Math museum has some crazy, cool next-level origami

Math museum has some crazy, cool next-level origami

When you have eight different shades of paper and fold four differently colored sheets together at a time, how many unique squares can you create?

Charlene Morrow poses that question as she stands in front of an origami patchwork she made with 228 sheets of paper. That work, “Subtle Uniqueness,” is part of a new show, “Math Unfolded: An Exhibit of Mathematical Origami Art,” at the National Museum of Mathematics. The answer to Morrow’s question: 70. The goal? To illustrate mathematical concepts and their applications in a creative light — and to show origami as something more than the art of making paper cranes.

“I like taking ideas like that and visualizing them,” says Morrow, who heads the national origami society OrigamiUSA, and who helped curate the show.

“Every piece of origami has math in it,” adds co-curator Wendy Zeichner, CEO of OrgamiUSA. “You fold a piece of paper in half and you have geometry.” Look at it another way, she adds, and you can examine a lesson on fractions.

Elsewhere in the room are the polypropylene ribbons that artist Faye E. Goldman folded to explore varieties of the 3-D geometrical figures known as polyhedra.

“Any one of these you can analyze how many sides it has and how many edges,” says Morrow.

Origami artist Tom Hull used 30 interlocked pieces of paper to show the complex and beautiful result of five intersecting tetrahedra, or triangular pyramids. At the entry of the exhibit, Robert J. Lang’s intricately crafted white-tailed deer is placed next to its complex folding map made by TreeMaker, the software Hull uses for his origami designs, to show his first example of algorithmic design beyond what can be done manually. (Lang, a physicist, is known for applying origami principles to airbag folding and expandable space telescopes.)

The exhibit caters to those who were Mathletes and those who, well, struggled to maintain Cs in math class, says museum director Cindy Lawrence.

“At the core, this is a very motivational exhibit,” she says.


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