Before working with origami in the Architected Materials Lab, I had only considered the ancient craft to be a medium for creation and self-expression. However, due to its roots in geometry and its ability to reconfigure, origami has recently become a rich field of research in the engineering field. Its fundamental properties have been utilized in the development of spacecraft solar panels, the fabrication of foldable robots, and the improvement of medical devices.
Our project focused on uncovering the interesting properties of a novel origami design called the rigid origami bellows. Our structure is able to expand from a folded-flat state into a sturdy, three-dimensional shape. Consequently, we examined its volumetric change, tunable stiffness, and ability to tessellate in the direction of deployable space structures such as Martian housing units.
Our analysis was performed mainly by running simulations, so much of my work existed in the form of a lengthy Python script. On the construction side, since paper is not robust against the harsh environments of space, we explored building the rigid origami bellows from more durable materials. This led us to 3D printing and laser cutting. Despite encountering complications with 3D printing durable hinges, we managed to successfully produce many rigid origami bellows unit cells by laser cutting thick cardstock. These unit cells were joined together in a large tessellation, as pictured above, and tested under compression to confirm computed results.
Working with the mechanics of origami has introduced me to a hidden world of engineering that lies at the intersection of art and science. Though it often remains hidden under the wings of paper cranes, origami is an extremely effective tool and will continue to be utilized by researchers as such.