This summer, middle and high school students are helping build and test 3-D structures that complement and mimic the cutting-edge ‘photo origami’ research conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Similar to the Japanese art of folding paper into shapes, photo origami is an innovative engineering technique involving light activated 3-D structures. As part of the National Science Foundation-funded Photo-Origami Research Project, researchers at CU-Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science are developing new composite polymers that can fold into 3-D structures using light. The researchers have partnered with CU-Boulder’s Science Discovery, a science education outreach program, to incorporate photo origami curriculum into Science Discovery’s engineering and STEM workshops for K-12 students and teachers.
While this research is performed at a nanoscale in a million dollar optics lab, CU Science Discovery has found a way to model the process with $10 heat lamps and a common shape memory polymer – aka Shrinky Dinks.
As part of the six-week Photo-Origami Research Experience and Mentorship Program, eight students from Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Skyline High School in Longmont and Northglenn High School have been working with CU-Boulder mentors and researchers. Two of the students have been studying and bending thermopolymers. The students have been able to research the same folding and bending properties as the CU-Boulder scientists, but they are using heat rather than light to make folds.
The ability to transform a flat polymer sheet into a sophisticated, mechanically robust 3-D structure will enable new approaches to manufacturing and design of devices. Examples include using extremely low-weight, high-strength materials to create micro-electromechanical systems with complicated 3-D architectures that can be used for microscopic sensors, such as antennas or microphones, and miniature robotic devices for environmental monitoring.
“In my 17 years at CU, I have never known a program like this that can take our research and turn it into a challenging and fun activity,” said Kurt Maute, professor of aerospace engineering sciences and co-investigator for the Photo-Origami Research Project. “The kids ask the same questions as our grad students. They are problem-solving and making adjustments; they are becoming engineers.”
Leveraging what they have been learning at CU-Boulder, the high school students will share and test their photo origami models using printer-ready polymers with 9- to 13-year-olds in CU Science Discovery Summer Camps.
The new models and resources that are being developed this summer will be incorporated into Science Discovery’s K-12 STEM workshops to help teachers and learners across the state understand this important new technology.
Beth Stade, CU Center for STEM Learning and Photo Origami Research Project co-principal investigator, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-492-8848
Stacey Forsyth, CU Science Discovery director, email@example.com, 303-492-4839
Hannah Fletcher, Communications, Office for Outreach and Engagement, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-492-3949
Julie Poppen, Media Relations, email@example.com, 303-492-4007 or 720-503-4922 (mobile)