Former NASA laser physicist Robert J. Lang combines maths and computing to create seemingly impossible origami designs. He has written 13 books on the subject, is an Honorary Member of the British Origami Society, and most recently made a folded sculpture of a flying Pteranodon with a 4.2-metre wingspan.
The physicist has been studying the intersection of origami, mathematics and science for more than 40 years to create his artwork. On his website, he explains that the intersections can be grouped into three categories:
• Origami mathematics, which includes the maths that describes the underlying laws of origami.
• Computational origami, which comprises algorithms and theory devoted to the solution of origami problems by mathematical means.
• Origami technology, which is the application of origami (and folding in general) to the solution of problems arising in engineering, industrial design, and technology at large.
Using these principles, the physicist has created more than 500 original origami compositions using different types of paper. Some of his designs have also been cast in bronze.
Lang, who according Fast Company’s Susan Karlin, started folding origami figures when he was six years of age, is also responsible for the world’s smallest origami sculpture.
.Lang and a team of science and maths professors from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Cornell University and Western New England University, all in the US, created a self-folding polymer that has the thickness of five human hairs and can only be seen through a microscope. The world’s smallest origami sculpture, which was developed last year through a US$2 million National Science Foundation-funded collaboration, is one of the first steps to create self-folding structures that can construct themselves in space, explained Karlin.
Watch how the 500-micron bird folds itself in this video:
Following the basic rule of origami—one sheet, no cuts—Lang has also applied his art to solve engineering problems and helped design air-bags and expandable space telescopes.