One might think that origami, the art of paper-folding, is nothing more than a children’s pastime. However, research in origami has given us new technologies and new avenues for artistic expression. Satellite solar panel arrays are huge sheets that can’t fit in the rocket that sends the satellite to space, but in 1995 an origami engineer broke the sheet into panels hinged together so that they fold like origami into a compact shape for transport. In this way, origami can be useful when some piece of technology needs to be a large sheet when active but small and compact for storage or transport.
In the same vein, a tiny origami tube has been designed to expand and contract by flexing. During a surgery, its contracted form is inserted into blood vessels, then expanded to support the blood vessel to prevent it from collapsing. The same principle again: small for transport, large for usage.
All these applications depend on mathematical folding patterns on surfaces. That math has advanced to the level that computer programs have been written to automatically design origami animals of astounding realism and complexity. Origami is a fascinating cross-fertilization between art, mathematics and science!
For more on the mathematics of origami, check out Herng Yi Cheng’s blog: http://www.herngyi.com/origami-research-and-applications.html