Tech vs. Trees: Innovative paper forms 3-D shapes fresh from the oven, book about safe drinking water doubles as filter, foldable smartphone inspired by paper

LOS ANGELES , May 9, 2014 () – A roundup of recent trends pitting technology against the printed word:

Trees: Self-folding paper forms intricate 3-D shapes in oven

A Canadian graduate student’s paper creation that forms 3-D shapes in an oven may seem like high-tech origami, but the innovation touches several practical uses, especially in packaging. Developed by Ata Sina, this paper is made by making small cuts and creases across a sheet of paper with the help of a computer program, after which special thermoplastic polymers are attached to the paper, according to a May 8 press release from The University of British Columbia. The 3-D transformation occurs in the oven at 110 degrees Celsius for 10-20 seconds, causing the polymers to heat up and shrink. The end product could be used as eco-friendly packaging materials to protect the contents in a box, though other uses include a lampshade (see image), origami-like decorations, and heat and noise insulation.


Trees: Safe drinking water book features paper that acts as water filter

An innovative book about safe drinking water not only educates readers, but also functions as an actual filter to help people living in regions that lack access to clean water, GlobalPost reported May 2. Called The Drinkable Book, its pages are made of a special paper coated with silver nanoparticles, which could be described as a highly advanced coffee filter that reduces bacteria by 99.99% and kills diseases such as cholera, e.coli and typhoid. Users would tear a page out of the book, slip the paper filter through a custom box, and then pour the contaminated water over the paper. What comes out is safe to drink and as clean as tap water found in the U.S., according to a Youtube video. A paper filter could provide 30 days of clean water and each book could provide up to four years of clean water. Developed by University of Virginia postdoctoral fellow Theresa Danovich, the paper costs pennies to produce and could revolutionize water purification, according to the video.


Tech: Researchers borrow from paper to create innovative smartphone

While PaperFold could be the next evolution in smartphones, its name gives a shout-out to paper and its advantages that aren’t always translatable to technology. Developed by Canadian researchers, the foldable smartphone is composed of three flexible electrophoretic displays that could open up like a paper map, according to a news release from the Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab. “Each display tile can act independently or as part of a single system … while retaining an ultra-compact, ultra-thin and lightweight form,” said Roel Vertegaal, a professor at the Human Media Lab. PaperFold is in fact inspired by paper and “adopts folding techniques that makes paper so versatile,” Vertegaal said. He added that the research team had long looked into adapting paper’s unique qualities into e-paper technology. The device recently made its debut at the ACM CHI 2014 conference in Toronto.


Tech + Trees: E-books could benefit youngest readers, but distract middle schoolers

Young children who are just learning to read get more out of digital books but middle schoolers comprehend more when reading print books, according to a pair of studies from Japan and the U.S. In the Kyoto University study, 4-year-olds who used an iPad showed an increase of 3.1 characters read correctly compared with 0.3 for print books read by their mothers, Asahi Shinbun reported May 6. The e-book function highlighted the word being read on the screen in red, similar to the highlighted words that flash across the screen in karaoke. That advantage, however, changed for middle school readers, according to a study from Pennsylvania-based West Chester University. The study found that middle schoolers comprehended less with an e-book compared to a print book as the former’s interactive features and online capability distracted readers. But as young readers become adult readers, more and more could turn to e-readers, if a recent Harris Poll is any indication. Currently, 54% of American read e-books and that percentage jumps to 66% for Millennials (ages 18-29).


Trees: Hong Kong pilot program would replace textbooks with print-on-demand

A Hong Kong pilot program is aimed at reducing the costs of school textbooks and the weight of heavy backpacks while offering students up-to-date course materials from the publisher, South China Morning Post reported May 6. The collaboration among Fuji Xerox Co., Canotta Publishing Co. and photo-finishing chain Fotomax Ltd. would allow students to pick up chapters, worksheets and other materials at Fotomax shops. This print-on-demand solution would allow schools to customize their teaching materials to individual students while cutting the cost of textbooks by 10%-30%. Moreover, giving students only the materials they need would ease the weight of heavy backpacks that could cause shoulder, neck and back pain, the Post reported.  

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