Can origami protect football players and reusable rockets? Researchers have shown how the ancient art of paper-folding can soften the shock of an impact, whether it’s cracking into a helmet or touching down on a landing pad.
The technique, described today in an open-access paper published by Science Advances, takes advantage of the stress-relaxing effect of folding creases in paper and other materials.
“If you were wearing a football helmet made of this material and something hit the helmet, you’d never feel that hit on your head. By the time the energy reaches you, it’s no longer pushing. It’s pulling,” senior author Jinkyu Yang, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Washington, said in a news release.
That’s not to say that future football helmets will be made of paper. But the engineering principles that Yang and his colleagues tested with paper models could well be translated into new types of shock-absorbing structures for rocket landing legs, automotive vehicles and other applications.