Cornell Researchers Take Fantastic Voyage With Graphene, Kirigami

Who knew that an ancient Japanese art form might someday pave the way for human bloodstream-exploring microscopic machines? Cornell University researchers are adapting the techniques of origami and kiragami to create self-folding, cell-thin shapes made out of sheets of carbon, and glass.

In one study, summarized in, the Cornell team used origami — the art of folding paper into tiny objects — to create pyramids and cubes the size of a red blood cell. The objects are made from carbon and glass only atoms thick, foreshadowing the day when “Fantastic Voyage”-like miniaturized ships might explore the human bloodstream.

“Marc Miskin, a postdoctoral associate at Cornel, characterized the during a March 14 talk in New Orleans: ‘It’s the world’s thinnest origami … comparable in size to a biological microorganism.’”

Additional Cornel research, led by physicist and micro object expert Paul McEuen, adopts the techniques of kirigami. In this Japanese art, folding and cutting paper leads to useful designs. Turns out when you substitute graphene for paper and attach strategically sliced nano sheets of graphene to silica, you can teach the graphene to fold in ways that create microscopic springs and hinges. The potential uses are as vast as the human imagination.

“In a separate presentation reported in, the Cornell team showed off various patterns of cuts that cause flat sheets of their material to fold up into different 3-D shapes. ‘Give us a shape that requires folding only in one direction, and we can make a very small version of that shape,’ said Baris Bircan, a Cornell graduate student working on the project.”