And so we watched “Between the Folds”, a documentary about artists and scientists who are pushing the envelope of modern origami. In the last decade, this ancient art form has acquired revolutionary scientific applications in the fields of medicine, biology, natural science, space, and nanotechnology.
And so our minds were blown. And so we consulted Google.
In addition to origami’s progression through the entire human gamut of styles and aesthetics, origami-based mathematical models now provide algorithms for airbag collapse research, foldable satellite lenses that can unfurl in orbit, and synthetic proteins which could help fight major diseases.
Origami is also finding a home in nanotechnology, or the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular level. Scientists are increasingly seeing the usefulness of DNA as a polymer to act as a scaffold for the assembly of nanomachinery. Computational bioengineer Paul Rothemund figured out how to fold a genome into a pre-determined two-dimensional shape, a technique he calls DNA origami. It offers precision molecular engineering for nanoengineers and bioengineers alike. Rothemund says DNA origami could help improve optical structures and plasmonic devices, which may boost the speed of information transfer to something close to light speed.
Hao Yan, a biochemist at Arizona State University in Tempe has been looking to use DNA origami as the basis for an artificial leaf that makes hydrogen fuel from water. Yan is trying to harness the power of electron flow. “If we can really control all the electron-transfer sites then we can improve the efficiency.”
DNA nanotechnologist William Shih wants to expedite the creation of DNA lock-boxes, which he says could be tapped for internal microscopic drug delivery. However, he must figure out a way to have the box move through a cell membrane. The lock boxes might one day carry drugs to specific destinations in the body or serve as logic gates in a DNA-based computer.
Ultimately, researchers imagine DNA origami supporting artificial organs, and neuronal networks connected to electrical circuitry.
-Jake Anderson and Allie Schulz
Sanderson, K. (2010, March 10). “Bioengineering: What to Make with DNA Origami”.
Rice, J. (2009, May 7). “A Lockbox Built from DNA”. Technology Review.
Saslow, R. (2010, May 11). “When Origami Meets Rocket Science”.