From under the sea to outer space, the art of paper folding continues to inspire scientists, as origami principles are applied in exploration technology.

Sciencemag.org recently reported about the prototype “fish grabber” developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Upon command, the mechanical claw folds to “safely capture deep sea creatures.” This technology is ideal for catching soft-bodied specimens for further study without doing severe damage to them.

The paper-folding inspiration shows on the grabber’s panels, which delicately folds from a flat surface into a ball to catch a target specimen. While similar in structure to the typical arcade “UFO catchers” (yes, the ones that can barely hold on to anything), this fish grabber does its job gently but surely.

Origami: from paper to prototype

Origami, or the art of creating shapes through intricate folds, has always had a place in scientific innovations. For example, Wyss previously developed “battery free-folding robots” with the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, while University of Chicago researchers applied the principle on circuits.

Meanwhile, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has always had its eyes on implementing folds to solar panel designs aimed for space deployment.

Perhaps the most well-known method of folding was developed by Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura. His principle, known as the Miura-ori, saw space application in 1995. This became the foundation of future design plans which aim to create small packages that unfold into bigger tech in space.

In both art and science, origami’s potential seems to have no bounds, as creators frequently push the possibilities of folding. Who would have thought that this ancient art would eventually help scientists come up with exploration devices that aren’t just good on paper? — MF


  • https://www.wired.com/story/the-atomic-theory-of-origami/
  • https://www.nasa.gov/jpl/news/origami-style-solar-power-20140814
  • https://www.flipscience.ph/news/origami-ultra-thin-circuits/
  • https://wyss.harvard.edu/no-battery-no-wire-no-problem/
  • http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/20/eaat5276
  • http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/07/watch-origami-fish-grabber-nab-deep-sea-squid


Author: Ronin Bautista

Ronin is a Christmas-loving wandering scribe who wanted to be a doctor, until he learned it meant cutting dead bodies open. He is currently finishing his MA in Asian Studies (major in Japanese Studies), while teaching journalism classes at UP Diliman’s College of Mass Communication.