Smart silk origami as eco-sensors for environmental pollution

Matthew, Saphia A. L. and Egan, Gemma and Witte, Kimia and Kaewchuchuen, Jirada and Phuagkhaopong, Suttinee and Totten, John D. and Seib, F. Philipp (2022) Smart silk origami as eco-sensors for environmental pollution. ACS Applied Bio Materials, 5 (8). pp. 3658-3666. ISSN 2576-6422 (

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Origami folding is an easy, cost-effective, and scalable fabrication method for changing a flat material into a complex 3D functional shape. Here, we created semicrystalline silk films doped with iron oxide particles by mold casting and annealing. The flat silk films could be loaded with natural dyes and folded into 3D geometries using origami principles following plasticization. They performed locomotion under a magnetic field, were reusable, and displayed colorimetric stability. The critical parameters for the design of the semi-autonomous silk film, including ease of folding, shape preservation, and locomotion in the presence of a magnetic field, were characterized, and pH detection was achieved by eye and by digital image colorimetry with a response time below 1 min. We demonstrate a practical application a battery-free origami silk boat as a colorimetric sensor for waterborne pollutants, which was reusable at least five times. This work introduces silk eco-sensors and merges responsive actuation and origami techniques.