Building better homes, one origami fold at a time

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On June 14, 2017

One day, origami curtains may be a feature of many homes. The nature of the paper craft’s complex folding and cutting presents an almost limitless amount of shapes, textures and mechanical properties. Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are exploring the potential of origami to control the amount of incoming light in a room and studying how the resulting light patterns could affect homeowners.

The work combines civil engineering and psychology to identify key human-centered design principles for automated living environments called “smart” houses. The Missouri S&T researchers will measure the effects of origami lighting on homeowners’ fatigue, mood, alertness, memory and cognition while experiencing daily life with the light patterns, while also gauging the structures’ stability, fracture strength and dynamic motions.

“There is little to no research examining the impact that resulting light patterns will have on users,” says Dr. Denise Baker, assistant professor of psychological science at Missouri S&T. “We know lighting color and intensity have effects on user’s subjective and objective measures of things like fatigue and mood, so it is critical to understand how light that passes through these materials may also impact these psychological and physiological human factors before these technologies are designed.”

With a grant from Missouri S&T’s Smart Living signature research area, Baker and Dr. Chenglin Wu, assistant professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, are working on the project, titled “Human-Centered Origami and Kirigami Structures for Environmental Lighting.” Kirigami is the cutting techniques that are used in paper craft if folding is not enough to create a desired shape.

“We have two main goals for this project,” says Wu. The first is to investigate the impact of origami and kirigami textures on perception, and decide on what structures best fit home environments. The second is to investigate the mechanics of the identified structures to create an efficient motion control strategy to automate these pieces.”

Smart Living is one of four signature areas at Missouri S&T. These areas are designed to address national research and educational needs in areas of excellence at Missouri S&T. Smart Living involves more than creating intelligent cities, homes and infrastructure; it also means designing systems that people can and will use in the future. Research within the signature area includes smart grid and transportation systems, decision-making and governance, privacy and security, and advanced building materials for chemical or biological environmental needs.

“We awarded this a grant because of its strong relation to the research area’s vision and focus in a relatively untouched aspect of work,” says Dr. Bruce McMillin, co-chair of the Smart Living research team, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, and professor of computer science at Missouri S&T. “We had thirteen proposals from eleven departments, and we see a lot of growth in several aspects of Smart Living, including psychology, environmental management and user health.”

For more information about Smart Living, visit

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