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Is Origami the Future of Tech?

Nature uses folding to manufacture some of its most intricate creations, from flowers and wings to protein and DNA. What if humans could do the same?
Erik Demaine outside his MIT office
Erik Demaine outside his MIT officePhotograph by Leonard Greco for Bloomberg Businessweek

In 1996 a young mathematician and computer scientist named Erik Demaine became fascinated by a magic trick that Harry Houdini used to do before he made his name as an escape artist. The magician would fold a piece of paper flat a few times, make one straight cut with a pair of scissors, and then unfold the paper to reveal a five-pointed star. Other magicians built on Houdini’s fold-and-cut method over the years, creating more intricate shapes: a single letter, for example, or a chain of stars.

It’s an odd subject of study for a computer science professor, but Demaine had an unorthodox background. When he was hired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001, he was, at 20, the youngest professor in the university’s history. Pale, thin, and soft-spoken, with a pickpocket’s long fingers and a fox-colored ponytail, Demaine was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and raised by his father, Martin, a renowned glass blower.