Thermorph from Morphing Matter Lab on Vimeo.

Using an “inexpensive” 3D printer, a team of Carnegie Mellon University researchers have successfully created flat plastic sheets that, when heated, fold themselves into predetermined forms such as a rose, a boat, or a bunny. To achieve this, a printer deposits a continuous filament of melted thermoplastic at a specifically programmed speed to ensure sections that are “warp prone.” The resulting hard plastic sheets are flat, but the folding process is triggered when deposited in warm water. Lining Yao, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and director of the Morphing Matter Lab, speculates that this technology could be a precursor to self-assembling flat-pack furniture or emergency shelters that could take form when heated by the sun. [Carnegie Mellon University]

Photo by Joseph Xu courtesy the University of Michigan Xiaozhou Che, EECS Graduate Research Assistant, holds an organic tandem photovoltaic cell

Photo by Joseph Xu courtesy the University of Michigan Xiaozhou Che, EECS Graduate Research Assistant, holds an organic tandem photovoltaic cell

Researchers from the University of Michigan have developed organic solar cells that achieve an efficiency of 15 percent—the same average efficiency of commercially available silicon-based photovoltaic cells currently on the market. Previous iterations of organic cells could achieve about 10 or 11 percent efficiency, but then the team created stacked cells that absorb both visible and infrared light. Compared to the more rigid silicon-based photovoltaics, organic carbon-based solar cells are less expensive to manufacture and are flexible enough to be incorporated into clothing. [University of Michigan]