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Jeannine Mosely, SM ’79, EE ’80, PhD ’84

The connective power of origami

Science and art come together in compelling ways for Jeannine Mosely. A software engineer at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, she contributed to the development of cell-phone technology as a graduate student at MIT and has made a mark as a master of origami.

Jeannine Mosely, SM ’79, EE ’80, PhD ’84

When she talks about the ancient art of folded paper, which her mother introduced her to at age five, it becomes clear that it shares a creative root with programming: the ability to find inspiration in a blank page.

Mosely earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by graduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. After MIT she began to work with the powerful new tools of computer-­aided design at Cambridge-based ICAD.

Meanwhile, she realized that business cards were an interesting shape for use in origami and began using them to build cubes. Watching her seven-year-old son Simon stack those cubes inspired her to create a stable and expandable structure: an illustration of a Menger sponge, a mathematical fractal formed by endlessly dividing each face of a cube into nine squares and removing the resulting smaller cube in the middle of each face and the center of the original cube.

A level-one Menger sponge is made of 20 cubes. Level two encompasses 20 times 20 cubes, and so on. Mosely completed a level-three sponge with 66,000 business cards over the course of 11 years, with help from about 200 volunteers.

“We had to get all new business cards after ICAD moved to Burlington, so I was able to get my hands on thousands of unneeded cards,” she says with a laugh.

Her creation inspired a successful effort to create a level-four mega–Menger sponge last year, involving 20 sites worldwide.

Other projects include a model of Union Station in Worcester, Massachusetts. Executed with 60,000 business cards, it was built with the help of hundreds of schoolchildren and displayed at the city’s 2009 First Night celebration. Her work inspired sculptor Kevin Box to cast a folded piece built of repurposed egg cartons (she invented what she calls “or-egg-ami”) in bronze and gold. Titled Waxing Gibbous, it was completed in 2012.

She remains connected to MIT, in part through the campus group OrigaMIT. She and her husband, Allan Wechsler, live in Belmont, where they raised their children, Simon and Martha.