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High School Students Win Prize for Origami Algorithm

By Bob Brewin
May 10, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Kids, computational origami is something you can do on your own. That's what James Colovos and John Reid, two juniors at the Albuquerque Public Schools Career Enrichment Center, discovered over the past six months as they developed a computational origami science fair project with inspiration from MIT origami whiz Erik Demaine.
Colovos says he heard Demaine explain computational origami on National Public Radio last fall and suggested to Reid, a pal since elementary school, that they develop their own origami algorithm from scratch as their project for the Northwest New Mexico Regional Science Fair at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in March.
Their research won them a prize at that fair and a coveted spot for the two and their teacher, Ken Greenberg, at the Intel Corp. International Science Fair, which kicks off May 10 in Portland, Ore. Reid explains that the duo decided to concentrate their efforts on a subset of origami that Demaine favors -- creating a complex object out of a folded piece of paper with just one scissor cut.
Their algorithm focuses on how best to fold polygons, which are much more difficult than simple perpendicular folds. It provides the folding directions so that the two science fair winners could cut out almost any figure with just one scissor cut on a piece of paper.
Reid says they decided to write their own algorithm, "since we could not find one online." Writing algorithms was nothing new for the two, Reid says, since they had developed one for "particle-hopping models for graphics flow" for their 2003 UNM science fair project.
Reid says writing the computational origami algorithm was at times a "wild goose chase" that occasionally led them to dead ends, though he also says it was "fun" working through the problem.
Programming the algorithm in C++ was time-consuming but not difficult, Colovos says. The result is a computational origami algorithm that, judging from extensive research, is both original and unique, he says. "We can't prove it's never been used before," Colovos says, but he adds that the two can't find anything like it in existence.
The pair continue to refine the algorithm, Colovos says, because at the moment "it has too many loops," which makes it the slowest of all computational origami algorithms they have researched.
Besides opening the window to a new field, Reid says, the project also rekindled his interest in the symmetry of geometry. While neither one of them has definite plans at this time to specialize in computational origami, both do plan to pursue careers in computer science.
Colovos addsthat their science fair project is a credit to magnet schools such as the Career Enrichment Center. "I would never have taken a computer science class," if not for the center, Colovos says, "since my high school did not offer computer science classes."

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