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This paper demonstrates experimentally and models computationally a novel and simple approach for self-folding of thin sheets of polymer using unfocused light. The sheets are made of optically transparent, pre-strained polystyrene (also known as Shrinky-Dinks) that shrink in-plane if heated uniformly. Black ink patterned on either side of the polymer sheet provides localized absorption of light, which heats the underlying polymer to temperatures above its glass transition. At these temperatures, the predefined inked regions (i.e., hinges) relax and shrink, and thereby cause the planar sheet to fold into a three-dimensional object. Self-folding is therefore achieved in a simple manner without the use of multiple fabrication steps and converts a uniform external stimulus (i.e., unfocused light) on an otherwise compositionally homogenous substrate into a hinging response. Modeling captures effectively the experimental folding trends as a function of the hinge width and support temperature and suggests that the hinged region must exceed the glass transition temperature of the sheet for folding to occur.
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