Shape-Shifting Material Could Inspire a New ‘Origami Architecture’

Inspired by an origami technique called ‘snapology’, engineers at Harvard University have developed a type of foldable material that can change its size, shape and volume on demand.

The structure comprises extruded cubes with a total of 24 faces and 36 edges. The cubes can be folded along their edges, which act like hinges, to change the structure’s shape. Able to withstand thousands of kilograms in weight, this innovation can be folded completely flat and then bounce back into a 3-dimensional shape.

The engineers additionally embedded pneumatic actuators (air pockets) into the structure, which can be programmed to deform the hinges as desired. The shape of the structure can thus be transformed remotely and without the need for external force.

Another intriguing aspect is that this material is scalable from nanoscale to meter-scale dimensions. This means is can be used in a diverse range of applications ranging from surgical stents, to ‘pop-up’ architecture, to transformable building facades and potentially even retractable roofs.

The research team was lead by Katia Bertoldi, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences(SEAS), James Weaver, Senior Research Scientist at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Chuck Hoberman, of the Graduate School of Design.  It is described in Nature Communications.

More information via Harvard University news here.

Johannes T. B. Overvelde/Bertoldi Lab/Harvard SEAS



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