Folding polyhedra and a novel connection between folding a tetrahedron and a 2D result.

So I’ve been folding a lot of polyhedrons out of paper this past week. Like a lot… But since the types of interesting polyhedrons I have left to built take a bit too long to construct adn I already wasted enough time folding the (small) stellated dodecahedron.


Instead I’m rather reviewing the ‘legitimacy’ of the folding schemes and figure out what relations actually govern weather something fits together or not. The prototypical example is the tetrahedron, the polyhedron with the fewest number of faces. The explicit construction of the regular tetrahedron (all sides equilateral triangles) is easy to show directly and is found in the elements and elsewhere but you can fold generic tetrahedrons by just making 4 triangles such that every triangles has common sides with the other triangles in a natural way. Made from one piece they are then flded together to form a possibly irregular tetrahedron. foldingapyramid

Empirically and intuitively this basically defines natural, a result in no need of further explanation. Nevertheless mathematically it almost seems coincidental. Just because two face can be glued pairwise doesn’t immediately mean all the faces should fit together collectively even though it’s about as natural a thing to postulate as the equality of the two base angles in an isosceles triangle.

The novel thing is that you can turn this 3 dimensional problem into a 2 dimensional one and use the vast machinery available to you in that space. You can note that folding an individual side is equivalent to rotating it about it’s common side with the bottom triangle where the it’s outer corner traces out a circle lying in a plane parallel to the altitude of the triangle and perpendicular to the common side.

rotatingtrianglesinpyramidIf the three faces are to come together their corresponding circles must intersect at a single point which means 1. the planes of rotation intersect along a common line (which is perpendicular to the plane and forms the height of the tetrahedron and 2. with the altitudes of the faces and satisfying relations to guarantee a consistent height.

Especially 1. is interesting because it forms a more ‘physical explanation’ for why dropping and extending altitudes in the original net intersect at a common point which can be taken as a purely classical 2 dimensional geometric result.

pyramidtriangletheoremThe thing I find neat is that this result seems kind of arbitrary in 2D but as part as a 3-dimensional picture it makes perfect sense.

I’ll have to see what’s the best way of extending this to folding schemes with a general polygonal base.


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