Cool Toys pics of the day: Molecular Origami

Harvard University: Wyss Institute: Interactive Feature: Molecular Origami:

About five years ago my son was in a NASA Explorer School and I was
occasionally doing volunteer work for the schools teaching Origami
(Japanese paper folding). I had a conversation with Jim F., an
Aerospace Education Specialist, about how the fundamentals of Origami
are used in emerging science from the unfolding of lunar vehicles
coming out of storage to nanoscale material development and
“supramolecular origami.” He thought this would be a great workshop to
have, but it ended up that the kids at that school were more
interested in making LEGO robots and flying rocket models.

Well, I guess that’s no surprise to anyone, really, but I still wanted
to do something to show people more about this. I had in mind applying
what is now called the Sonobe models to creating outer-space
dwellings. I was fascinated how the concepts of origami and macrame /
knotwork illustrated scientific and engineering creativity, that you
could take very very simple materials — a sheet of plain paper, a
length of thread or rope — and do amazing things extending that
material to the very edge of what one might every imagine doing with
it. My dad was a mathematician fascinated with the mathematics and
practice of knots and knot theory, so I had the background to look at
origami in a similar fashion, and wanted to share this absolutely
riveting perspective. The problem was finding anyone to listen (who
didn’t want to change the subject immediately!). The problem was
finding a way to show people that origami was not just about paper,
and has real applications to solving real problems.

Eh voilà. Enter the Wyss Institute Interactive Feature on Molecular
Origami. Actually, I think this is more like knotwork than origami,
but it has elements of both. It really needs to include a 3D view for
the origami, rather than this largely linear view. Still, this allows
me to demonstrate some of the concepts of how folding CAN apply to
nanotech development and folks are just a tiny bit less likely to
think I am making the whole thing up.

The first screen capture shown here shows the interactive part of the
process, where you’ve lined up the matched pairs and the entire line
animates as they rearrange, lock into place, and assume the new
configuration. The program stops you from making mathematically
impossible configurations, and through trial and error, you learn how
the pieces can and cannot be positioned to result in interesting
objects. The second image shows a simple configuration. I was trying
to make a square, but, well, the lines curve. How about you give it a
try and see what you can do?


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