“Some people don’t even think this exists,” says Dr. Erik Demaine, turning in his hands an elaborately folded paper structure. The intricately pleated sail-like form swooshes gracefully in a compound curve and certainly looks real enough – if decidedly tricky to make.
Dr. Demaine, an assistant professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading theoretician in the emerging field of origami mathematics, the formal study of what can be done with a folded sheet of paper. He believes the form he is holding is a hyperbolic parabaloid, a shape well known to mathematicians – or something very close to that – but he wants to be able to prove this conjecture. “It’s not easy to do,” he says.
Dr. Demaine is not a man to be easily defeated by a piece of paper. Over the past few years he has published a series of landmark results about the theory of folded structures, including solutions to the longstanding “single-cut” problem and the “carpenter’s rule” problem. These days he is applying insights he has gleaned from his studies of wrinkling and crinkling and hinging to questions in architecture, robotics and molecular biology.
Read the entire article at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/15/science/15origami.html (free registration required)