Taking inspiration from origami is nothing new. Kayaks, furniture, museums, and space-based solar panels have all been inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding. The latest origami creation could have applications for everything from nano medicine to space exploration. Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo have created a “zippered tube” from folding paper that is flexible enough to fold, but stiff enough to support weight. By zippering two tubes together, the team found that they could create a structure that was difficult to twist or bend, but also folds entirely flat.

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When they combined tubes with different geometries, the researchers were able to create practical structures shaped like towers and bridges. “All of these ideas apply from the nanoscale and microscale up to large scales and even structures that NASA would deploy into space,” Georgia Tech professor Glaucio Paulino said. “Depending on your interest, the applications are endless.” The team says the technique could be applied on the nanoscale, in items such as microscopic medical robots, to massive structures that NASA could deploy into space.

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Though the current prototypes are all of paper, the researchers are planning to explore the zipper technique using other materials, like thin metal or plastic. They are now experimenting with various configurations of tubes to expand their understanding of what structures are possible. “We have just scratched the surface,” Paulino said. “Once you have a powerful concept, which we think the zipper coupling is, you can explore applications in many different areas.”

Via Gizmag

Images via Rob Felt