When Taketoshi Nojima envisions the future, he pictures it in
The Kyoto University scientist imagines people lounging on
foldable furniture and living in houses that compress rather than
crumble during an earthquake.
His inspiration springs from an unlikely source - origami.
Long regarded as a children's hobby, the Japanese folk art -
which creates delicate objects from intricately folded squares of
paper - is riding a wave of newfound enthusiasm from scientists,
mathematicians, and engineers around the country and, increasingly,
across the globe.
Researchers have tapped into the craft's abundant hidden rules,
angles, and limits, poising them to revolutionize the design and
function of everything from water bottles to the "crumple zones" of
"Origami theory can be used for anything," says Mr. Nojima, one
of the country's leading experts in the field. "Because origami is
Nojima is applying principles of the ancient art to design more
energy-efficient satellites. In the United States, Robert Lang, a
former NASA researcher and origami master, drew on his knowledge of
the form to create a software program, called TreeMaker, that
scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California used in
designing a more portable telescope that unfolds like a flower.
And Ichiro Hagiwara, a Japanese scientist, is rethinking the way
cars absorb energy in a crash in light of origami's fold lines.
From folding maps to folding cars
Evidence of origamic applications is everywhere: Maps, airbags,
tents, instant food packaging, and domed stadium roofs are just some
examples of products that utilize the mathematical elements of the
Unlike many bulky and esoteric theorems, scientists say that
origami's mathematical beauty lies in its simplicity. The folded
lines merge to create a poetic, seamless geometry.
While the math behind origami's industrial purposes borrows from
the spirit of its conventional counterpart, one key difference
exists - three-dimensional properties. Though an origami crane may
appear 3-D, it's actually 2-D because it's created from a single
Engineers say by using 3-D origami, solar panels can readily
expand in space and plastic beverage bottles can collapse like an
accordion under reverse, twisted pressure.
The benefit of 3-D origami is that "there is good stability in
one direction and very weak resistance in another direction," says
Arzu Gonenc Sorguc, a visiting professor at the Tokyo Institute of
Technology from the department of architecture at Middle East
Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.
Some scientists propose that this characteristic - which makes a
structure withstand various external and internal forces - can even
save lives. …