Nova (1974–…): Season 44, Episode 12 - The Origami Revolution - full transcript

The centuries old Japanese art form has gone high tech. Building with examples in biology and applying sophisticated mathematics, computer software and good old fashion imagination it looks...

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NARRATOR:
Origami: the ancient art
of paper folding.

It's been practiced
for centuries.

But now it's sparking
a scientific revolution.

The power of folding is shedding
new light on our world,

and propelling a wave
of innovation.

ERIK DEMAINE:
Folding lets you take an object
and completely change its shape

from one thing to another.

Sort of like Transformers
or The Terminator T-1000 robot.

That's all science fiction,
but origami offers a way

to make that actual science.

NARRATOR:
Nature itself
is a relentless folder.



Origami patterns can be found
everywhere.

Including on the surface
of the human brain.

Even the proteins within our
cells must be folded correctly

to function.

A new appreciation of origami
is emerging,

as engineers and designers apply
its patterns to explore space

and reshape the world around us.

By mastering the rules
of folding,

scientists are creating
novel drugs,

shape-shifting robots,

and materials
with extraordinary properties.

Right now on NOVA:
"The Origami Revolution."

Major fuNARRATOR: NOVA is
A tradition lasting centuries,

changing slowly, until now.



In her studio, Tomoko Fuse
invents a new kind of origami,

adding a modern touch
to the art of folding.

As she transforms
a single sheet of paper

into a three-dimensional
sculpture,

one can glimpse an infinity
of possibilities.

A folded piece of paper
can change in size and shape

and become something
totally unexpected.

As the power of folding
is discovered,

origami is becoming
an invaluable tool for science.

At NASA'S Jet Propulsion
Laboratory,

engineers are using an origami
pattern to build a starshade.

It will deploy in space,

expanding to about half the size
of a football field.

The shade will block
enough light,

so that a telescope can detect
distant planets

that would otherwise be
too hard to see.

It's one of many
surprising applications

of the origami revolution.

(cars honking)

NARRATOR:
In Tokyo,
an international conference

on the latest trends in origami
research is attracting

both artists and scientists.

Is this a new
branch of octopus?

Yeah, it's very lifelike.

NARRATOR:
On exhibit

are the multitude
of ways a sheet of paper

can be folded into
a three-dimensional object.

Traditional origami patterns,
like the classic crane,

have fewer than 30 steps.

But modern patterns
can have hundreds,

posing complex
geometry problems.

One researcher exploring
this new field,

is mathematician and origami
artist Erik Demaine.

DEMAINE:
Origami is challenging from
a mathematical perspective.

It has this
core underlying geometry

of lines and points and folds.

And there's really stringent
constraints on what you can do

with the material,

which is folding, no stretching,
no cutting.

And it's kind of mind blowing

that this simple operation
of folding lets you transform

a boring square of paper

into super complicated, crazy,
3D shapes.

NARRATOR:
Another artist and pioneer
of the origami revolution

is Robert Lang,
who lives east of San Francisco.

(birds chirping)

With degrees in physics
and engineering,

Lang's scientific training has
helped him radically modernize

paper folding.

He starts by transforming
an image,

in this instance
of a black widow spider,

into a simple skeleton.

Then, he breaks with tradition
and uses a computer program

to create a crease pattern
for folding it.

ROBERT LANG:
So that's now a crease pattern

for a spider.

And it's got all the parts.

You can see roughly
the allocation by these shapes

that each of these hexagons
is still outlining a leg.

So there's a leg, front leg,
middle leg, middle leg,

back leg, back leg, middle leg,
middle leg, front leg.

This will be the body
in the middle.

There's actually more paper here
than we need to make a body,

but since the body is large and
bulbous it'll be easy to hide.

And so, overall,
that's the design.

The digital crease pattern
is sent to a laser cutter,

which etches the design on an
ultra-thin sheet of paper.

The final stage of folding

will be done in the
time-honored way-- by hand.

Lang's early software
could only generate patterns

for stick-figures with bodies
and limbs, like bugs or people.

But creating a mathematical tool
for designing,

made it easier to tackle
complex folds.

LANG:
Well, I started origami
when I was about six

when I encountered
some instructions in a book.

Interestingly
and coincidently enough,

one of them was for a spider.

I was hooked.

And I think the thing
that hooked me,

was the idea that all you needed
was a sheet of paper

and knowledge.

Nothing else.

You didn't need extra parts
that could wear out or...

just paper, paper that was
available anywhere.

This spider shares
something in common

with most other origami figures,
even going back to that

very first figure I folded.

This is still,
after all this manipulation,

an uncut square of paper.

NARRATOR:
Lang's analytical approach
allowed him to fold

a truly credible origami spider.

As he tackled
increasingly complex shapes,

mathematics was the tool that
let him explore new designs.

This new field of geometric
or abstract origami

relies upon some pretty advanced
mathematical analysis.

One of the leaders, perhaps
the leader, in that field

is Tomohiro Tachi,

who is a professor
at the University of Tokyo.

NARRATOR:
Tomohiro Tachi is attempting
to push computational design

even further.

He is writing a software program
that will create crease patterns

for any object,
not just stick figures.

He's collaborating on the math
with Erik Demaine.

Their project began after Tachi
folded a sheet of paper

into a three-dimensional teapot,
mastering its facets and curves.

It may seem simple,
but it's not.

So this is a challenge to make
this type of 3D structure.

This is quite complex.

But, actually, at that time
I didn't use a computer.

So I just solved the geometry
by my hand.

And it's, like,
kind of mind blowing

because it doesn't look
like any origami art

that we've ever seen.

It's, like, a whole new
type of folding that gives you

this crazy 3D form.

And there's undercuts and
reflex angles, convex angles.

There's a lot going on
in the teapot.

Once I folded this one,
I knew that it's possible

to make almost anything.

NARRATOR:
Inspired by the teapot, Tachi's
software, called Origamizer,

converts a 3D model
into a 2D crease pattern,

which can then be folded
into the desired shape.

Gray spaces are where excess
paper can be hidden.

Erik Demaine shows how it works.

Our simple model
is we're going to fold

just three squares
out of a cube,

a little corner of a cube.

We're going to fold it
using this crease pattern,

which we've computed
using Origamizer.

So, let's do some folding.

Okay, the main idea
is pretty simple.

We're folding along these
bisectors to bring two edges

of the two squares together.

So, something like this.

So there the two squares
are good.

Getting all three
at once, though,

that's a little trickier.

Yeah, so we made exactly
what we wanted.

I guess I had some
extra material out here,

I could just fold that away.

That's not too bad.

NARRATOR:
Origamizer can also compute
the angles and folds needed

to create curved surfaces,
as seen in this doughnut.

But it didn't always work.

So sometimes you'd give it
a 3D model and it says,

"I don't know how to fold it."

NARRATOR:
To perfect the software,
Tachi and Demaine

are now working on
a universal proof.

The goal is to figure out
the exact mathematical steps

that can turn any 3D surface
into a 2D crease pattern

and tell you how to fold it.

TACHI:
Erik and I will prove that
any shape is foldable

from a sheet of paper.

So we are very excited
about that.

NARRATOR:
If they succeed,
Origamizer could be

an invaluable design tool.

DEMAINE:
As a geometer,
when I look around in the world,

I see geometry in everything.

I think about decomposing
everyday objects

into geometric components.

And Origamizer lets you
take some complicated,

real world thing,
translate it into geometry,

so then it could be represented
on a computer

and then the mathematics
can take over and say,

"Okay, here's how you fold
this geometry."

NARRATOR:
Advances in the mathematics
of origami

are opening new possibilities.

Folding is being applied
to biology,

physics and engineering.

It's revealing a new way
to control matter,

one that resembles nature's
strategy for building.

Long before humans existed,
the natural world was folding.

So how does it do it?

In the southwest of France,
artist Vincent Floderer

has been observing
the folding patterns in nature.

(speaking French)

FLODERER (translated):
On this bank, I can find folds
of the most basic kind.

For example, each blade of grass
is built by parallel creasing.

It has a single fold
in the center,

surrounded by parallel lines.

NARRATOR:
Floderer has discovered an
amazing way of folding paper--

crumpling it.

This means bending the rules
of traditional origami.

FLODERER (translated):
Origami means "folded paper."

And that is exactly what I do.

Even though I'm just
crumpling it up,

it really is folding
with a lot of creases.

And the work can have
hundreds, thousands, or millions

of folds in some cases.

DEMAINE:
Vincent's work is really amazing
in the way that it combines

geometry and art and physics.

I mean the end result looks
kind of chaotic and random.

But if you watch the process
of how he makes them,

it's actually extremely
structured.

Still not fully understood
mathematically,

but practically he can make
incredible, beautiful,

and very natural-looking forms
that sometimes you can't even

distinguish from their real
biological counterparts.

NARRATOR:
But how does Floderer
achieve such realism?

(speaking French)

(translated):
For me, this is a sequence
of rectangles.

It looks strangely
like a pine cone.

But in reality, it is a pure
geometric construction,

which self assembles itself.

My crinkle technique
is based on this self-assembly,

which you can see also here.

This looks almost
like a real sponge.

These patterns are flexible,

they can vary, change,

but they are in principle
just a sequence of hexagons.

NARRATOR:
Floderer's work captures
the geometry he sees in nature.

But why is nature
such a relentless folder

in the first place?

It's a question scientists
are grappling with.

Mathematician and scientist
L. Mahadevan is studying

the origami-like folding
that is all around us in nature.

Today, he's taking a close look
at the buds

that grow on beech trees.

The leaves are packed
in a tiny space

before they blossom.

Only once they begin to grow
do the leaves start unfolding.

MAHADEVAN:
Think about the leaf

as a relatively thin surface.

And now it's growing.

And it's growing potentially
in both directions.

So, the thin sheet is growing
faster than the bulk tissue.

One possibility
is for the thin sheet

to just bend
in the two directions,

so to form something,
which looks like the surface

of a balloon for example--
relatively smooth.

But if the sheet does that,

then it will have to pull
on the substrate a lot,

because it has to come out.

And so that is energetically
very expensive.

And so there's another
potential solution.

And the other potential solution

is to have a much larger number
of small bends.

So you can see now

that I will have bends
in one direction,

I'll have bends
in the other direction.

Sharp bends.

And in between the sharp bends
the sheet remains flat.

And the consequence
is this structure.

NARRATOR:
This arrangement is called
a Miura-ori fold.

The beech tree masters this fold
countless times every spring.

In general, plants fold
when they need to squeeze

a large surface
into a tiny compartment.

But it's not only plants.

Animals and insects
have also evolved

to use the techniques
of folding.

Consider the Thai horn beetle.

An origami-like pattern allows
its wings to unfurl for flight.

I unfold it.

Voila.

So there is this rather large
and very beautiful wing

and I'll just show you
in reverse.

The same thing when I fold it,

it tucks away
and then it's packed.

So, this is the way the wing was
folded and then it opened up,

something like that.

Really beautiful.

NARRATOR:
It seems evolution has favored

origami-like folding patterns
repeatedly.

They are even present
in the human body,

including the surface
of the brain.

Back in Mahadevan's lab,

an experiment is underway
to mimic the growth process

of the brain.

A model is made of gel,

which has an inner core
and an outer shell.

When immersed in liquid,
the outer shell expands faster.

However, because it's held back
by the inner core,

the outer shell
wrinkles and folds.

The experiment shows that
the folding patterns

found in the brain are created
when different layers grow

at different speeds.

Folding allows the brain
to increase its surface area

and capacity inside the skull.

DEMAINE:
It's kind of annoying,
because nature does it so well.

We have such a hard time
doing folding.

And nature does it all the time.

And so our challenge
is to reproduce that

in an engineered way.

But we have sort of the shining
example that it can be done.

DAVID BAKER:
Oh, there we go.

NARRATOR:
That challenge is being taken up
by scientists like David Baker,

whose work shows how folding
is critical for life.

Actually, we can probably tell
from that structure...

NARRATOR:
Folding is how DNA,

the six-foot-long molecule
of heredity,

fits inside the nucleus
of a cell.

Unfolding DNA starts a process
that allows genes

to produce proteins,

the molecules that keep
our bodies running.

And how a protein folds
into specific shape determines

how it will act--
as a hormone, perhaps,

or a disease-fighting antibody.

Proteins mediate essentially
all the important processes

in your body
from digesting food,

to managing
the electric currents

that are responsible
for thought, to movement,

to making molecules inside you.

So basically everything that's
going on at the molecular level

in your body is being
mediated by proteins.

NARRATOR:
When a protein folds correctly,
it fits like a key in a lock,

and starts a biological process
in the cell.

Misfolded proteins
can't function

and can trigger diseases.

Our bodies have about
100,000 proteins,

built from 20 amino acids,
and strung together

in a seemingly endless
number of ways.

They are often visualized
as ribbons of color.

BAKER:
But proteins don't stay
as these long,

straight chains of amino acids.

Instead, they fold up into very
elaborate, precise structures.

And it's having those precise
structures that is critical

for how they function.

So this folding process
is absolutely essential to life.

NARRATOR:
Baker's lab is trying to solving
one of the hardest problems

in biology: predicting
how strings of amino acids

fold up into
three-dimensional proteins.

In some ways,
it's similar to origami.

AARON CHEVALIER:
So here you have
a piece of origami paper

that's been folded and unfolded.

And what you don't know
from seeing these creases

is what the final shape
is going to be at the end.

And so this is what we'd call in
the protein engineering world,

a structure prediction problem.

We need to be able to predict
this structure.

And what you do is you have
to be able to kind of simulate

the folding of the protein, or,
in this case, the origami paper,

to see what shape
it will come out at the end.

So, in prediction world, this
fold pattern or crease pattern,

will result in this
paper crane.

NARRATOR:
To figure out a protein's shape,

Baker takes its amino acid
sequence

and uses a computer program
called Rosetta

to search for all the ways
that sequence can fold.

It's really physics forces that
are happening on these molecules

that cause them to fold up.

And the number of ways
that you can fold a protein

is in the millions, or billions,
or trillions.

The number's huge.

But there's really only
a few distinct, correct answers.

So you have to try a lot
of the different fold creases,

and sequences until you come up
with the correct solution.

This is hard to stack.

But if we...

NARRATOR:
The goal is to find
a protein's most stable,

or lowest energy, state.

This is what
that looks like.

BAKER:
Once they're in that lowest
energy state, they stay there.

That's the state
they're stable in.

So if you take a protein
and you pull it apart

using chemicals or force,
and then you let it go,

it will go right back
to its shape again.

NARRATOR:
Determining a protein's
structure requires

enormous computing power,

so Rosetta has a crowd sourcing
application that enlists

the help of computers
around the world.

There is even a game,
called Foldit,

which challenges players
worldwide

to solve protein-folding
puzzles.

So far, Baker's lab
has identified the structure

of about 600 of the 15,000
known protein families.

BAKER:
The exciting thing now is that
we can build new proteins

in the same way that we build
bridges or build anything else

in the modern world,
from scratch

for exactly the purpose
that we want.

Novel proteins could generate
new drugs to attack pathogens

and fight diseases.

One of Baker's first projects
was to target a protein

on the surface of the flu virus.

BAKER:
There are a couple regions
on the flu virus

where if you can attack it,
it's got an Achilles heel,

you can prevent it
from killing people and animals.

And so we thought this would be
a really good challenge.

Could we design a protein
which folded up in such a way

that it had a shape
that was complementary

to that of the flu virus?

CHEVALIER:
Because the proteins would bind
to the influenza virus

in such a way as to inhibit it
from invading cells.

They would lock it down
in an inactive state.

Just the act of binding.

So it's basically
one protein coming and fitting

in another protein
in a very specific way.

BAKER:
And that's the pocket
right there.

NARRATOR:
On the computer, they experiment
with protein shapes

that might bind to the flu virus
and disable it.

My favorite one that
I really liked is this one.

Which I think
has really nice shape...

NARRATOR:
It's essentially
like starting with a blank key,

and carefully filing
the right grooves

so it will fit into the lock.

WOMAN:
Yes, I have this portion
that fits really nicely.

BAKER:
So now we know what shape
we want to make.

And at that point,
it's just science fiction.

What you have is an amino acid
sequence on the computer.

And you don't really know
whether it actually does

what you designed it to do.

But the beauty of it
is that we can very quickly

actually produce that protein
in the lab

and see whether it works.

NARRATOR:
Finding out involves
a complicated series of steps.

The amino acid sequences
are put into bacteria,

which mass produce
the new proteins.

Next, the novel proteins
are mixed with the flu virus.

Then, a special machine
runs them through a sorter

to identify which proteins
bind most tightly to the virus.

They are the ones
that make it above the line.

CHEVALIER:
Yeah, it actually
really looks

like there's some hits
right here.

Oh, that's great,
all of those?

Yes.

BAKER:
And this was the big moment.

And what we saw here is that

there are quite
a substantial number of them

which are binding the flu.

Which is very exciting.

NARRATOR:
Finally, the winner is selected,
and then built,

one amino acid at a time,
to make a new drug.

This is a blow-up of that
three-dimensional structure

of the virus.

Each of these round things
is an atom,

to give you a sense of scale.

So here's the flu virus.

Here's the designed protein.

And they fit together perfectly
like a lock and key.

NARRATOR:
Mice were given the new protein
either before or just after

being exposed to the flu virus.

BAKER:
And they didn't get sick.

Now, obviously humans
are very different from mice.

But what we have now
is a proof of concept

that design proteins can be
effective drugs--

at least in mice.

It's unclear
how our immune system will react

to these novel proteins.

But Baker's lab is moving ahead,

developing proteins
that target HIV,

break down gluten
in the stomach,

or deliver drugs
to cancer cells.

For Baker, protein origami is
the future of drug development.

Across the world,
the power of folding

is inspiring medical research.

In Japan, Kaori Kuribayashi
is trying to make

medical devices
simpler and better.

She's collaborating
with a team of scientists

to improve a surgical implant
used to treat heart disease--

the stent.

It's placed inside a clogged
artery to keep blood flowing.

To open the artery,
the stent must be inserted

in an inflatable balloon.

Kuribayashi saw an easier,
potentially safer solution.

So I used the origami technique

to produce a new type
of a stent graft.

But instead of the normal tube,
they have this pattern.

Therefore, we can fold it
very compactly,

and then we can put inside
a body to support

weakened vessels.

NARRATOR:
This way no balloon
is needed to widen the artery.

The origami stent,
made of a special metal,

unfolds automatically
when exposed to the body's heat.

So a small sheet of metal,
folded in the right way,

could one day save lives.

Besides medical research,

origami designs are also
being used in engineering

to design tiny drones
and micro robots.

ROBERT WOOD:
I'm ready, and start again.

NARRATOR:
Building such miniaturized
machines

poses a unique set
of challenges.

Early on when we were
thinking about how would

we actually build these classes
of robots,

there's really no manufacturing
methods which would be amenable

to the types of scales
that we're talking about--

you know, things that are
at the size of an insect

or smaller in feature sizes.

And folding turned out to be
a fantastic method to create

these small-scale devices.

NARRATOR:
In the robotics lab
at Harvard University,

students first design
larger robots

using sheets of cardboard
or plastic

and the principles of origami.

DANIEL AUKES:
And so, origami is a great
starting point

to understand how something's
going to move,

how something's going to fold up

and then we get to break
all the rules,

because now we can start
cutting, we can remove material,

we can connect it
in different ways.

NARRATOR:
By combining folding
and cutting,

robots can pop up
from flat sheets of material.

Once the design is perfected,

the scale of the robot
is reduced.

It's an approach
that simplifies construction.

WOOD:
If I think about an example
of assembling a car--

you know however many thousands
or tens of thousands

of components go into that.

Now if I want to assemble
something

maybe not that complicated,
but of similar complexity,

down on the scale of an insect
or even smaller,

you're not going to be able
to do the sort of

nuts and bolts approach.

You're not going to be able
to hand assemble

hundreds or thousands
of components together.

NARRATOR:
Many of the micro robots
can unfold automatically.

As the temperature rises,
this sheet transforms

to a three-dimensional object.

The components can be pre-cut
and then fold up on their own--

like this material,
which can remember its shape.

WOOD:
In our case, we use folding
as the self-assembly means.

That allows you to do things
faster, more precise.

The faster really
is actually very important,

not just for obvious reasons,
but if it takes you weeks

to develop a single prototype,

then you get very conservative
in your designs.

But if we can go through
prototypes in a matter of hours

or even if it's a day,
then we can build all sorts

of crazy things and try
all sorts of different designs

and not worry about failure.

NARRATOR:
The research has produced an
array of micro-robots and drones

with different abilities.

Here, an electrical current
heats the hinges

and the device unfolds.

In the future, smart sensors
will allow these machines

to take on useful roles.

WOOD:
They're small,
they're relatively cheap,

and they're agile so maybe they
could be used in disaster sites

and getting into, you know,
collapsed buildings

and trying to find survivors.

That's certainly
an exciting application.

NARRATOR:
With an on-board power source,
this flying drone could be used

for surveillance,
monitoring crops, weather

or assessing areas
hit by disasters.

To save energy,
it can use electrostatic forces

to rest on nearby surfaces.

Traditionally,
you think of building robots

out of lots of
really complicated,

sophisticated 3D parts.

And origami sort of simplifies
this down to this common medium

of what can we make out of
a flat sheet of material?

And also having everything

connected into one big sheet
simplifies a lot of the problems

of just holding
the robot together,

giving it structural integrity.

And so this could change the way
that we manufacture objects.

NARRATOR:
As origami moves into industry,
engineers are exploring

the power of folding
in terms of sheer strength.

In Germany, Yves Klett is
creating innovative materials

that are light,
yet surprisingly strong.

(speaking German)

(translated):
We were looking for new
lightweight materials

that could be used
for construction.

And we found these structures,
which are inspired by origami.

They are ideal for providing
structural support

in a sandwich-type construction,
like this one.

There are two surface layers

and in between,
we have an origami folded core.

And this structure
is tremendously stable.

It's also very lightweight; it
can withstand very high loads.

So, I can now no longer
crush it.

The core alone could not
withstand the pressure,

but in combination
with the layers,

it creates a powerful structure.

NARRATOR:
To test its strength, Klett will
see if his car can crush it.

A section that weighs
about an ounce can withstand

the weight of one ton.

Klett is now testing
origami designs using

durable, high-tech materials
like Kevlar paper,

carbon fiber composites, as well
as plastic and aluminum foils.

He's hoping that
origami engineering

could give these materials new
properties useful for industry.

(speaking German)

(translated):
Here we have
a sandwich structure

that can be used in the main
section of an airplane.

The hull has a radius
of six feet

and this core integrates itself
perfectly in the geometry.

This way we get a structure that
is very light but very stable.

We can guarantee
that there is no water

accumulating in the hull,
and there is space to integrate

electric cables and air
conditioning between the folds.

NARRATOR:
Klett believes that
origami-based structures

could revolutionize
aircraft design

by dramatically reducing
the weight of an airplane.

This would significantly
cut down on fuel consumption.

He also hopes these new
materials might one day provide

an alternative to concrete
or steel for green building.

But there is one issue
that needs to be solved.

Machines can cut the lines
of the crease pattern,

but it's difficult for them
to do complex folding.

Until recently,
Klett used a basic mold

to speed up the process.

To make production even faster,
he is testing a new machine

that completely automates
the folding.

It's an important step
to applying origami design

on an industrial scale.

Robofold, a company in London,

has come up
with another solution.

They've modified industry robots
to do something previously

too difficult--

lding metal
into curved structures.

This technology can bend metal
into extremely precise shapes,

like the curved body
of this model car.

DEMAINE:
In the last few years there's
been a lot more excitement

about the engineering and
science applications of origami,

that you can make
practical structures

that fundamentally change
their shape,

either going from a flat thing
or very tightly folded thing,

and being able to deploy
into a different size

or completely change
their structure--

change from one shape to another
just by folding.

Folding gives you a way to think
about shape transformation.

NARRATOR:
But how do you design
practical products

that can change their shape?

It's a challenge
engineering students

at Brigham Young University
are grappling with

as they apply origami patterns
to new inventions

with real world applications.

LARRY HOWELL:
A lot of people when they hear
origami think,

"I did origami
when I was in second grade.

"Why are these engineers
at this engineering lab

doing research in origami?"

But when you look at it
from an engineering standpoint,

there's a lot that we can learn,

whether that's new levels
of compactness,

new types of motions,

the complexity of all these
things coming together,

give us the potential to create
totally new products

that were not possible before.

NARRATOR:
Origami gets its motion from
the bending of flexible parts

instead of something
more traditional

like a hinge or bearing.

Of course, it's a lot easier to
see how this works with paper,

which can change its shape
with ease.

Paper's an amazing material.

But, unfortunately,
it's not really the material

that we want use
for most engineering products.

We need things
that are more durable

and suited to the applications
that they will go in.

So that becomes
a real challenge.

How do we now get those
same kinds of motions

in other materials
without breaking?

NARRATOR:
To that end, mathematicians
and engineers have created

a new field called
"thick origami."

Using conventional cuts, layers,
or hinges,

rigid or dense material
can be folded--

a technique that
can turn origami

into something that can even
stop bullets.

Starting with paper,
students fold models

using the classic
Yoshimura pattern.

It produces a shield
that unfolds easily and quickly.

In early prototypes, bolts or
tape hold the panels together.

Then it's time to make a barrier
that's actually bulletproof.

They start with Kevlar.

So it was rather stiff
to try and... when I first...

HOWELL:
Kevlar comes as a fabric.

And we need 12 layers of Kevlar
to stop a barrage of bullets.

But we also need it to be
flexible enough

that it can move,
but stiff enough

that it can stand on its own.

We've added these panels
of lightweight aluminum

and plastic.

But the panels aren't providing
any ballistic protection.

It's the Kevlar.

NARRATOR:
The panels, glued to the Kevlar,
form the pattern.

It's the spaces
between the panels that allow

the barrier to fold.

Layers of black ballistic nylon
protect the Kevlar

from the elements.

The first shot comes from
a nine millimeter handgun.

The force might pierce
the barrier and knock it down...

(gunshot)

...but it doesn't.

MAN:
Okay, range is hot.

NARRATOR:
Next comes a .357 Magnum.

(gunshot)

Followed by a .44 magnum,

the most powerful handgun
police encounter.

(gunshot)

The barrier holds.

MAN:
Okay, one round

223 and the number ten.

(gunshot)

NARRATOR:
Only an assault rifle
can pierce it, at least for now.

HOWELL:
Our colleagues
in Homeland Security tell us

how valuable it would be
to have a ballistic barrier

that could deploy very quickly
and could be a lot more usable

than these large, cumbersome,
heavy shields that they use now.

NARRATOR:
Thick origami is also finding
a place in outer space

as a solar array.

LANG:
Space is one of the places
where origami

has a great role to play

because you have this problem
of something

that needs to be small--

when it goes up into space, it's
got to fit inside a rocket--

and then once it gets
to its destination in space

it needs to be larger.

And so when you have
those two requirements,

folding provides
a very good solution for making

the transition between
those two states.

NARRATOR:
In development is
a revolutionary way

to power NASA missions,

based on an origami
flasher pattern.

A solar array wraps around
a rocket during launch,

and opens in space.

HOWELL:
So this was quite a challenge,

to go from a paper
origami pattern to a solar array

that would cover
six lanes of traffic.

And provide more than
twice the amount of power

than all of the solar panels

on the International Space
Station combined.

NARRATOR:
Silicon solar panels
will make up the array.

They'll be glued to a flexible
film called Kapton.

To reduce the number of parts
that could break

in the harsh environment
of space,

electrical circuits will be
printed directly on the film.

HOWELL:
In the end,
it's hard for someone

outside to actually see
the origami inside of it.

But it's really there.

It's just that our goal was
to accomplish the final product,

not necessarily to make
the origami obvious.

NARRATOR:
Can the principles of origami
even help scientists understand

the nature of the universe?

At Johns Hopkins University,
astrophysicists are studying

the distribution of matter
in the cosmos.

Mark Neyrinck,
believes an origami model

can help represent
that distribution.

We can only observe
visible matter, shown here--

the material that forms stars,
planets and entire galaxies.

But this is only part
of our universe.

There is also a mysterious
substance called dark matter

that's invisible.

Astrophysicists have detected it
only indirectly,

but many believe that it forms
the hidden skeleton

of our universe.

MARK NEYRINCK:
The dark matter started
to accumulate

into clumps almost immediately
after the Big Bang,

and we wouldn't have
as much structure as we see

in the universe today,

if there hadn't been
this dark matter.

The normal matter started
to form structures

based on the groundwork,
the skeleton that

the dark matter laid down
right away.

So, the dark matter is really
the basis of understanding

the structures
that we see today.

NARRATOR:
According to Neyrinck,
the unseen dark matter

folds like origami.

Gravity gathers and crumples
together the dark-matter sheet

in places where ordinary matter

is drawn to form galaxies
and stars.

Pleats in the sheet,
called filaments,

poke out from each galaxy,
aligning its rotation

with neighboring galaxies
in a pattern,

similar to an origami
twist fold.

NEYRINCK:
In a twist fold you have
a small polygon,

so let's say a triangle.

So here we have a triangle,
and going from the unfolded

to the folded state entails
twisting that triangle.

Even though this is
a dark matter structure,

it creates regular matter
toward that.

So the galaxy here
would form here.

It's a strong approximation
that the universe forms

like an origami model.

In particular,
the way the various elements

of the cosmic web are spinning
are very explicit in this model.

We see in the universe,
that neighboring galaxies

tend to be rotating
in the same direction,

and that actually relates
to this origami model.

NARRATOR:
Neyrinck is now working
with students to create

a more complex model that
captures how dark matter folds

intersect to build
the cosmic web.

The dots on the paper
represent the galaxies

as observed by telescopes.

Whenever the paper
is overlapping,

there is an accumulation
of dark matter,

therefore a greater number
of galaxies.

Astrophysics is now being
enriched with a new vision

of a folded universe-- inspired
by the ancient art of origami.

So by thinking about origami
and by how we generalize origami

into broader
mathematical spaces,

we can learn things
that turn out to apply

to the real world
that we live in.

You would think that
as a field of exploration,

origami would have been
played out long ago,

but the opposite is true.

It's as vibrant and growing
as ever and, furthermore,

as we look to the future, there
are no limits on the horizon

of what's possible
either artistically

or in the applications
of origami-inspired design.

NARRATOR:
Back at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology,

a ten-year endeavor
is coming to an end.

Erik Demaine reviews
the final details of the proof

he is about to publish
with Tomohiro Tachi.

It has taken 60 pages to write
a universal algorithm,

called Origamizer, which shows
the precise mathematical steps

needed to fold a flat surface

into any three-dimensional
object.

As a proof, Origamizer
is a theoretical coup,

but are there real world
applications?

DEMAINE:
Yeah, it's kind of mind blowing.

For example,
maybe you're an engineer,

you've designed a robot
on your computer

and you want to build it.

Or you're an artist
and you've sculpted a model

of a face and you want
to translate it into paper.

Origamizer gives you
a way to do that.

So, it's really exciting.

You can make anything
by folding.

NARRATOR:
According to Demaine and Tachi,
Origamizer will translate

a 3D model into a precise
blueprint of how to fold

any object
out of one sheet of material.

The crease pattern generated
by the computer can then

be printed on paper.

Fold all the lines
and eventually

you will get your desired
3D structure.

In the future, Demaine and Tachi
believe folding

can also be automated.

(keyboard clacking)

But it all comes down
to working out the math.

DEMAINE:
The nice thing
about approaching origami

from a mathematical perspective
is you get at kind of

the core of what is possible.

Just sort of universal truths
for any kind of folding.

It doesn't matter whether
you're folding paper

or sheet metal or whatever.

There are some core principles
that just never change.

And you have to follow
those rules.

And so if you show something's
impossible mathematically,

then it's not going to be
possible no matter what material

you try to translate it into.

NARRATOR:
Origami is helping us
understand the universe,

from the vastness of outer space
to the core of our cells.

The journey began with a unique
mix of art and science.

How could one imagine
simply folding a flat surface

would help us discover
the world around us?

Yet it appears from whatever
level we observe the universe,

the logic of folds is at work.

This NOVA program is
available on DVD.

NOVA is also available
for download on iTunes.