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Dispatch from AAAS—Origami and Objects that Cannot Exist

This weekend, blog overseer Laura and I are writing from the AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago. The press briefing began with four scientists gazing upwards.

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A distracting ceiling--to scientists interested in origami, at least




This weekend, blog overseer Laura and I are writing from the AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.



The press briefing began with four scientists gazing upwards. This would normally be odd, but when the scientists are all experts in origami and the ceiling looks like folded paper, not so much. "We're just going to stare at the ceiling," quipped Erik Demaine, of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.



They quickly got down to business, though. I already knew about one of the speakers--Robert Lang, an artist who tinkers in math, as he put it--because we profiled him in "Into the Fold" in 2007. He may call himself an artist, but he's gone beyond that to help design solar arrays and heart stents that unfold.



But it was Demaine that caught my interest. He explores the world of origami from both the math and the art sides (he has even created origami art with his father that has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art). Among the pieces he brought along for show and tell was a square that had been folded in concentric squares ( you can try this at home) so that it automatically formed into a hyperbolic paraboloid. When he explored the shape mathematically, looking at the regions between the creases, he found that it doesn't exist. In the mathematical sense, at least. "That was a surprise," Demaine said. There must be little creases in the paper that can't be seen, he explained, because the math says that the paper couldn't otherwise get into the hyperbolic paraboloid shape with just his origami folds.
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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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