Origami - More Than Just Folding Paper
1st February 2021
Origami surrounds us. From envelopes to pizza boxes, airbags to satellites in space, the principles of this ancient
art form have applications far beyond the paper boats and fortune tellers we made as kids. Engineers, medical
scientists and teachers - to name but three - employ paper-folding techniques regularly in their work to model
design ideas, solve complex problems and explain difficult-to-grasp concepts in an accessible way. But what exactly
is Origami? And how is it useful in the modern world?
Taking its name from the Japanese Oru (to fold) and Kami (paper), origami is essentially just that: manipulating
paper through folds to transform a flat lamina (traditionally a square) into a three-dimensional model. Originally
reserved for the elite in eastern cultures, and used predominantly for ceremonial and religious purposes, origami’s
popularity grew as the price of paper fell and its availability subsequently soared. Today it is practised by people
of all ages and backgrounds all over the world, both as a recreational activity and as a means of solving industry
specific problems. This post explores some uses of origami in the present day, and their related benefits to the
individual and the wider world...
Origami for Teaching Mathematics
Origami and mathematics are intrinsically linked; almost every aspect of the former relies on the principles of the
latter, and recent studies have shown that utilising origami as a tool in teaching mathematics leads to a deeper
understanding in students of all ages. One of its key benefits is the sense of disguise it lends to the acquisition
of knowledge. Children learn aspects of geometry, measurement, proportion, symmetry and sequencing through what
appears to them as play, and hence there is a level of engagement and enjoyment that is difficult to attain with
more traditional teaching methods.
Age is no barrier to learning in this manner! Even pre-school children can make the basic folds required by some
simple projects and the range in complexity of models available to make, means that there’s something for everyone.
For older students - or adults with a keen interest in mathematics - modular construction of the Platonic solids
and a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem are great projects to consider...
Benefits for the Brain
The benefits of origami as an educational tool go far beyond the teaching of mathematics. Many of the skills we take
for granted, such as hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, can be strengthened and developed through origami,
and its requirement of using both hands and both sides of the brain simultaneously means that neural connections are
enhanced by its practice. For these reasons, origami is increasingly employed in therapeutic settings and in particular
in the rehabilitation of stroke patients. Additional benefits for the brain include improved focus, extended
concentration and better memory function, and it also provides a valuable opportunity to get creative!
Social Skills and a Sense of Success
In many educational settings, origami is practised as a collaborative task with groups of children working together
on constructing modular designs or supporting each other with complicated models. It may also be used as the starting
point for a whole class or full school project giving different age groups the opportunity to learn from one another.
In all of these instances, patience, turn-taking, communication and team-work are developed, and since origami can be
quite challenging, children also learn perseverance and the power of overcoming frustration when things go wrong. The
tangible outcome and the wonderful sense of achievement one gets from completing a model, can also serve as a great
boost to a child’s (or adult’s!) self esteem.
Applications in Science, Engineering and Design
Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about origami is its broad range of applications in fields thought to be a
million miles away from folding paper. Over the last few decades, an increasing number of innovations in space
technology, medicine, robotics and engineering, have been adapted from crease patterns or devised using computational
origami. Amongst the numerous inventions developed in this way are nano-devices for drug delivery, mirrors for
telescopes, vehicle airbags, bullet-proof shields and folding kayaks. But it doesn’t stop there... architecture and
product design are other areas in which origami has inspired creativity and enabled practitioners to push the
boundaries of what is possible. In fact, origami offers potentially elegant solutions to any problem which requires
something large to be stored or transported within a much smaller space. And with current applications seen as just
scratching the surface, there is a great deal of excitement about how the Japanese art form could revolutionise all
of these fields in the future.
The Final Fold
Origami is evidently much more than just folding paper. In this article, we have explored just some of the benefits
this ancient tradition brings to our modern world, but these are by no means exhaustive. A mindful activity that
provides both a point of focus and a distraction, origami can be practised anywhere with no preparation and minimal
cost. And the diversity of models and the huge range of instruction manuals / starter kits / online tutorials
available, make it accessible for all ages and abilities. Whether you want to make a simple three-fold flower or a
complex, life-like rhinoceros, a prism or a paper plane, origami offers a seemingly infinite number of possibilities
from a simple square.
So what are you waiting for? Get folding...