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MIT/Christine Daniloff

If there is anything that you ever wanted to render as paper — your cat Luna, your first car, just some weird polyhedron — here is your chance. After 17 years of trying, MIT's Erik Demaine has co-written an algorithm that unlocks the secret of how to fold a piece of ordinary paper into any shape at all, using the minimum number of seams.

Why it matters: Origami has practical design applications, from fashioning molecules in drugs, collapsible solar-arrays in space, and miniature robots.

Demaine made his first stab at the origami problem in a 1999 paper. But it only worked if you were folding a long, skinny sheet of paper. If not, you wasted almost the whole sheet. "Their paper is indeed a significant advance," Joseph O'Rourke, a Smith College professor, tells Axios. "What was known before was either 'cheating' — winding the polyhedron with a thin strip — or not guaranteed to succeed."

Origami has engineering applications: But that isn't what attracted Demaine. "When Erik first got interested in origami, it was more an 'idle' mathematical pursuit," O'Rourke says. "I would say Erik (and others working in this area) are still more interested in the mathematics than the applications."

Then he and his research partner, Tomohiro Tachi of the University of Tokyo, found an entirely different way of going after the problem. O'Rourke credits Tachi for his practical side, "which makes him a good coauthor with Erik. :-j." They will announce their breakthrough officially next month in Brisbane at the annual Symposium on Computational Geometry.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine — Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

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