By combining sunflower pollen with printer toner, scientists at NTU Singapore have developed a paper-like material that is able to fold into new shapes in response to ambient humidity.
Patterns digitally printed on the pollen paper using a commercial laser printer determine the three-dimensional shape in which the paper folds. The process is reversible but can be “frozen” if a layer of chitosan (a natural sugar found in seashells) is applied to the structure.
The NTU Singapore team demonstrated their method, creating several geometric configurations, straws and boxes with more complex shapes like a 3D paper orchid.
The ability of printed pollen paper to fold into 3D configurations demonstrates its potential for use in âsmartâ green products such as envelopes, boxes and self-folding food containers.
The material also has the potential to be used in “origami robots” – flat sheets that can autonomously bend into 3D shapes – for electronic and biomedical applications with special shape requirements, tissue engineering dependent on form and drug delivery triggered by stimuli.
The NTU research team has applied for a patent for the potential commercialization of the technology.
This use of renewable natural resources to develop next-generation green materials is in line with NTU 2025 vision and NTU’s Sustainability Manifesto, which aspires to develop sustainable solutions to address some of humanity’s great pressing challenges.