David A. Huffman is best known for his work in computer science, particularly the loss-less compression method he developed while a graduate student at MIT. In the paperfolding and origami community he is also well known for his pioneering work with curved crease paperfolding. Paperfolding is closely related to origami—both involve folding paper or other similar substrates to create 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional forms. Origami is used to refer to the Japanese tradition of paperfolding which emphasis figurative while paperfolding is used to refer to the Western tradition, which is more abstract and practical. Huffman never used the term origami to describe his work, he instead always used paperfolding.
The driving force behind Huffman’s paperfolding was his interest in the limits of the medium and understanding the mathematics of those limits. He began with exploring flat folded models which begin as a flat sheet of paper and when completed lay flat. He later became interested in better understanding the mathematics of folding a curve, something still not well understood today.
Huffman published very little of his work on paperfolding, but through the study of his models, scholars are better understanding the advances he made. MIT professor Dr. Erik Demaine has studied and published on Huffman’s work. His work on understanding the algorithms of geometric folding can be used to understand protein folding and robotics. Dr. Robert Lang, who has also studied Huffman’s work, has used his paperfolding experience to advise on topics as diverse as how to store an airbag so it deploys properly and how to fit a large telescope in a rocket.
Scope and content:
The David A. Huffman Collection at the MIT Museum consists of 180 finished models, 90 working paper models, 126 flat folded models, and 5 linear feet plus 2 oversized boxes of archival material. The finished models are framed or mounted models made of vinyl, metal or quality paper. Working paper models are those made out of graph paper and/or with visible fold lines. The finished models include 10 paper models, 96 vinyl models and two metal sculptures. Of the 96 models, 60 use curved creases and 46 use straight creases and 13 are framed, 41 are mounted or have a hanger, and 42 are not mounted at all. The working paper models include 9 curved crease models and 81 straight crease models mostly made of graph paper.
Title: David A. Huffman Collection
Major Collection: Science
Creator: David A. Huffman
Extent: 108 finished models, 90 working paper models, 126 flat folded models, 1 note card box, 2 oversized boxes of archival material, and 5 linear feet of archival material
Repository: MIT Museum
Access: Open for research by appointment.
Copyright: Some copyright restrictions may apply
Credit: MIT Museum