Thomas Hull talks applications of origami to math, science at Common Hour

By Christa Rodriguez || Campus Life Editor

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This past Thursday’s Common Hour talk, “Folding Paper, Polymers, and Robots: Origami and Math,” was given by Thomas Hull, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Western New England University. He spoke on origami and its applications to both math and science. ChengCheng Zai ’18 proposed this Common Hour, which was also sponsored by the Math Department, Office of the Dean of the College, Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Art Department.

Hull impressed the audience with the many different forms origami can take, from a wasp, to a demon, to a cuckoo clock that can do everything except tell time. These creations were made primarily by origami enthusiasts who also held careers in math or the sciences, because, as it turns out, mathematics is highly applicable to origami.

He told the audience that origami is a Japanese word, coming from “ori,” meaning folding, and “gami” meaning paper. The reason we don’t just call it paper folding is because the art is more historically and culturally relevant in Japan, especially since it holds religious significance there.

Hull had some of his own complex origami creations on the stage, but also showed some even more complex creations on the screen. Next to the picture of these origami figures was a picture of the unfolded paper, showing the intricate patterns. He explained that two types of creases are formed from unfolding the paper, mountains and valleys. Looking at the figures and the unfolded paper side by side, one can make out which parts of the paper made which folds made which parts of the origami figure when it was folded up.

To demonstrate more of the basics of origami, and to connect this to math, the audience members each had their own square pieces of paper. Hull instructed the audience to use a pen to make a dot in the center of the paper. Then, he said to make a few folds over the dot. Once the audience folded their desired amount of folds, he asked them to open the paper back up and count the amount of mountains and valleys the paper had. As people called out their different numbers, he recorded them on a spreadsheet, allowing the audience to see what each of the pairs of numbers had in common. By doing this, Hull was able to show that each person’s mountains and valleys had a difference of two.

Hull had given one of his students the task of figuring out the math for a complex origami formation. He stressed that even he did not know the answer to the problem, but the student started figuring it out. To their surprise, the United States Air Force started to become interested in their work, which they believed could be used to make a self-folding solar panel for spaceships.

Hull showed videos of other self-folding technology scientists are working on using origami techniques, though mostly at the micro level. At the end of his talk, he showed a video of a recent development where origami being applied to an invention involving self-folding sound barriers that contract and expand to the change in the flow of traffic.

Hull was enthusiastic for the future of math and origami and its potential for changing the world, with his own work and beyond.

Junior Christa Rodriguez is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is


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