Paper art inspires ultra-strong lightweight structures at MIT

The MIT researchers modified a common origami fold pattern, called the Miura Ori pattern, so that the sharp points of the wavy structure were turned into facets. Photo credit: MIT

MIT scientists have been inspired by the ancient Japanese art of paper, kirigami.

Using this ancient technique of paper cutting and folding, the researchers have created powerful, lightweight structures.

Imagine materials that are as light as cork but as strong as steel!

Central to this innovation is the idea of ​​cellular solids. Just as honeycombs are made up of different cells packed together, these new structures are made up of many cells.

The shape of these cells determines the strength and rigidity of the overall structure.

Think of bones: they are strong and stiff, but still light due to the cellular materials they contain.

Scientists have long tried to use the idea of ​​cellular solids to create new materials.

By adjusting the design of each cell, they can decide how the material behaves, whether it’s strong, flexible, or has good heat resistance. These “designed” materials have many potential uses, such as in cars, airplanes, or buildings.

The MIT team decided to scale up these designs, using metal and other materials. This was difficult as it is not easy to manufacture these designs on a large scale.

However, using kirigami techniques, the researchers were able to easily fabricate these designs.

Professor Neil Gershenfeld, one of the project leaders, compared the new material to “steel cork” because it is much lighter than cork but has the strength and rigidity of steel.

How did you do that? They created many smaller designs and then assembled them into 3D shapes.

This method allowed them to create structures that were not only stable but could change shape when force was applied. That means they could be useful for robots and other devices that need to move.

Typically, these types of materials are very complex and difficult to manufacture on a large scale. Traditional methods like 3D printing struggle with this, especially when the designs are large. But the MIT team used kirigami to overcome these problems.

They took a known origami design, adapted it, and then used special machines to cut and fold metal into the desired shape. The result? Ultra-strong aluminum structures that can carry heavy loads but are incredibly light.

This new method of making structures has a lot of potential. It could revolutionize industries like aerospace, where weight is a critical factor, or construction, where strong yet lightweight materials could replace heavy steel and concrete.

James Coleman, a designer not involved in the research, believes this could change the way we build in the future and lead to stronger, lighter and more creative buildings.

In addition to practical applications, the MIT team also presented the artistic side of their work. They created large-scale works of art out of aluminum and exhibited them at the MIT Media Lab.

These pieces, several meters long, were made quickly and efficiently and prove that the combination of art and science can lead to impressive results.

The researchers admit that while their method is groundbreaking, it’s not yet perfect.

They are working to develop user-friendly design tools and are looking for ways to reduce the computational effort required for their designs.

Ultimately, this merging of an ancient art with modern science could be game-changing. Inspired by Kirigami, lightweight yet durable materials could soon be within reach.

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Source: MIT.

Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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