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Atomic Origami Turns Graphene Sheets Into Nanomachines

Researchers have found a new way to take advantage of the atom-thick "wonder material" graphene: use it for origami.
Structures created with graphene (dark grey) and gold (black).
Structures created with graphene (dark grey) and gold (black).Cornell University

Researchers have found a new way to take advantage of the atom-thick "wonder material" graphene: use it for origami. Strictly speaking, actually, it's kirigami, the version of the paper-folding art that uses cutting as well — a bit like making paper snowflakes. With carefully-planned folds and snips, researchers led by Cornell University's Melina Blees have created microscopic simple machines and structures: springs, pyramids, hinges and more.

Related: 'Wonder Material' Graphene Is Just Getting Started, Researchers Say

Graphene is a lattice of carbon atoms that's about as thin as anything can be yet also strong, flexible and conductive. Scientists and engineers are continually coming up with new ways to use it, from super-strong silk to water filters — even if no one has quite figured out how to make the stuff in bulk just yet.

This crossover of ancient art and cutting-edge science is just getting started. The structures the team made were actually prototyped using Scotch tape, paper and scissors — but there's no reason more complex machines and interlocking parts can't be attempted. These simple machines could soon be components in, say, sensors that measure movement in nanometers, or containers with just a handful of molecules inside.

Blees's research appeared on July 29 in the journal Nature.