by Kevin Wong
Edited by Jane Rosemarin
The Davis (Calif.) High School Origami Club sign, folded from duo paper.

If you ask anyone what origami is, they might think of paper cranes, animals or boxes. They might also think of complex origami like many insect and dragon designs. Of course, these are great examples of origami, but as new technology has been developed, so has the art of folding.

Wirt and Greg from Cartoon Network’s “Over The Garden Wall,” displayed in the kid’s room at the Yolo Branch Library in Davis. Complex models designed and folded by Kevin Wong.

Many disciplines such as aerospace, biomedical and robotic engineering have emerging applications for origami. Many of these applications benefit from the ability of origami to fold and compress different materials such as metals, plastics, rubbers and, of course, paper. These new uses of folding redefine origami not just as an art but as a field of study.

These emerging applications were the focus of a recent display created by the Davis Senior High School Origami Club. The exhibition, named “Stories of Paper,” was in the Yolo Branch Library in Davis, Calif. Exhibited for the month of March, this display was aimed at spreading origami in the community and educating people about its many aspects.

Folding the Display

A tribute to Akira Yoshizawa.

A month before the show, if you had asked me to fill three large display cases with origami, you would have gotten a blank stare — it seemed too much of a challenge. For lack of better words: I didn't want the display to fold! But, with the entire club’s help, getting everything ready wasn’t difficult.

Members in front of the kid’s room display case. (From left: Alice Chen, Holy Ji).

Our first order of business was to divide the club into various groups. Each group was assigned a prompt, or story, that had significance in the history or application of origami.

Our displays included:

  • Sadako and the 1,000 cranes.
  • Japanese culture and its significance to origami.
  • Origami toys.
  • Tessellations.
  • Grandfather of origami: Akira Yoshizawa.
  • A crane tree.
  • Invention of various paper products.
  • Origami in rockets.

After each group was assigned a prompt, they set to work. The groups approached their tasks very differently; while some researched their prompt in detail, others went right to folding. One group already had a project in mind: a Crane Tree. The trunk and branches of the tree were made of copper wire, while the “leaves” were actually paper cranes. Although all these prompts seem different, they are all important to origami today: Whether it symbolizes peace or hardship, origami has a story to tell.

Crane Tree, made by club members Fatima Ben Haj and Lydia Boughton. Beneath the tree are traditional paper frogs and flowers, and ceramic mushrooms.

The Finished Product

During the entire month of February, club members had time to work on their projects. The time was used to research their topics and fold origami models without cutting corners — literally and figuratively. As February came to a close, the displays were almost ready for exhibition. Each display represented origami in a different way. Some represented hope while others represented technological advancement.

Exhibit for Paper for Water, a non-profit organization that sells origami to raise funds to build wells in underprivileged communities around the world.

One example was the story of Sadako and the 1,000 cranes. For those who are unaware of the story, it describes the life of a Japanese girl who was caught in the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Although she survived the bomb, she was later diagnosed with leukemia. After hearing about a legend, Sadako decided to fold 1,000 cranes, hoping to get better. Although she folded well over 1,000 cranes, she died at the age of 12, a decade after the bombings. Her tragic story solidified the symbolism of a crane as one of peace and hope, continually renewing itself as a powerful symbol in times of hardship.

Aerospace technology display. This depicts a design called a Flasher, a similar pattern to NASA’s starshade. Folded by Liliana Filkov. Designed independently by Chris Palmer and Jeremy Shafer.

But origami isn’t just a symbol of peace. It’s also a symbol of progress that shows the development of aerospace technology. Space telescopes are engineered to take detailed photos of planets and other celestial bodies. But light from stars could possibly prevent a telescope from taking a good photo. A device has recently been developed to combat this problem by blocking sunlight. This device, called a starshade, helps the telescope capture an image of planets by blocking light from nearby stars. The starshade will need to be folded and unfolded from a 16-foot-wide launch vehicle to the size of a baseball diamond. This repeated compression and expansion is only possible due to precise creases that are inspired by origami. Our display went into detail about this new technology and also included a Flasher, a pattern similar to the starshade.

This shell, designed by Tomoko Fuse, is a spiral based on the Fibonacci sequence. Folded by Kevin Wong.

Beyond the Display

As someone who has been folding paper for a long time (my second grade teacher taught me), I am excited to know there are almost infinite possibilities with origami. For example, using modern techniques, you could design a bug with 1,000 legs.

There are also many ways origami is used in the classroom as a hands-on-learning tool to teach kids elementary-level math. Although these topics weren’t part of the display, they are equally important as an application of origami. With all these possibilities, origami will certainly be a part of the future. Origami isn’t just onefold, but with the progression of technology, it has spread across the globe tenfold from just a century ago.

Eagle designed by Nguyen Hung Cuong. Folded by Kevin Wong.