This origami (folded paper) model of a maple seed was
developed at the 1997 Salish Workshop on Improving the
Preparation of Science Teachers. The exercise titled
"Maple Copters" was focused on the analysis of the
behavior of maple seeds as a means of assessing the
success of teaching the scientific method to students.
However, my interests in design and technology as a
method and a paradigm to support science, and as topics
worthy of study on their own, led me to develop a
reliable & consistent working model of a maple seed.
Following my personal goals of simplicity and elegance,
I wanted to build a model that could be assembled with
the minimum number of tools and supplies, and that would
autorotate reliably. I also wanted a model that could
demonstrate the parameters involved in problems of
aerodynamics, seed dispersal, orbital dynamics, and
color recognition, just a few of the things that I saw
could be taught with a whirling device.
Here are the instructions to make such a model. It is
best built out of Andes® mint wrappers. Their thin foil
holds the shape of the folds. It can also be built using
aluminum foil, origami paper, regular paper (with a
glue stick to ensure that the last fold sticks), or
thin paper. Thick paper doesn't work very well.
Note that all the red lines indicate a "valley" fold,
with the paper on either side of the line folded
For those who want to make one the size of the Andes®
wrappers, but who can't get them, the wrapper measures
55mm wide x 62mm tall.
Grasp the finished model at the broad end of the wing
opposite the weighted "seed" end, and toss it upward
with a flick of the wrist to set it rotating. The model
will spin to the ground. Or, to start it autorotating,
hold it over your head by the broad end, "seed" end up,
and drop it. It should autorotate within two feet.