Oct. 2 - Engineers in North Carolina have developed a new technique to transform two dimensional patterns into three dimensional objects with the power of light. The research could one day lead to space-saving innovations such as medical implants that unfold in the body and new satellite systems that can be built in orbit. Ben Gruber has more.
In a lab at North Carolina State University the expression "Let There Be Light" has a special significance. Transforming a two dimensional piece of plastic into a perfect three dimensional cube using only the power light may seem complicated, but according to researcher Michael Dickey it's actually pretty simple. You start with a film of pre-stressed or stretched plastic and design and print a pattern on it using bold black lines. Then cut out your design and place it under an intense light source. Flip the switch and watch as a three dimensional shape begins to form. ( SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL DICKEY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL AND BIO-MOLECULAR ENGINEERING, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We trick the material into folding into basically any shape that we want by patterning lines and those lines become hinges. And the way that they work is that they absorb light and they get hot." It's impressive science. But what's the point ? Dickey and Professor Jan Genzer say the ability to pre-program flat objects to take three dimensional forms has potential benefits in many fields, such as medicine and space research. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JAN GENZER, PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL AND BIO-MOLECULAR ENGINEERING, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "One possible field being in devices that you, that the final deployment would be some sort of open structure but before you deploy it or while you deploy it you can have it as compact as possible. In the case of implants, in the case of satellites or other types of structures like that." Genzer says the key is knowing how wide to print your black patterns. He says he can print a line that will fold 90 degrees into a cube or print a wider line that folds 120 degrees into a pyramid. And now, the team are looking at other ways to manipulate materials and other possible triggers they can utilise to make complex structures. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL DICKEY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL AND BIO-MOLECULAR ENGINEERING, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "You can start thinking about introducing chemical functionality's into the films so that when you hit them with light, not only do they fold but perhaps they change colour or perhaps they become stronger or they become softer." And Dickey says, he knows of at least one industry , where those qualities would be highly valued. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL DICKEY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL AND BIO-MOLECULAR ENGINEERING, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "You can imagine a greeting card that has a little insert that comes along with it. When you get it you take it out and you put it in the sunlight or you put it in the microwave or something like that and it folds into a rose or a dog ." In many ways, it's a 21st century take on the ancient Japanese art of origami....albeit with a lighter touch.