Self-Organized Origami

Sergio Rica

The controlled folding and unfolding of maps, space structures, wings, leaves, petals, and other foldable laminae is potentially complicated by the independence of individual folds; as their number increases, there is a combinatorial explosion in the number of folded possibilities. The artificially constructed Miura-ori (1) pattern, with a periodic array of geometrically and elastically coupled mountain and valley folds (Fig. 1A), circumvents this complication by allowing the entire structure to be folded or unfolded simultaneously. Making such a pattern is not easy, so it may be surprising to find an elegant natural counterpart that is a few hundred millennia old. In Fig. 1B, we show the different stages of the opening of a hornbeam leaf that starts life in its bud as a Miura-ori folded pattern (2). Similar structures arise in insect wings (3) and elsewhere in nature (4), suggesting that these origami patterns are a result of convergent design. This raises a question of mechanism: How might this spatial organization of folds be brought about?