Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Well, basically I'm investigating the mathematics of origami folds

Goshen College student studies complexities of origami through Maple Scholars program

GOSHEN, Ind. – Since receiving an origami book for the first time on her eighth birthday, Goshen College senior Rosanna Nafziger has been fascinated with the intricate creases and delicate lines of the Japanese paper-folding art. She studied origami math in Professor of Mathematics David Housman’s Conjecture in Proof class, combining two of her favorite things. As a Maple Scholar at Goshen College this summer, the program has provided her with the opportunity to continue immersing herself in the subject.

Maple Scholars is a summer scholarly research opportunity for students to work side by side with Goshen College professors. Consisting of eight weeks of research, the program culminates in a final symposium showcasing each student’s work.

An English and math double major, Nafziger, from Linville, Va., investigated the mathematics of origami folds, which find applications in the field of abstract algebra.

“Origami, besides being a beautiful art form, can also be viewed as a mathematical system of points and folds governed by axioms,” said Professor of Mathematics Patricia Oakley, who is serving as Nafziger’s faculty adviser.

“For thousands of years, people have been using the straightedge and compass to construct various geometric figures,” said Nafziger. “As it turns out, using nothing but paper, origami folds are capable of doing far more than the straightedge and compass – origami can trisect angles and double cubes, problems which boil down to solving cubic equations.”

Nafziger was working to clarify what kinds of folds can be accomplished in origami and, consequently, which constructions can be made. An example of a practical application of origami is the folding of an airbag in a vehicle.

“The elegance of using paper-folding to solve incredibly complex problems just thrills me,” she said. “Some of these problems involve page-long equations that a single fold can solve.”

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit http://www.goshen.edu/.

- by Melanie Histand

Editors: For more information, contact New Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.

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