Engineering 101

Origami—Engineering Inspiration

Researchers are using origami as the inspiration to create programmable surfaces that alter the physical properties of a uniform substance across a range of directions. Published in Advanced Materials, they describe programmable structures—dimensions and properties shift as needed. The researchers believe industries can use them in numerous applications, such as medical devices, architecture, robotics, and aerospace.

They started with cells of four kite-shaped rhombuses, each connected to two others along two sides, with a tail end of each rhombus free. Connecting sides are hinged so each cell can click through various forms, from a wide basket to thin folds. Combining many of these, they create a wide range of surfaces.

Researchers can change the properties of the entire surfaces, varying compressibility, flexibility, and density. The technique takes advantage of what physicists call frustration, a feature that stops a pattern from propagating across a wide space. Adjustable cells allow researchers to introduce frustration into structures, changing the properties of the surface.

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