Why can’t you fold a piece of paper more than seven times?

BY Marshall Brain / POSTED July 23, 2009
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You Asked:
Why can’t you fold a piece of paper more than seven times? — Irena, Cary, NC

Marshall Brain Answered:

If you have a normal sheet of notebook paper and you try to fold it in half multiple times, you probably cannot get it to fold more than 6 times. Maybe 7 if you are really strong. That maximum limit is caused by two things:

1) The number of layers of paper doubles with each fold. So you start with a single layer, then you have two layers, then four, then eight, then 16, then 32, then 64 layers after six folds. Maybe if you are very strong, and you use a pair of pliers, you can get to seven folds and 128 layers, but it probably won’t be pretty.

2) At that point the sheet of paper is so small, and the number of layers so large relative to the small size, and the distortion caused by the folds so great, that there is no way to fold it again. You can’t apply enough leverage, and the fibers of the paper do not have enough flexibility for another fold.

But what if you used a much larger piece of paper, so that you can diminish the effects of fold distortion and paper fiber flexibility? If you use a big enough sheet of paper, you can get to 11 folds, or 2,048 layers, before you reach the limitations of folding. See this video for a demonstration:

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