Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Scientist TV

Students break record by folding toilet paper 13 times

It may look like a prank but these mathematics students from St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts aren't toilet papering the famed infinite corridor at MIT. Using intricate choreography and brute force, they're breaking a paper-folding record by completing 13 folds, a challenge that students at the school have been tackling for seven years with the help of teacher James Tanton.
Based on the thickness of a sheet of paper, a formula can be used to calculate the minimum length needed to fold it a given number of times. Paper roughly doubles in size with each fold and the sides become more rounded, making it harder and harder to bend. Wrinkles also have a significant impact, making the formula difficult to follow in practice. In addition, no single roll is long enough to fold thirteen times, requiring the group to tape together numerous rolls of industrial toilet paper 1.2 kilometers long.
To achieve the feat, the students first arranged and taped 64 layers of paper into the physical structure of the sixth fold. When you fold paper, the layers on the end form a pattern of peaks and valleys, so the configuration mimicked these layers to accommodate the 16 kilometers of paper inside. The students then proceeded to physically fold the stack. The final result was a 1.5-metre wide and 76-centimetre high wad comprising 8192 layers of paper.
Although no official rules govern the record, the students decided that the folds must be in one direction and that the complete structure should be freestanding.
Until 2002, it was thought that paper could only be folded a maximum of seven times. High school student Britney Gallivan dispelled the popular myth by resolving the mathematics and successfully folding a single roll of toilet paper twelve times in a record-breaking feat. For more folding fun, check out the physics of crumpled wrapping paper or watch self-folding micro-origami.

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