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By implementing the technique of traditional Japanese paper-cutting, art could make bandages, heat pads, and wearable electronics adhere to flexible surfaces. MIT engineers have come up with a sticky solution to restrictive offerings in the form of a thin, lightweight, rubber-like film which, when cut using a pattern similar to the folding art of kirigami, gives the material a useful clinginess not offered with standard bandages.

Originally an Asian folk art, much like origami, kirigami is the practice of cutting intricate patterns into the paper before folding it to create beautiful, elaborate three-dimensional structures. Recently, scientists have been exploring kirigami as a way to develop new, functional materials.

Ruike Zhao, a postdoc in MIT’s department of mechanical engineering, led this project to create an adhesive film with the ability to stick to highly deformable regions of the body, such as the knee and elbow, and maintain its hold even after 100 bending cycles. The kirigami cuts give the film not only stretch but also better grip, opening a release tension that would otherwise cause the entire film to peel away from the skin.

The patterned slits on the kirigami's stretchy film adhesives enable the possibility for a whole swath of products, from everyday bandages to wearable and soft electronics. The research group has fabricated a kirigami-patterned adhesive bandage, as well as a heating pad consisting of a kirigami film threaded with heating wires. With the application of a 3-volt power supply, the pad maintains a steady temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The MIT team has also engineered a wearable electronic film outfitted with light-emitting diodes.

The fabricated thin kirigami films were made by pouring a liquid elastomer, or rubber solution, into 3D printed moulds – but researchers say the film can be made from a wide range of materials, from soft polymers to hard metal sheets. Experiments with the material demonstrated the better of the properties and usage of the kirigami style bandage. The team is now branching out to explore other materials on which to pattern kirigami cuts.