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Mathematical Origami

Philipp Legner

O Cunning Constructions

rigami shapes and paper models of Archi- This set of axioms is much more powerful than the size of the altar to Apollo – if only they had

medean solids are not only nice to look the one corresponding to straight edge and com- known ancient Japanese Origami artists…

at, they give rise to an interesting area of pass: connecting any two points with a straight The proofs of the following constructions are left

to the reader. They are based on simple geometric Again let us start with a square sheet of paper. We

mathematics. Similarly to the idea of constructing line and drawing a circle of radius r around any

relations and can also be found in [3]. first fold the paper into thirds (since we can fold

polygons using nothing but a straight edge and a point. There are many interesting consequences:

any ratios), and define K, L, P and Q as shown

compass, you can think about which shapes and you can trisect angles, double cubes and even con-

Trisecting the Angel below. We now fold P onto K and Q onto L using

solids you can fold using a sheet of paper and no struct regular heptagons and 19-gons.

We start with a square piece of paper and fold a axiom 6, and the ratio of the lengths x and y in the

other tools. The results are surprisingly different 3-

Even more surprisingly, we can use Origami to crease L, as shown below, to create any angle α at diagram is precisely √ 2.

from ruler and compass geometry!

fold any rational number. Consider a square piece P. To trisect α, we have to

of paper of side length 1 and suppose, for induc-

The Axioms of Origami tion, that we can fold one side into (n − 1)th, as • fold the paper into quarters from top to bot- K x K

P

shown. Then we can also fold it into n th the by tom and define K and Q as shown;

In 1992, the Italian-Japanese mathematician Hu- L Q

B G D • simultaneously fold P onto K and Q onto L

miaki Huzita published a list of all possible op- • folding the along CD; using axiom 6, and don’t reopen; P

y

erations that are possible when folding paper. • folding the line EB; L

• folding the line FG • extend K by a new crease M. Q

X

O1 We can fold a line connecting any two points

through X, perpen-

P and Q. L L Incidentally, the third “classical” problem that

dicular to the edge

O2 We can fold any two points onto each other. is impossible with straight edge and compass,

of the paper. Q M

x squaring the circle, is impossible even using Ori-

O3 We can fold any two lines onto each other. F Q

Now observe that C A E K gami, since it involved constructing the transcen-

O4 Given a point P and a line L, we can make a 1/(n−1) −

K K K dental ratio √π .

α

fold perpendicular to L passing through P. P

α

O5 Given two points P and Q and a line L, we P

can make a fold that passes through P and 1 − x = x (n − 1)

Solving Cubic Equations

If we now open the paper and extend M to its full

places Q onto L. length, it will divide α in the ration 1:2. Halving It is known that quadratic equations can be solved

x = 1�n,

O6 Given two points P and Q and two lines the larger part of the angle then splits α into three with straight edge and compass. With Origami,

so we have divided the side of the square into n th.

K and L, we can make a fold that places P equal parts. we can also solve cubic equations.

We can easily divide the side of the square into

onto line K and places Q onto line L.

halves. Thus, by induction, we can use origami to Doubling the Cube Suppose have an equation x 3 + ax 2 + bx + c = 0.

A seventh one was discovered by Koshiro Hatori: fold any ratio, as required.

Even the ancient Greeks knew that it is impossible Let P = (a,1) and Q = (c,b) in a coordinate system.

O7 Given a point P and two lines K and L, we 3-

to double a cube, i.e. construct √ 2 using nothing Furthermore, let K be the line y = −1 and L be the

can fold a line perpendicular to K placing P but ruler and compass. It was rather discourag- line x = −c as shown below. Using axiom 6, we can

onto L. ing when the oracle in Delphi prophesied that simultaneously place P onto K (at P ′) and Q onto

a plague could be defeated by exactly doubling L (at Q ′) to create a new line M. Suppose that M

has equation y = αx + β, for some α, β ≠ 0.

These five interlocking tetrahedra are made from

An Origami Icosahedron A braided Dodecahedron 30 individual pieces, using no scissors or glue.

P and directrix K. Then M is a tangent to Ψ1 at a

point (u1,v1) – this is illustrated by the dotted red The word Origami (折り紙) originates from the

lines in the diagram below. Differentiating gives Japanese oru (to fold) and kami (paper). Japanese

α = (u1 − a) and we can deduce β = −α2 − aα. monks were among the first to turn the amuse-

ment into a sophisticated art. On the next page

Let Ψ2 be the parabola 4cx = (y − b) 2 with focus you can see some great examples.

Q and directrix L. Again M is a tangent to Ψ2 at a

point (u2 ,v2) and we can find β = b + c�α. Especially useful for creating mathematical sol-

ids if modular origami: you fold many individual

Setting these two results equal shows that pieces (such as faces) separately and then stack

α = (u1 − a) satisfies x 3 + ax 2 + bx + c = 0, i.e. is them together. Many of the images in this article

the solution we are looking for. are examples of modular origami.

L (u1,v1) b Q you can visit mathigon.org/origami

P

Ψ1

References, Further Reading

–c a c

P ′ –1 K Robert Lang’s website (see below) is a great place

Q′ M to start both for building origami and reading

about the mathematical background.

Doubling the cube is equivalent to solving the

cubic x 3 − 2 = 0, while trisecting the angle is 1. R. Lang, P. Wang-Iverson, and M. Yim,

equivalent to solving x 3 + 3tx 2 − 3x − t = 0 with Origami^5, CRC Press (2011)

t = 1�tan θ and x = tan(θ�3 − π�2). 2. R. Lang, www.langorigami.com

3. J. Krier, math.uttyler.edu/nathan/classes/

We can define the set O of Origami Numbers, senior-seminar/JaemaKrier.pdf

numbers that can be constructed using origami.

It includes the corresponding set for straight edge 4. Cut-The-Knot, www.cut-the-knot.org/py-

and compass constructions, and is the same as for thagoras/PaperFolding/index.shtml

constructions using a market rule and compass.

using Origami: precisely those with 2a 3bρ sides,

where ρ is a product of distinct Pierpont primes,

that is, primes of the form 2u 3v + 1.

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