Heroes

Have a look at how origami is revolutionizing the medical industry.

The art of paper-folding is making surgery more efficient and less traumatic. It could even save you money.

Staying in the hospital after surgery isn't exactly cheap.

There are over 50 million in-patient surgeries in the United States each year. They're not always easy on people, and they're certainly not cheap; according to the Kaiser Foundation, a day in a U.S. hospital costs, on average, over $2,200. That's the cost of a used car! That's 7.5 weeks of minimum-wage pay! That's 9,800 Chicken McNuggets!

No matter how you look at it, $2,200 in post-op costs at the hospital is some serious coin, so anything that helps patients heal faster after surgery is a huge benefit.


What if we told you one key to a speedier and cheaper recovery looks like this?

Image from Andreas Bauer/Wikimedia Commons.

Yep. That's origami — the craft of folding paper — and it's a big source of inspiration for engineers who are working to innovate on health care tools.

Of course, hospital-grade origami isn't exactly what your third-grader is learning in arts and crafts class:

All GIFs from Bringham Young University/YouTube.

These new origami-inspired tools are being developed by researchers at Utah's Brigham Young University. The beauty and genius of the designs lie in their simplicity; instead of creating an ever-increasing number of moving parts, researchers are putting that tendency in reverse, instead relying on folds and self-contained hinges to do the same job.

It's an entirely new way to think about medicine, and it could revolutionize robotic surgery.

Here's one example of an origami-inspired tool, which turns the classic origami chompers into miniature forceps.

An enlarged version of the origami-inspired forceps prototype.

The result is a super-small tool with the ability to do more delicate work than current technology allows.

In other words, the new tools will create smaller, more precise cuts, making for less traumatic and less invasive surgery.


Smaller cuts and less invasive surgeries mean patients will be out of the hospital and back on their feet in as little time as possible. After all, a lot of what you're recovering from after undergoing surgery is the giant hole that surgeons cut in your body to get to whatever needed fixing. A less invasive surgery means fewer things your body needs to heal.

"That's really probably the most important thing," says professor Larry Howell, one of the researchers on this project. The goal, he says, is to reach the point where surgery is so minimally invasive it doesn't even leave a scar. "And we're actually starting to be able to approach that size."

If you think these new forceps look clumsy, think again. These guys make sewing a suture look like poetry in motion:

One of the coolest things, Howell says, is seeing how art can inform science.

The limits of this technique seem bound only by designers' imaginations. Scientists can discover designs in art that wouldn't have been immediately obvious with traditional engineering. That has the potential to lead to a host of amazing inventions.

One idea the BYU researchers highlighted was foldable inserts that could one day be used to replace damaged cartilage in the spine:


Image used with permission from BYU.

The team, which has previously done work for NASA developing solar arrays and other equipment, used a similar approach when coming up with the ideas like the spinal insert — taking something big, making it as small as possible in order to get it where it needs to go, then unfurling it when it's needed.

Devices like this have the potential to de-complicate incredibly complicated surgeries. Already minimally invasive techniques like the ones being developed at BYU have allowed doctors to perform certain kinds of cardiac surgery as outpatient procedures.

This is the kind of work that's inspiring, useful, and — let's be honest — really cool-looking. Elegant solutions like these will hopefully turn future surgeries from something onerous into something awesome.

Check out BYU's video on how they're using origami to transform surgery below:

via The Ohio Department of Health

UPDATE: Back in April, Ohio was leading the way of conservative leaning U.S. states in its response to the coronavirus. Part of that effort manifested in this simply brilliant PSA that showed how social distancing saves lives. The imagery of ping pong balls and mouse traps captured the "dilemma" perfectly: Would you want into a deadly trap when you could easily sidestep it? Of course not. So, why would you put your life and the lives of others at risk by something as callous as failing to respect basic social distancing guidelines?

Unfortunately, the number of new Covid-19 cases has been spiking across the country. In order to help give the public a reminder of just how deadly this disease is, and frankly, how easy it is for most people to practice social distancing, the PSA has been once again making the rounds. It's sad that we're all having to share this message again. But if it saves lives, the work must be done.

The original story begins below:

When it comes to shaping public opinion hard-hitting visual examples can be a lot more persuasive than words and statistics. The Ohio Department of Health created a visually dazzling public service announcement using ping-pong balls and mousetraps to explain how social distancing works.

This PSA is just another example of how Ohio is getting things right during the pandemic. As of April 9, the state has about 5,100 infections, fewer than a third of the cases in similarly sized Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois.


Keep Reading Show less