From Flapping Birds to Space Telescopes: The Art and Science of Origami

This is an Archive of a Past Event

The last decade of the 20th century witnessed a revolution in the application of mathematical techniques to origami, the centuries-old Japanese art of paper folding. In this lecture-demonstration, Robert Lang, who is recognized as one of the foremost origami artists in the world, will describe how geometric concepts led to the solution of a broad class of origami folding problems—specifically, the problem of efficiently folding a shape with an arbitrary number and arrangement of flaps—and along the way, enabled origami designs of mind-blowing complexity and realism, some of which he will share. The algorithms and theorems of origami design have both shed light on long-standing mathematical questions and solved practical engineering problems, leading, for example, to safer airbags, Brobdingnagian space telescopes, and more.

Robert J. Lang, Physicist; Artist

Robert J. Lang is recognized as a pioneer in computational origami and the development of formal design algorithms for folding. During the course of his work at NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Spectra Diode Laboratories, and JDS Uniphase, he authored or co-authored more than one hundred papers and fifty patents for lasers and optoelectronics, as well as fourteen books and a CD-ROM on origami. He is a full-time artist and consultant on origami and its applications to engineering problems, but keeps his toes in the world of lasers, and was elected an Inaugural Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. He received a PhD in applied physics from Caltech.

(Image courtesy of Robert J. Lang,