When Engineering and Origami get together

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The Japanese art of paper folding brings together the disciplines of art and mathematics, as this former NASA scientist explains.

Scientist Robert Lang quit his job in 2001 to see if he could make a living from origami, the Japanese art of paper folding.

Although he studied science and engineering at college, Lang has loved origami all his life.

The art of the fold

During his career, Lang worked at NASA researching lasers.  However, his childhood love of origami never left him.  He says, “The whole time I was developing designs and writing books.”

The relationship between his career and his hobby is symbiotic; each informing the other.

Lang says if an engineer is designing anything that needs to open and close in a controlled way, they can make use of the folding patterns of origami.  He states, “once you understand how paper folds, you can apply the patterns to very different things.”

He has used his understanding of paper folding to develop folding patterns for circles to create items that will fit into the cylindrical body of a rocket and he has used other origami techniques to create a folding airbag for a car.

At the same time, his maths and engineering background has helped him to realize ever-more ambitious origami designs.

The equations behind his art

Lang says his understanding of maths has enabled his work as an artist.  He says, “It’s like dancing with a partner whose moves I know.”

His origami designs are very complex and can include hundreds of steps.  He is able to develop and solve equations on paper before creating his patterns.

He can then turn to origami to produce his designs and, he says, “more often than not it is beautiful.”

Check out here Lang’s Ted talk about the magic of math and origami

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