MIT’s Innovative Method, Inspired by Kirigami, Breaks Shape Barriers

by Amir Hussein
kirigami-inspired transformation

MIT researchers have developed a groundbreaking computational strategy based on the Japanese art of kirigami, which allows for the transformation of any 2D shape into another. This innovative method holds tremendous potential for solving engineering challenges, such as designing shape-shifting robots capable of performing diverse tasks. The researchers’ work, published in Nature Computational Science, provides a blueprint for creating shape-shifting materials and devices by leveraging the principles of kirigami.

Kirigami, an advanced form of paper cutting, elevates pop-up books to a whole new level. By intricately cutting patterns in paper and partially folding it, artists can create astonishingly detailed and delicate three-dimensional structures that replicate natural and architectural wonders.

Scientists and engineers have long drawn inspiration from kirigami, employing its principles to design robotic grippers, stretchable electronics, water-harvesting sheets, and other materials and devices capable of shape-shifting. However, until now, there has been no established method for determining the pattern of cuts required to transform a material from one desired shape to another.

The researchers’ computational strategy, presented in their study, offers a general approach to solving kirigami-inspired transformations in two dimensions. By determining the appropriate angles and lengths of cuts, a sheet can be manipulated to transition smoothly from one shape to another, akin to an expandable lattice.

Through their method, the researchers successfully designed and fabricated various 2D kirigami structures, including a heart that transforms into a triangle. Surprisingly, even the seemingly impossible task of transforming a square shape into a circle shape was achieved with kirigami.

The implications of this method for engineers are far-reaching. It has the potential to tackle diverse design problems, such as engineering robots that can change shape to fulfill specific tasks or navigate complex environments. Additionally, active materials could be created, such as intelligent coverings for buildings and homes that adapt to environmental conditions, controlling factors like sunlight and ultraviolet radiation.

The researchers behind this groundbreaking work are Kaitlyn Becker, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Gary Choi, a postdoc and applied mathematics instructor, Levi Dudte, a quantitative researcher at Optiver, and L. Mahadevan, a professor at Harvard University.

This study builds upon the team’s previous work in both kirigami and origami, uncovering mathematical connections between the two art forms. In 2019, the researchers developed an optimization approach for kirigami, but it was computationally intensive. However, their subsequent work on origami led to a more efficient strategy. By focusing on growing patterns from simple folded seeds and establishing relationships between panels, they developed an algorithm for planning the design of any origami structure.

Inspired by this progress, the researchers explored whether a similar approach could be applied to kirigami. Traditionally, kirigami involves cutting a sheet of paper and partially folding it to create a three-dimensional structure. By studying the empty spaces between cuts and their relationships, the team sought a more efficient formula for kirigami design.

Their study focused on two-dimensional kirigami transformations using interconnected quadrilateral tiles. By analyzing the relationships between the angles and lengths of bars, the shape of empty spaces, and the overall assemblage, they devised a general formula. This formula can efficiently determine the pattern of cuts, including their angles and lengths, needed to transform a 2D sheet from one shape to another.

To bring their designs to life, the team developed two fabrication methods: 3D printing and mold casting. They used small fabric strips embedded in plastic tiles, allowing for flexible connections between the tiles. These methods successfully produced circle-shaped mosaics transforming into squares, as well as simple triangle mosaics evolving into intricate heart shapes.

The researchers’ breakthrough provides a solid foundation for further exploration into 3D kirigami design. With their mathematical formulation guaranteeing the ability to achieve any two-dimensional shape, the team’s next steps involve extending their method to three-dimensional kirigami.

Reference: Dudte, L. H., Choi, G. P. T., Becker, K. P., & Mahadevan, L. (2023). An additive framework for kirigami design. Nature Computational Science. DOI: 10.1038/s43588-023-00448-9

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about kirigami-inspired transformation

What is kirigami and how does it relate to MIT’s research?

Kirigami is a Japanese paper-cutting art that involves transforming a 2D sheet of paper into intricate 3D structures. MIT’s research is inspired by kirigami and focuses on developing a computational strategy to transform any 2D shape into another shape, offering innovative solutions for engineering challenges.

What are the potential applications of MIT’s method?

MIT’s method has various potential applications, including designing shape-shifting robots capable of performing different tasks or navigating complex environments. It can also be used to create active materials, such as intelligent coverings for buildings that adapt to environmental conditions. Other applications may include stretchable electronics and water-harvesting sheets.

How does MIT’s method benefit engineers and designers?

MIT’s method provides engineers and designers with a blueprint for designing shape-shifting materials and devices. It enables them to determine the pattern of cuts required to transform a material from one desired shape to another, offering a more efficient and systematic approach to design challenges. This method opens up possibilities for creative and adaptable engineering solutions.

What fabrication methods were used in the research?

The research team utilized two fabrication methods: 3D printing and mold casting. They embedded small fabric strips into plastic tiles to create flexible connections between them. These methods allowed them to physically realize their designs, transforming circle-shaped mosaics into squares and triangles into complex heart shapes.

Can MIT’s method be extended to three-dimensional kirigami?

Yes, the researchers plan to extend their method to three-dimensional kirigami. While their current work focuses on two-dimensional transformations, their mathematical formulation provides a foundation for future exploration into three-dimensional kirigami design. This could unlock further possibilities for shape-shifting structures and devices in the future.

More about kirigami-inspired transformation

You may also like


ScienceNerd89 June 19, 2023 - 10:38 pm

MIT’s work on kirigami-inspired transformation is mind-boggling. The combination of mathematics, engineering, and art is truly fascinating. It’s amazin how they’ve developed a systematic approach to tackle complex design problems. Kudos to the brilliant minds at MIT!

TechFanatic June 20, 2023 - 3:27 am

MIT’s method seems so cool! They takin inspiration from kirigami is genius. Now they can design robots that change shape and materials that adapt to environmentz. Can’t wait to see what they do next!

CuriousMind June 20, 2023 - 3:49 am

This research has so many potential applicationz! Shape-shifting robots, intelligent coverings, stretchable electronics…the future is here! MIT’s method is a game-changer and I’m excited to see how it evolves.

John123 June 20, 2023 - 7:35 am

wow this text is amazin it showz how mit researchers r so smart and creativ i luv how they use kirigami for transformin shapez itz like magic! MIT rulez!

DesignGeek June 20, 2023 - 8:51 am

Kirigami has always fascinated me and now MIT is takin it to the next level! Their method for transformin shapes is a breakthrough in design innovation. Imagine the possibilities for architecture and engineering. Simply mind-blowing!


Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

SciTechPost is a web resource dedicated to providing up-to-date information on the fast-paced world of science and technology. Our mission is to make science and technology accessible to everyone through our platform, by bringing together experts, innovators, and academics to share their knowledge and experience.


Subscribe my Newsletter for new blog posts, tips & new photos. Let's stay updated!

© 2023 SciTechPost