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Physics with a Twist: Professor Clark Finds Answers Through Origami

Physics with a Twist: Professor Clark Finds Answers Through Origami

Rajasthani turbans. Wrapped candy. Violin strings. What do these things have in common? The physics behind its twisted shapes can be explained using a theoretical framework developed by Professor Arshad Kudolli’s research team.

In “Torsional folding of sheets into multi-layered corrugated filaments”, a magazine article science progress, Kudrolli and Julien Chopin, a former post-doctoral researcher at Clark, describe how they applied simple origami principles to extend and deepen research exploring how sheets of material can be transformed by twisting and stretching — without breaking. Their research could benefit from a wide range of practical applications, from wearable electronics to artificial muscles to solar sails.

“The questions we ask are: How far can it twist and bend?” Kudrolli explains. “If I twist it and bend it a certain way, is it always wrinkled, or is it just completely turbulent, or can I make it turn in a very orderly way that I can predict? How does it depend on how hard the material is — how long is it, how wide is it, how thick is it?”

Kudrolli’s research team found that by applying just a simple twist, a flat sheet of material can “self-organise”. “We can create these complex 3D structures by controlling forces only at the edge of the plate.” Using the “rules” they describe in their article, “these structures can be predicted simply based on comprehensive knowledge of sheet dimensions. Using highly flexible panels, we can also undo structures without damaging them, and create new structures simply by changing the applied constraints.”

Arshad Kudreli writes on the board
Professor Arshad Kouderly works in his physics class.

“As a physicist, I’m showing you the possibilities,” he says. “Who knew that if you took a plastic sheet and twisted it, it would create these simple structures, and if you continued to roll it, it would form some kind of thread?”

Kudrolli seeks to extend this research so that simple things can be turned into complex shapes, even from a distance. “Self-assembly is the idea here,” he suggests — a solar sail, for example, set off on a space shuttle.

To understand these complex formations, the researchers relied on a simple model – origami – to simulate the bending and twisting of shapes. Over several years, they have documented thousands of scenarios via X-ray imaging. Amit Dawady, a doctoral student, continues this work today, changing scenarios — using thicker material or different proportions, for example — to capture and analyze the data.

The images lead to more questions, says Couderley: “How do you predict the shapes you get? How much force do you apply in twisting the shapes? Under what conditions? [the material] Will it deform and change shape? Will it break randomly or break in a systematic pattern? “

By twisting the material more, the researchers seek to increase the torque and compress the resulting structure even more. This physical phenomenon – the turbulence that occurs in torsion – can be observed in the waste water circulating from the bathtub.

What’s new in our study published in science progress Is that we found that if you take this paper and twist it, it stays arranged much further than we imagined,” he says. “Not only that, you can get ‘programmed’ shapes with these transformations that we were able to observe using the twists. In other words, we can anticipate where and when the sheets will be folded and the ordered shapes they will turn into.”

Besides a solar sail in space, the physics behind this torsion can be applied to energy harvesting, according to Kudrolli. The body attached to a wind turbine – twisted and non-twisted – has the potential to be used as a coolant or generator. Likewise, threads can be woven into clothing, allowing users to charge their mobile phones. Scientists are also applying this knowledge in the medical field, including the development of artificial muscles.

The science progress The article follows a series of research that Kudrolli has pursued for nearly two decades. Photo used in 2005 physical review messages Article, “Curly Paper Geometry,” with Daniel Blair, Ph.D. ’14, depicts what looks like the Grand Canyon but is actually a crinkled sheet with peaks and valleys enhanced using laser-assisted topographic technology.

“Earth’s crust is a thin plate that is pushed and pulled by magma flowing below, which leads to the formation of mountains and valleys. The creation of the Grand Canyon essentially involves erosion due to the flow of water, which is a different mechanism,” Kudrolli says if you ask me as a physicist why I break up a piece. From paper, I would answer: “How would you describe folding the Earth’s crust the same way you push or crush a piece of paper? At what level are they the same or different?”


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