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Engineering Origami

It’s World Origami Day! Did you know that the art of paper folding has applications in engineering? Biomedical engineering, robotics, space structures and more use techniques from origami.

Origami dates all the way back to Song Dynasty China (905-1125 CE), but you may not recognize it as the art form it is today. Many defining aspects of the practice including starting with a square piece of paper and a ban on cutting were part of European influence in the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, the activity of folding paper wasn’t known as origami until the late Showa Era in Japan (1926-1989).

Using origami techniques, engineers can solve problems, like fitting big things into small spaces. For example, in this video you can watch how folding techniques allowed for NASA engineers to fold the sunshield for the James Webb Telescope. The sunshield, at 60×46 ft., along with the massive mirror, which measures over 21 feet wide, are much too large to fit into any existing rockets, so engineers used origami-style folding to fit the telescope into the Ariane V Rocket. 

The James Webb Space Telescope with Safran on board! | Safran

Origami can be used to solve much more mundane earth-side problems as well. Architect Anton Willis moved into a new apartment and didn’t have enough space to store his kayak. He solved his problem by creating Oru Kayaks, fully functional and portable kayaks that fold up to be carried or stored. 

Oru Kayak Inlet: A Portable Origami Folding Kayak. by Oru Kayak —  Kickstarter

Biomedical engineering can also get involved! Because of the nature of origami-based design, products are scalable, so the same principles that fold up a tennis court-sized sunshade can also design a heart stent that can be deployed with minimally invasive surgery. 

Ready to explore more? We have several books in our collection that can get you started.

You may enjoy How To Fold It: the mathematics of linkages, origami, and polyhedra by Joseph O’Rourke to learn a basis of problem solving with origami.

Want to see how origami can change manufacturing? Check out Making It: manufacturing techniques for product design by Chris Lefteri.

If you want to use origami to make things very very tiny, read Nanotechnology: the future is tiny by Michael Berger.

Finally, if you want to stop reading and start doing, find a project in Paper Inventions: machines that move, drawings that light up, and wearables you can cut, fold, and roll by Kathy Ceceri.

Read more:

Meloni, Marco, et al. “Engineering Origami: A Comprehensive Review of Recent Applications, Design Methods, and Tools.” Advanced Science, vol. 8, no. 13, 13 May 2021,

Morrison, Jim. “How Origami Is Revolutionizing Industrial Design.”, Smithsonian Institution, 23 Apr. 2019,