For hundreds of years, through the traditional Japanese art of Origami, people have molded complex shapes such as cranes and flowers from a single piece of paper.
This principle of making 3-D shapes out of one sheet of material is a practice Mary Frecker plans on applying in creating new designs for objects such as surgical instruments, aircrafts and more.
Frecker, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at Penn State, recently received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation as the prime investigator to work on an Origami-inspired engineering project titled, "Multi-field Responsive Origami Structures – Advancing the Emerging Frontier of Active Compliant Mechanisms."
“We want to design objects like deployable space structures that are compact for launch and unfold into something larger like a satellite when in space,” Frecker said.
The same idea applies to surgical instruments that will be very small for insertion when entering the body but will deploy into larger shapes once inside.
“The idea of the project is to be able to design structures not limited to paper that fold like origami structures do but are able to hold and unfold on demand,” Frecker said.
There are eight groups total throughout various universities across the country working on the project for the next four years.
As the principle investigator of the Penn State group, Frecker said artists and mathematicians have explored modeling objects after Origami, but it hasn’t been done too much in engineering.
Rebecca Strzelec, professor of visual arts at Penn State Altoona, is one of the group members working alongside Frecker. Other members of this team include some graduate students, professors from Penn State College of Engineering, Rowan University and George Mason University.
Strzelec said the grant project is very unique in nature because it requires someone with an artistic background to be involved, whether that be in fine arts or art history.
“It’s nice to be included, and I am very excited to supply ideas for this project based on the fundamentals of design,” Strzelec said. “I tell my students this all the time, too, but art is not just about making pretty things.”
Strzelec is also leading the outreach program that is a part of this project. The program includes workshops at The Palmer Museum of Art and The Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania starting next summer.
Penn State graduate Adrienne Crivaro , who is involved in this engineering endeavor, said she is interested to see how the project progresses over the next few years.
“Engineers aren’t usually directly associated with artists, so this project is a good way to collaborate with a different field,” Crivaro (graduate-mechanical engineering) said.