Man Waits for Train in Tokyo, Japan [Image: Tim Foster, Unsplash]

Massachusetts Researchers Create Non-Slip Shoe Inspired by Ancient Japanese Art

Japan Asia

At the intersection of fashion and practicality, Massachusetts researchers have developed a non-slip shoe sole, drawing upon the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), alongside researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) adapted the Japanese kirigami technique to create a sole that enhances the grip of the shoe, becoming spiky when flexed.

Kirigami is a variation of origami, and involves strategic cuts and folds to the paper to create unique 3D works of art. Derived from the words kiru, meaning "to cut" and kami, meaning "paper", kirigami’s origins can be traced to ancient China and the invention of paper around 105 AD. While the Chinese originally used colored paper for religious purposes honoring ancestors, the artistic use of such paper developed into a popular pastime for women and children.

The no-slip shoe sole mimics the texture of snakeskin, flaring like the scales of a snake when bent or stretched. The kirigami-style cuts in the steel sheet of the shoe sole allow it to fluctuate between a smooth surface and spiky sole, perfect for increased traction and grip on slippery surfaces.

This isn’t the first time that Japanese kirigami has served as inspiration for Massachusetts researchers. In 2018, MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering devised a kirigami-patterned adhesive bandage that was able to stick to highly deformable regions of the body, maintaining its grip even after many stretches and bends. In December 2019, researchers at Harvard’s SEAS developed a way to program kirigami surfaces with detailed information. Through the careful determination of sheet thickness and the width of the cuts, researchers were able to program the material in specific ways to reveal complex shapes once stretched.

US-Japan cooperation in science has been critical in recent years, with American hospitals testing a Japanese COVID-19 drug, and a few years ago, groundbreaking cancer treatments were developed that awarded a US-Japan duo the Nobel Prize.

Betty Nen is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison with majors in Political Science and Southeast Asian Studies, and a returned David L. Boren National Security Scholar to Indonesia.