Students use ancient art of origami to innovate

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PROVO — Students at Brigham Young University have turned paper-folding into mathematical wizardry, building remarkable designs and shapes in a high-tech evolution innovating space travel and beyond.

With backing from government and private funding, BYU engineering and industrial design students have been experimenting with origami, going beyond paper to create designs out of metals and other fabrications.

“You would think that as a field of exploration it would have been played out long ago, but the opposite is true,” said world-renowned origami artist Robert Lang.

Lang comes to campus routinely to work with faculty and students.

In partnership with NASA, BYU engineers are designing a small lightweight package, easily stored aboard a rocket, that when deployed in space — unfolds into a massive solar array.

“So we have everything ranging from a cube which is ten centimeters by ten centimeters up to a design that when deployed would be the largest solar array ever deployed,” BYU engineering professor Larry Howell said.

“I think there are few places where you can get an experience like this to see the efforts of your own work in such spectacular ways,” said Matthew Gong, a BYU student.

“To be able to do new and exciting things that have never been done before,” Howell added.

Origami in planes and autos — unfolding as lightweight, easy to carry tables, seats and chairs.

It may be useful in medicine someday.

“Have a very small incision, have the incision device then go into the body and expand and do whatever complex surgical task needs to be done,” Howell said.

Combining art and mathematics mean there is no limit to the imagination.

“The art is finding ways to turn equations with folding into something that is beautiful,” Gong said.


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Ed Yeates


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