UBC student creates self-folding paper that takes on creative shapes before your eyes, and may completely change the packaging industry
Mechanical engineering master’s student Ata Sina is developing self-folding paper that when heated up magically transforms into multi-dimensional figures. The technology can be used for everything from origami-like decorations to sustainable packaging and insulation.
How does self-folding paper work?
Everyone is familiar with ordinary paper sheets that get folded into origami patterns. We’re working on a unique and novel method to create self-folding paper that forms complex three-dimensional structures.
The method involves using a computer program to make small cuts and creases in a sheet of paper. We then attach special thermoplastic polymers onto the pre-cut and pre-creased paper and stick it in an oven at about 110 degrees Celsius for 10 to 20 seconds. As the polymers heat up, they shrink and lift the paper into various angles turning it into a 3-D shape.
How could this dramatically change packaging?
One simple pattern I made formed a high-strength structure that is ideal for protecting fragile objects inside a box.
When paper is folded into three-dimensional structures, the product is light, strong, and cheap. This makes it easy to transport. It also has less impact on the environment. Compared to plastic, we use less energy to make self-folding paper.
One day it could be used for noise and heat insulation, toys, folding beds, step stools and even mattresses, but the main application could be packaging.
This has potential to be fun for kids. Do you plan to promote this to them?
We are planning to create and publish a decorative do-it-yourself book for kids that will include decorative designs that they can heat up themselves.
When I was a kid, my parents enrolled me in a book club and I received a new book every week. The most exciting books were origami books and I still remember how thrilled I was to make a cube from a piece of paper without using glue. While the engineering is amazing, art satisfies my personal interest and the combination of art and science drew me to this project.
More information about self-folding paper here.
Sina, a researcher at UBC’s Pulp and Paper Centre, is presenting his work at the 2014 Fibre Conference, May 12-15, at UBC. The conference will explore innovative ways to use trees and forest products such as building skyscrapers from wood, plant materials for nanotechnology, and bioenergy.