It's the weekend, so today we'll talk about a pastime: origami.
Erik Demaine must be a happy guy. At 21, he became the youngest professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). And he's being paid to have fun. He works on computational origami -- the geometry of paper folding -- which interests not only hobbyists or MIT professors, but also the manufacturing industries.
Steve Nadis interviewed him for the New Scientist, looking back at his itinerary. Here are some selected questions and answers.
Q: What was your first real accomplishment in mathematics?
A: Six years ago, when I began my PhD work in computational geometry at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, my dad remembered "the paper cut problem" from an article written in the 1960s on paper folding and mathematics. The idea is to take a piece of paper, fold it any way and as many times as you want, and then make one straight cut and see what shapes you get. The question is, are all shapes possible? I worked on this problem for two years at Dalhousie with my dad and adviser Anna Lubiw. After experimenting for a while, we realised you could make all kinds of shapes, such as butterflies, swans, hearts or stars. The hardest part was proving that any shape was possible.
Q: How did you go about proving it?
A: That process, in a word, is mathematics.
Q: What is your greatest preoccupation at the moment?
A: I've been working on my favourite problem for the past five years, which is a long time for me. It has to do with a centuries-old question: what three-dimensional shapes can you make by successively folding a flat sheet? Questions like this come up regularly in the sheet-metal industry: how do you cut a sheet and then use bending machines to fold it in the right sequence? Theorists could make a big contribution here, but the mathematics is not yet fully developed.
Source: Steve Nadis, New Scientist, Jan. 15, 2003
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