Folding the Future: BYU engineering professors share origami at Embassy of Japan exhibit, mentor students

From police shields to backpacks and solar panels to dishware, BYU engineering and design students are using Japanese origami principles to innovate and problem-solve.

Origami-inspired products by BYU engineers and industrial designers were featured in the exhibit, "Folding the Future: Theoretical Origami Devices" at the Japan Information & Culture Center, a part of the Embassy of Japan, in Washington D.C. from Oct. 24 to Dec. 21 of 2018.

Industrial Design Professor David Morgan and Mechanical Engineering Professor Larry Howell headed coordination of the exhibit and presented at the Japan Information & Culture Center, Embassy of Japan on Nov. 9. The exhibition was co-organized by the Gabriella & Paul Rosenbaum Foundation.

Professor Morgan described the opportunity to present at the Embassy as a unique honor for BYU’s College of Engineering.

“Being invited to the Embassy was an exciting opportunity to show our respect and appreciation for the cultural art and discipline of origami,” Morgan said. “We were able to share how we take the principles of the discipline and use them to problem solve and create things people use in real life that wouldn’t be possible without origami.”

BYU’s exhibit of over 20 displays included functional pieces such as the Tessel Backpack, a deployable solar array model, elliptical infinity lamp and collapsible dishware. Other displays featured origami art, including “Mother and Child” by former student Matthew Gong.

Atsushi Iwai, exhibition coordinator at the Japan Information & Culture Center, Embassy of Japan, described Professors Howell’s and Morgan’s presentation at the exhibit as valuable to society.

“Their talks on the lesser-known applications of origami principles were both informative and inspiring,” Iwai said. “BYU’s [researchers] are in the center of betterment of the future, which learn from playfulness of origami and make it functional to our society.”

The Embassy also hosted a student workshop at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Washington D.C., where professors Howell and Morgan mentored students on folding and practical applications of origami principles. Students learned to fold a ballistic barrier using the same folding pattern used to create bulletproof police shields, made solar array models similar to those used by NASA, and created whimsical origami chocolate molds.

Professor Morgan said people of all ages benefit from the unique problem-solving skills and rules origami teaches.

“If you can make something with no moving parts out of a single sheet, that’s a really valuable thing to be able to do,” Morgan said. “It’s low-waste, stuff doesn’t get cut and thrown away, and with no moving parts things don’t break down as much so there’s a lot more efficiency. Learning origami opens doors for us to engineer and design in better ways.”

Watch Professor Howell’s and Professor Morgan’s lecture at the Japan Infomation & Culture Center, The Embassy of Japan, and view more photos from the exhibit.

Watch videos about BYU origami-inspired projects:

How Origami is Inspiring Scientific Creativity, with BYU and Origami Artist Robert Lang

Bullet-proof origami: folding Kevlar shield designed by BYU mechanical engineers


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