Marine biology requires catching a lot of specimen by safe means and retrieving them unscathed. Often this can be increasingly difficult in the case of soft-bodied fish due to their anatomy. Now, scientists from Harvard University, the University of Rhode Island, and City University of New York (CUNY) have developed a 3D printed origami device to safely procure fish such as squids, anemones and jellyfish.
While the ocean encapsulates a vast majority of the Earth, some of its creatures often escape scientific study. The scientists are looking to expand our knowledge of these understudied creatures using the rotary actuated dodecahedron (RAD). This origami-based 12-sided trap uses the folding structure inspired by the traditional Japanese art-form to safely wrap around the sea-creautures without harming them.
The biologists made the device for strapping on to an underwater rover for use by remote control. The device not only works spectacularly, it also retrieves creatures at depths of 11 kilometres. Needless to say, it’s no easy feat for a device to withstand ocean pressures of that magnitude. Future designs may scale up the size for larger organisms.
RAD Aids in Marine Research
“I view this as a platform technology that we hope will continue to evolve. The dream is to enclose delicate deep-sea animals, take 3D imagery that includes properties like hardness, 3D-print that animal at the surface, and also have a ‘toothbrush’ tickle the organism to obtain its full genome. Then, we’d release it,” biologist David Gruber told the Verge.
Gruber referred to some of these creatures as “lost fauna”, referencing the lack of research on them. That list contains creatures like zooplankton, who make up 38 billion kilograms of carbon in biomass (7% of the of the world’s total biomass). Previously, biologists relied on nets, which could shred gelatinous life-forms or seriously harm others. Similarly, suction cups could retrieve single specimen but were ultimately slow and still quite dangerous for certain species.
Designing the Origami Folding Mechanism
The researchers were very thorough in developing the device, adding all sorts of considerations into the design. For instance, the main body contains gaps between the dodecahedron to prevent pressure build-up while traversing the ocean floor. It’s also made from a much lighter material than the rest of the structure, so it doesn’t harm the creatures.
Another consideration they had to make was that of getting the origami structure to unfold using just a single motor. This made it easier to unpack in a single command and decreased the potential areas of failure. However, it also meant adding complexity in the form of a series of intricate linkages connecting the 12 panels to the motor. Balancing lightness and rigidity was the key to this process.
The team isn’t stopping there for sure. They already have further plans for the device. David Gruber comments: “The dream is to enclose delicate deep-sea animals, take 3D imagery that includes properties like hardness, 3D-print that animal at the surface, and also have a ‘toothbrush’ tickle the organism to obtain its full genome. Then, we’d release it.”
Featured images courtesy of the Wyss Institute at Harvard and Kaitlyn Becker, retrieved via the Verge.