Entertaining a grandchild is an endeavor that often leads one to appreciate the simpler things in life, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to lead you to learn something new. But it happens.
Recently my wife and I babysat our three grandchildren, ages five, four, and two. It doesn’t take much to keep them entertained but sometimes it can become something of a challenge. Tired with the toys they brought over to the house, I suggested we make a paper hat. Of course I had to make three, one for each. This went over so well that they begged me, the Great Paper Folding Paw Paw, to make something else out of paper. I knew of course how to make a paper airplane, so we did that -- even the high performance type. Then I remembered as a 6th grader how we had made paper water balloons, paper balls, and waterbombs. I surprised myself in recalling how this was done since I couldn't remember when I had done it last. This was the extent of my paper-folding skills but it was enough to preoccupy them.
In anticipation of the next babysitting encounter, I thought it would be a good idea to increase my repertoire of paper-folding toys. So one evening I did an internet search on how to make various things out of paper, the folding art of which is known as origami.
In the process of looking up how to do the “Flapping Bird,” the “Crane,” and the “Turtle,” I accidentally stumbled upon a fascinating YouTube video. It was of Robert Lang, an artist whose knowledge and skills of origami are on the same level as say a heart transplant surgeon. He was giving a lecture to an audience on the advanced -- I mean very advanced -- techniques of the folding art of origami. My jaw dropped as I viewed the nine minute video. It was absolutely fascinating! If this is new to you as it was to me I would recommend you google “Robert Lang origami” on YouTube and you’ll get a treat.
What was especially intriguing to me, having been afflicted with a
predominant left brain (math and science) and essentially a mental cripple in the right brain skills (artsy crafty stuff), was his explanation of the discovery by other origami “specialists’’ of the math and physics of paper folding that essentially allows one to fold pretty much anything from a square piece of paper -- and I mean anything! Software has now been written that allows one to draw a stick figure of the figure you wish to paper-sculpture and
voila!, out comes the printed instructions on how to proceed. The range and complexity of animals and figures that can be sculptured out of a square piece of paper are phenomenal to say the least. Moose, dragons, praying mantis, monkeys, rams, deer, on and on.
In fact, so advanced now is the science of origami that it has found applications in modern technology, medicine, and the space program. Origami principles are responsible for the creation and invention of stents folded to allow passage through arteries and veins to treat heart failure. Synthetic photocells and biosensors that can perform artificial photosynthesis and large telescopic lenses that can be deployed in outer space, and much more.
I had no clue that origami held such sophisticated mathematical and physical complexities for it’s use, much less the wonderful applications it has for advancing man’s health and knowledge.
Next time I fold paper to make a “flapping bird” it will certainly be done with a greater appreciation of its underlying principles, as well as an appreciation of the more simpler things in life. Besides, I look forward to baby sitting the grandkids soon so I can show off my newfound skills. With a little more practice I just may in fact turn out to truly become the Great Paper Folding Paw Paw!