While the Japanese art of origami has been a rich source of inspiration for scientists working to construct such 3D forms.

Now, however, a team led by Ryan Hayward has developed an approach that could open the door to a new wave of discoveries.

"We have designed and implemented a simple approach that consists of sandwiching a thin layer of a temperature-responsive hydrogel with two patterned films of a rigid plastic," said Hayward.

The team uses a mask-less lithographic technique based on a digital micro-mirror array device to spatially pattern the cross-linking of the polymer films, and then dissolves away the uncross-linked regions with a solvent.

By directly patterning the polymer films, rather than using a traditional photo-lithographic approach based on a photoresist layer, it is possible to pattern multiple layers of polymers with widely contrasting material properties using relatively few processing steps.

In biomedicine or bioengineering, this new approach may help in developing advanced self-deploying implantable medical devices, or in guiding the growth of cells into complex tissues and organs.

Instead of following the step-by-step actuation of folds in a controlled sequence characteristic of traditional origami, the new method relies on 'collapse' designs, in which all folds are accomplished more or less simultaneously.

The research appears in the journal Advanced Material.

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