a students' magazine

Maths + Art = Pure genius

One day our Maths teacher suggested we might watch a Ted Talk video of a mathematician, Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón, describing the beauty of his job.

You might like to check out his Ted Talk:

As with most Ted Talks it was funny and relaxing and it got me thinking about Maths and browsing Ted for more Maths talks: I then stumbled upon Robert Lang.

We often hear people say “What’s the point in studying Maths? “ or even “What do you do with a degree in art?”. So what could be worse than combining these two “useless” subjects (Maths and Art) with origami? 😉

Actually, the American physicist Robert Lang gave up his job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to dedicate himself to his passion for origami. He has successfully applied Mathematics to origami, using computers and algorithms to develop the intricate folding patterns needed to make virtually anything from one folded sheet of paper.

“But is it useful?”, I hear you cry.

Well, as a matter of fact it is. One of the origami-based algorithms developed by Lang has been used in a German software that simulates air bag deployment, which gave manufacturers the first geometrically correct way to fold a three-dimensional air bag, meaning they didn’t need to do so many air bag crash tests.

Robert Lang, apart from creating the most beautiful paper animals, has also worked on a project to develop a  diffractive lens of the Eyeglass Telescope for  the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The lens was to be the length of a football pitch and Lang used computational origami to determine how to fold the lens compactly so that it would fit inside a small rocket and then reopen in space without suffering any damage. The final project remains to be built, but a 5-meter-diameter prototype was tested successfully in 2002.

Also, the technique of folding a water bomb was used by a team from Oxford University to develop a folding stent used in heart surgery, to open up blocked arteries. The stent is now produced in bio-plastic and opens up to a width of 23mm from a folded width of 12mm: considering that to get to the artery it has to pass through a blood vessel, being thin is extremely important.

So, I hope all of this has been inspirational to you. It just goes to show how an apparently insignificant hobby can become the basis of a new field of study, how having a passion can help keep us alive.

Get folding!! 🙂

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