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Stretchy Origami

March 3, 2015

Engineers develop a rubbery substance that changes shape under the influence of heat or light.



Stretchy origami. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Liquid crystals are materials with molecules that change their orientation when charged or heated. In LCD monitors, their optical properties change, so they can display images. Engineer Timothy White, at the Air Force Research Laboratory, is part of a team that has developed 3D elastic liquid crystals that change shape when they’re heated. He says one possible use is airplane wing surfaces that change texture.

TIMOTHY WHITE (Air Force Research Laboratory):

And obviously if you transition from a flat surface to a dimpled surface, that’s going to control the airflow, for example, over an air foil.


The stretchy materials exert considerable force when they change shape, and can be activated by light as well as heat. The work is still basic research, but the team is looking into a variety of engineering applications, from shape-changing antennas to biomedical devices. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.