McKinney student’s origami-centered project wins 1st place at state Science Fair
Photo courtesy of Tina Huynh – Faubion Middle School eighth-grader Carolyn Huynh shows off her first-place project last week at the state Science Fair in San Antonio. Huynh’s project won the junior division’s mathematical sciences category through its display of how math relates to origami.
By Chris Beattie, email@example.com
Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 4:43 PM CDT
Carolyn Huynh is passionate about math and origami. Science, not as much.
Yet, together the former fostered achievement in the latter. Huynh won first place for the mathematical sciences category at last week’s state Science Fair in San Antonio.
And she did it with parabolas and paper folds.
“The purpose was just to show the relationship between math and origami,” said Huynh, an eighth-grader at Faubion Middle School in McKinney. “Not many people know about that.”
Including Huynh until about a year ago. She won a Math Moves You scholarship with her essay about a hobby’s relation to math. Her assumed simple hobby since elementary school: origami.
Paper cranes and blow-up cubes come easy to Huynh, who admits to times folding the creations, bored otherwise. That’s not surprising, given her mastery of the project’s correlated companion. Huynh has skipped two levels in math and takes pre-calculus – a subject often for high school seniors.
“Math has always been my favorite subject, so this all came easily to me,” she said of her project, calculations strewn across a Science Fair presentation board. “I still had to spend a lot of time understanding the proofs and writing it in my own language.”
Making it scientific, in other words. Margaret Parry, her eighth-grade science teacher at Faubion, tasked Science Fair participants with a year of prep time. Her parameters fit Huynh’s idea.
“The only guidance I gave them was what the requirements were, and because this was so in-depth, they needed to pick something they were really passionate about,” said Parry, who accepted Huynh’s award last Friday.
Huynh enhanced last year’s essay idea and researched origami’s mathematical and real-life connections. From a technical side, she discovered its relation to axioms – folds used in the art – and their ability to explain Euclidean postulates, how a line can be formed from any two points. Outlined on her project are diagrams and related explanations for solving cubic equations.
Parry helped her “make it more science,” Huynh said, through organizing the information amidst material lists and proofs – Science Fair musts – and Huynh’s father aided with a few necessary math components like derivatives and parabolic slopes. Algebra, angle trisecting, trigonometry – that was all Huynh.
“Wow,” Parry said of her initial reaction to the project. “Just the complexity and the math formulas, and even the originality. That’s what judges are looking for these days – those original thought patterns, not just a basic cut-and-paste Science Fair project that comes out of a book.”
Huynh’s ingenuity was enough to win first at Faubion, hers the only math project. She got third place at the regional level, where her project went up against school winners from districts around North Texas. In ensuing weeks, she improved and added onto her project, further expanding its scientific look and mathematical nuances.
Last Thursday was state competition, a gathering of hundreds of participants who’d placed in their respective regions. Huynh’s category alone had 20 to 30 participants, she said.
Still, her unique, albeit math-heavy topic proved beneficial for the junior division decision-makers.
“One of my judges was already studying color-folding and stuff that has to do with origami, but he didn’t know you could solve cubic equations,” Huynh said. “So he was really interested in my project idea.”
His co-judges shared his interest and voted the project tops among all middle school participants in the category. Parry texted Huynh’s mother, Tina, once her victory was announced.
Huynh is the first McKinney ISD student to place at the state Science Fair at least since Parry began taking participants five years ago.
“I was shaking like a leaf; it was amazing,” Parry said. “It reiterates the need for having science fair. It’s kind of taken a backseat role in our district, and I still promote it every year.”
Only high school-age participants compete at the national and international levels, Parry said, so Huynh’s run this year is likely over. She’s got plenty of time to think of something new.
Or simply build – rather, fold – more into her origami connection. In her pursuits, she learned of famous origamists who’ve created software to make fold patterns for complex objects. Solar panels and airbags follow a similar foldable concept, techniques necessary for large-scale transport.
Origami really is math – and science – at work.
“I really liked folding origami because it was relaxing and fun,” Huynh said. “Now I have a whole new appreciation for it because of how it’s related to real life.”