Can origami save lives?

Scientist, author, and self-proclaimed science evangelist, Ainissa Ramirez, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how engineers and scientists are using origami as a design solution.


Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist, author, and a self-proclaimed science evangelist.

She's calling for big changes in science education and just launched a new podcast series called 'Science Underground.'

Here to discuss one of her latest episodes called 'How Origami Saves Lives' is Ainissa Ramirez.

Thanks for joining us.

Thank you.

When I think of origami, I think of paper cranes that I maybe learned how to do and now have forgotten in elementary school, certainly paper airplanes, which I can probably still throw...


...but these are all examples?

Even the paper bag.

Origami's pretty ubiquitous.

Pizza boxes, fancy napkins -- that's all origami.

Anything that's kind of an intricate folding is origami.

But what I found out when I was putting this podcast is that origami saves lives, and the way that it does that is in the airbag.

Airbags are folded in a way that are based on origami methods so that it can be stored within the steering column, but also can be deployed without failure.

So I kind of have what an airbag would look like.

It's a doughnut shape, and so it has to be folded in intricate ways so that it looks like a box with small points.

That's the method that origami artists suggested to engineers so that they could put this within the steering column, and it would work without failure.

Okay, so how does this one fold?

This isn't an airbag.

This one is just from a manufacturer, and it's packaged very simply so that it will be a square.

This is not the proprietary way that you would put an origami --

Got it. know, the origami way of doing an airbag.

Was origami used for that design specifically for an airbag?

That's right, and what's great about origami, it's a merger of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

Engineers consulted origami artists, and they said, 'Look.

We have this doughnut-shaped airbag.

How do we fold it so that it's this small and that it deploys effectively?'

And so the artist said, 'Okay.

Well, we do origami.

We see that the way to do this is through this technique.'

And so origami is the way that they fold it.

Is there an inherent efficiency in this particular folding that maybe the computer's aren't thinking that way?

Well, first of all, we have this body of knowledge in the origami art, and, mathematically, they couldn't figure it out because they wanted to make sure that things moved in a certain way in a certain sequence.

Origami artists already knew this.

It's all about the sequence.

This is all they do.

They know about sequence, they know ways to fold things so that it will come out to a certain shape.

Are there other things besides airbags where we're not thinking about origami?

Well, origami's actually a serious enterprise.

The National Science Foundation has funded several grants to the tune of a couple of million dollars where they put together engineers and artists, origami artists, to come up with solutions, and so they have solar arrays that fold out in certain ways, antennas that you can put into a small area, and then when they need to be deployed, they come out in a certain way.

They're using nanotechnology.

It ends up that there are small layers of materials called graphene that are sliced in certain ways that they use in origami to make it look even longer to have more of an accordion shape.

So they're kind of doing a couple of neat things with origami on the small scale and on the big scale.

All right, graphene is on the very, very small scale, and it's interesting that on the satellite level -- so when a satellite gets launched and how it actually pops open, it's not just a...

That's right.

And you don't have much real estate within the satellite.

You're like you have this much space to put all of your experiments.

So you got to use origami in order to make that thing spread out and do what you need it to do.

All right, Ainissa Ramirez.

The podcast is called 'Science Underground.'

Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you.