How Many Times Can You Fold a Piece Of Paper

Based on a common misconception, a piece of paper cannot be folded more than seven times, or eight times at the most. However, this does not hold true. Now, that might be the case if you use a piece of paper torn from a notebook but the concept takes a whole new turn if you use a piece of paper the size of a football field. And that’s what was experimented with by Mythbusters. Using a piece of paper of a football field’s size, a forklift, and a roller, they were able to fold it eleven times. The twelfth fold wasn’t achievable but even if it did, it would resemble a semi-circle and not a fold. 

How Many Times Can You Fold a Piece of Paper with No Help?

Suppose, you tear out a paper from a notebook to fold it in half as many times as you can. If you’re physically fit with normal strength, you’ll be able to fold the piece of paper up to five times easily. Folding it the sixth time will require extra effort. However, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to fold it seven times or more without any extra help. 

7-Fold Concept is a Myth

The concept that a piece of paper can be folded only up to seven times has been proven wrong in many places all over the world. The difference between 7-fold believers and the people who proved it wrong is that the latter used a lot of paper and quite a few people were involved in the experiment. 

In January 2000, a woman from California, Britney Gallivan was determined to prove this concept wrong. So she took a piece of paper (toilet paper) which was 4000 feet long and she folded it twelve times! Not only did she demonstrate this, but she also came up with an equation for folding a piece of paper in a single direction.

Paper folding theorem

Where L is the length of the paper to be folded in a single direction, t is the thickness of the material, and n is the number of folds.

According to her Paper Folding Theory, if you fold a piece of paper (in this case toilet paper), it will need four times more paper to reach a dozen. Her goal was to reach twelve folds therefore she used 4000 feet of very thin paper. The smaller the piece of paper gets with each fold, the fewer times it can be folded. So as the folding continues, the paper gets smaller and thicker thereby, leaving a fewer number of folds to happen. 

To put it simply, 2^n with 3 folds is easy as it’s 2x2x2=8 pieces of paper. But as you increase the number of folds, the pieces of paper increase as well. For example, if you fold it 7 times, it’s 2x2x2x2x2x2x2=128 pieces of paper, and so on. Therefore, the thickness of the piece of paper will grow exponentially if the number of folds is continued. 

Britney Gallivan’s Followers 

After the successful experiment, many other people have been trying to prove the 7-fold theory wrong as well. A group of students from St. Mark’s School got a lot of coverage when they broke the barrier of 7 folds too. They folded a 10-mile long toilet paper thirteen times, and it took them seven hours!

Why Is It So Difficult to Fold a Piece of Paper Multiple Times?

The difficulty of folding a piece of paper multiple times lies in the fact that as the thickness of the paper keeps increasing so does the strength of the paper itself. When the paper is being folded in half the width of the paper decreases while the height of the paper increases. This doesn’t leave much width of the paper due to a decrease in surface area so you’d need to apply force on the paper to prevent the paper from being unfolded. 

According to a theory, if a piece of paper is folded more than 100 times, the thickness would be more than the observable universe. This in itself should give you an idea of why it is so difficult to fold a piece of paper because the thickness grows exponentially while increasing the strength of the paper!

Theoretical Possibility of Folding a Piece Of Paper  

Just to have an idea of how a folded pile of paper can grow exponentially let’s look at the following figures. 

  • Folding a paper 23 times will help you reach 3,280 feet. 
  • At 30 folds, you’ll reach 100 km (outer space)
  • Crossing 40 folds, you’ll reach the moon 
  • Over 50 folds will get you to the sun 
  • Above 80 folds mean you’ll be 141,000 light-years away
  • Add 10 more folds and at 90 folds you’ll reach 130 million light-years
  • And finally, 103 folds gets outside the observable universe which is 92 billion light-years (in diameter)

While this is just a theory, many people around the world continue to try and see how many times they can fold a piece of paper, especially after Britney Gallivan’s experiment. But at the end of the day, this experiment requires so much paper, effort, and time! How many trees must be sacrificed to accomplish people’s Paper Folding experiment? Guess we’ll never find out.

Conclusion

What we can conclude from this article is that the number of times a piece of paper can be folded depends on the size of the paper. While an A4 sized paper cannot be folded more than 7 times, a long piece of paper such as a few meters of toilet paper can indeed be folded more than 7 times. With that being said, go ahead and test out this theory if you want to find out how many times you can fold a piece of paper by yourself!  

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