Tag Archives: origami

Revisiting DNA origami

1 Sep

Creating a genetic program to crinkle DNA into the perfect shape can appear to be a scientific stunt. But DNA origami is more than a molecular magic trick. In this excerpt from a 2007 TED lecture, Paul Rothemund describes the science behind the work– how a chain– based on its sequence– becomes a two-dimensional shape.

But this work isn’t all fun and smiley-faces– as an article in today’s New York Times about tiny transistors points out:

I.B.M. is also exploring higher-risk ideas like “DNA origami,” a process developed by Paul W. K. Rothemund, a computer scientist at the California Institute of Technology.

The technique involves creating arbitrary two- and three-dimensional shapes by controlling the folding of a long single strand of viral DNA with multiple smaller “staple” strands. It is possible to form everything from nanometer-scale triangles and squares to more elaborate shapes like smiley faces and a rough map of North America. That could one day lead to an application in which such DNA shapes could be used to create a scaffolding just as wooden molds are now used to create concrete structures. The DNA shapes, for example, could be used to more precisely locate the gold nanoparticles that would then be used to grow nanowires. The DNA would be used only to align the circuits and would be destroyed by the high temperatures used by the chip-making processes.

The DNA transistor mold– what a cool nanoscale idea: build the shape, pour your circuit and destroy the mold when you’re done.

P.S.: my earlier origami post from May– in case you missed it.

The Art and Math of the Fold

12 May

Last night I realized how long it’s been since I last folded a paper crane. The  documentary, Between the Folds, allows origami to explode into this beautiful world of artistic creations and amazing patterns and complexity driven by algorithms– sequences of mathematical instructions– ranging from simple to astronomically complex.

The funny thing is that on its surface, origami is simple– folding a piece of paper, no cutting and no glue. But there’s a beautiful tension throughout the nearly hour-long film between complexity– making a piece of paper as realistic and as complicated as possible– and simplicity, refining the art to be simple, cleaner and also more abstract.

In the trailer, one artist talks about the art of the origami process, the ballet of creating. The film shows him in a pas de deux with paper, with the beautiful score of Gil Talmi in the background. Vanessa Gould has created a beautiful, stunning film.

Beyond the beauty of the art itself, the scientific connections are wonderful. Teachers in Israel are using origami to inspire kids to learn math. In the film, mathematician Tom Hull shows how origami describes advanced mathematical concepts. MIT professor Erik Demaine and his sculptor father Marty (who collaborate), are perhaps the ultimate symbol of this blending of the artistic with the scientific (Erik also talked after the screening at CUNY Science & the Arts in Manhattan). In the Demaine family it appears that art and science are simply a matter of viewing the same coin from the opposite side. They create origami that then lets them test unusual math. It sounds like a wonderful symbiotic relationship.

The beauty of origami also has a practical package. Car airbags rely on the algorithms to fold efficiently into flat spaces. And origami has all sorts of biological implications. Proteins– the workhorses of living cells– are long strings that fold in specific shapes in order to work properly. Genetic material folds into complex shapes to fit inside the nucleus– the command center– of a cell. (I interviewed Paul Rothemund who designs DNA origami a few years ago. The magazine killed the story, but I still find the work fascinating).

And just for fun– Jeannine Mosely gave a lesson in origami: folding 6 cards into a cube (and even learning how to lock cubes with our neighbors). Here’s one I just put together at home with my outdated business cards.

cube made from my old business cards

cube made from my old business cards

Lots of fun. My sister bought me an origami set for Christmas last year. I think it’s time to break it out.