Posted by Susan Weaver on Jun 02, 2017
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Origami is the ancient art of paper folding. Generally thought of as a decorative art, origami is being used by engineers to produce some amazing things.

Perhaps you will recall that in the 2013-2014 Rotary year, Sakuji Tanaka’s Presidential Theme was Peace Through Service. Something you may not have noticed in the theme logo, because it was a very subtle image, was the origami crane in the upper left hand corner.

In Japanese culture the crane is a symbol of longevity and good luck, and legend has it that anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. But in 1955, the crane added something new to its portfolio, it also became an international symbol of peace.

That year, a decade after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, Sadako Sasaki, a twelve year old resident of Hiroshima was diagnosed with radiation poisoning. Knowing the legends about the crane and its origami incarnations, Sadako began folding cranes in hopes her wish for health would be granted. She fell short of her origami goal before her death, but to honor her memory her friends and classmates continued folding until one thousand cranes were done. They also raised money to have a statue of Sadako holding aloft an origami crane installed in the Hiroshima Peace Park. Its inscription states “This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world.”

You might think, how can a folded paper object bring about peace in the world? Perhaps our collective thoughts, prayers, wishes about and for peace as we fold our cranes might encircle the earth to bring that change. Or the symbol itself might inspire the pursuit of peace in others. If you are a more action-oriented type, you might think the time spent folding would be wasted. And it might be unless, in folding and thinking, you figure out a way to make something quite useful, something to improve the conditions in the world, something that might be used to promote peace in tangible ways.

And that is precisely what people like Robert Lang, a physicist and research and development engineer trained at the California Technical Institute, and Manu Prakash, a professor and head of the Prakash Lab at Stanford University, have been doing. They have been finding ways of using origami to make extremely useful things.

Here are two videos to introduce you to the work of Lang and Prakash.

In the first, Robert Lang talks about the “Math and Magic of Origami” and the surprising directions in which origami has developed, resulting in such useful things as Zhong You’s origami stent, which is inserted in it’s folded state during an angioplasty procedure and then unfolded in the artery to keep the passage open.


Folding way-new origami - Robert Lang: 15:56 min:

(If you cannot see the video below on your device, click here).



In the second video, Manu Prakash discusses the “50 Cent Microscope That Folds Like Origami” he and his students designed (9:21 minutes). The Foldscope is a completely operational research microscope - actually several different ones, each designed for a specific diagnostic purpose, such as examining a water sample for the detection of malarial microorganisms. Cheap, virtually indestructible, and easily transportable, the Foldscope does the work of the notoriously delicate and expensive research microscopes. Now this is something I can imagine a Rotarian using on a water project as he or she promotes peace through service!


Manu Prakash: A 50-cent microscope that folds like origami: 9:21 min:

(If you cannot see the video below on your device, click here).


Are you intrigued by origami and its possibilities yet? Here to get you started on your one thousand cranes is this short YouTube video (5:59 minutes).

(If you cannot see the video below on your device, click here).



Happy folding!

P.S. You might also enjoy the 2010 PBS Independent Lens documentary and 2010 Peabody Award Winner, Between the Folds, which explores the work of celebrated origami artists.


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