Chai and Why: Origami and Mathematics

Chai and Why? is a public outreach effort of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Today I went to the session on “Origami and Mathematics”. This begins a series of Chai and Why? concentrated on children during the vacation season.

Today’s talk was by Vijay Arolkar and Mimansa Vahia. Before the talk, Sanjana Kapoor turned up and announced the Prithvi Theater’s Summer Workshop and the idea of having Prithvi Theater and its partners do special activities for kids during the summer. She even hung around till a few minutes into the talk.

Vijay Arolkar began the talk. He introduced his guru Prof. Natarajan who then introduced this group – Origami Mitra which met twice a month at Dadar. Few of its members were also present in the audience. Arolkar is a member of the TIFR’s Low Temperature Facility. His talk was filled with demonstrations that vowed the audience by some innovative techniques of forming basic shapes and models.

Mimansa Vahia, a PhD student in the Maths department at TIFR, took over and spoke about the axioms of origami and providing a strong theoretical basis for origami which enabled its application in mathematics. The example that stood and that got repeated throughout the day was the trisection of an angle which was made possible by origami.

The areas of application held more interest for me. Origami has formed the basis for several interesting applications like packing airbags, crumple zones in cars, camera lens, self folding sheets, folding of solar panels on a spacecraft, fitting space telescopes into compact launch vehicles etc. Origami has made available ways of packing airbags once certain parameters about its usage is known. It has been used to determine crumple zones in cars, places where the cars can fail on impact while causing minimum injury to its passengers. Its application has also enabled multiple camera lens to be replaced by a single lens having diamond shaped crystals arranged in a fashion that enables multiple reflections of the light passing through giving it the same effect that multiple optical lens do. This arrangement was arrived at using origami though the original one uses crystals. This enables camera lens miniaturisation and has been found in 2010. Self folding sheets are sheets which fold in certain ways on the passage of electric currents. The Miura fold is what has been used in the solar panels of spacecrafts.

This was followed by a hands-on paper folding experience in which we made a paper box, a fan, a speaking penguin and a toppling toy. We got to bring these home (although they didn’t let us keep the TIFR folder on which we built these models) and I even showed my brother how to make a toppling toy for himself.

A paper box made from A4 size paper. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

A fan. Credit: Pradeep Mohandas


A Talking Penguin. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas
Toppling Toy. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This was my first experience in a hands-on workshop at Chai and Why? and I must say that it was fun. I was folding paper after a very very long time and unlike my school experience of crafts, I had a lot of fun. I hope I can attend a few meetings with Origami Mitra and re-ignite my dead crafty characteristics.

I will unfortunately miss the next two sessions of Chai and Why? called  Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star since I’ll be in Kerala.

[While looking for links, I found that the Origami article on Wikipedia has some fun links to explore and also the webpage of Robert Lang whose name continuously popped up along with a picture of him with a 5m telescope. Also many of the spacecrafts have a page where you can get instructions of how to build their paper models. HobbySpace is a good place to start in this regard.]

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