Origami-inspired engineering techniques could help researchers develop stretchy conductors for flexible plasma-screen displays and, eventually, solar panels that can bend to follow sunlight, according to a new study.
Increasingly, researchers worldwide are developing flexible electronics, such as batteries and solar panels, that could one day make their way into clothing and even human bodies. But in order to make parts such as wires and electrodes, the scientists need conductors that are just as flexible.
Now, for the first time, scientists have used a variation of origami, known as kirigami, to create stretchable conductors. Whereas conventional origami uses only folding to create structures, kirigamiuses both folding and cutting.
The kirigami cuts reduced the conductivity of the conductors. However, when the conductors were stretched, their conductivity remained steady, said study co-author Sharon Glotzer, a computational scientist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “The cuts and folds result in the material no longer staying in just two dimensions, but popping out into the third dimension, which is what gives it these extraordinary mechanical properties,” Glotzer told Live Science.
The first prototype of the kirigami-inspired stretchable conductor involved paper covered in carbon nano-tubes pipes of carbon that are only nanometers, or billionths of a meter, wide that possess remarkable electrical conductivity. The kirigami pattern used was relatively simple, with cuts resembling rows of dashes that opened up to resemble a cheese grater.