Origami Art and Science

by Herng Yi Cheng
MIT Class of 2018
Posted on September 10th, 2014
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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.

Click to watch it fold and unfold.  Source: "Miura-ori" by MetaNest, Wikimedia Commons.

Watch it fold and unfold. Source: “Miura-ori” by MetaNest, Wikimedia Commons.

Source: “The math and magic of origami” by Robert Lang

Source: “The math and magic of origami” by Robert Lang

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.

Source: “Fold Everything”, National Geographic Magazine

Source: “Fold Everything”, National Geographic Magazine

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!

Stick figure representing the subject.  Source: “The math and magic of origami” by Robert Lang

Stick figure representing the subject. Source: “The math and magic of origami” by Robert Lang

Pattern of folding lines.

Pattern of folding lines.

Final folded product.

Final folded product.

For more on the mathematics of origami, check out Herng Yi Cheng’s blog: http://www.herngyi.com/origami-research-and-applications.html

About the author
Herng Yi Cheng
MIT Class of 2018

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