ultimately, we hope to develop new techniques that have applications ranging from electronics to high-volume manufacturing to the delivery of humanitarian relief." The NSF grant is for approximately $1.76 million over four years.

Specifically, the researchers plan to use experiments and computational models to evaluate the folding process in order to develop new multi-functional 3-D structures that can form rapidly while retaining over their shape. Because the patterns will be on 2-D materials, the process should be compatible with high-throughput patterning techniques, such as roll-to-roll patterning used in electronics manufacturing.

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Potential applications include the development of unfoldable air foils that could be used for airdrops of humanitarian supplies with greater precision; hands-free assembly of electronics in a "clean" environment; or various packaging and manufacturing processes.

The research team includes Genzer; Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State; Dr. Yong Zhu, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State; Susan Brandeis, Distinguished Professor of Art and Design at NC State; Dr. Alan Russell, of Elon University, who has studied origami for more than 30 years; Emily Beck, of Meredith College; and Dr. Rich Vaia, of the Air Force Research Laboratory. The grant will also support four to five graduate students and post-doctoral research associates.

The research effort builds on earlier research from NC State, which detailed a simple way to convert 2-D patterns into 3-D objects using only light. In that work, the researcher ran pre-stressed plastic sheets through a conventional inkjet printer to print bold black lines on the material. The material was then cut into a desired pattern and placed under an infrared light, such as a heat lamp. Because the bold black lines absorbed more energy than the rest of the material, the plastic contracted – creating a hinge that folded the sheets into 3-D shapes.

The grant is being funded through NSF's Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation, and is supported in part by funds from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Explore further: Nanomaterials researchers to study self-assembly by electrical and optical fields

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4 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2012
Delightful. But of course the figures are not actually two dimensional. The term is applied loosely here. They are three dimensional figures that are very very thin.
1 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2012
Something new did happen with it during last year? And isn't 2 millions USD grant too much for the development of such stupidity?
Infinite Fractal Consciousness
5 / 5 (4) Aug 24, 2012
ValeriaT, why are you always harping on research grants. Why don't you go worry about oil subsidies or corporate tax loop holes? That money just goes into the pockets of rich people. Research has real and lasting effects.
not rated yet Aug 24, 2012
Research has real and lasting effects.

To be fair, though: not all research has real and lasting effects. But that is the nature of science: You really don't know beforehand whether your idea will work or what will become of it. If you already knew then that wouldn't be science - it would be engineering.
Something new did happen with it during last year?

If you read the article you might have noticed that the grant is a new one and the research the graduate students are doing will start now. So obviously no work has ben done since then.

Since the possible applications are big the grant sum is not out of line (certainly not if you have to pay for prototype machines, facilities and a number of graduate students and post docs - and have a little over for conference attendances, bureacratic overhead, ... ).

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