Physicist's hyperrealistic origami art bridges nature, math and science (Video)

Robert Lang
© Robert Lang

Origami -- the traditional art of paper folding that is probably as old as paper itself -- seems like a child's game. Indeed, the stories we've heard about paper cranes seem more suited to kids than scientists. But American physicist and master origami artist Robert Lang will insist that origami is more than it seems -- and Lang's own intricate, folded paper creations, many of them realistic-looking facsimiles of nature -- demonstrate that origami principles are now influencing mathematics, architecture, design and engineered in an unprecedented way. Watch him explain:

Lang has had an aptitude for math since he was a child. As a youngster, he found first-grade math too easy, so his teacher gave him a book on origami, which introduced him to an art that he is still hooked on today. He has worked as a physicist at California Institute of Technology, and has been awarded dozens of patents on semiconductor lasers, optics, and integrated optoelectronics.

But Lang's passion is clearly for origami. He has folded hundreds of compositions, some so complex that they include details like toes and scales, while others are large enough to have been exhibited in museums.

© Robert Lang
© Robert Lang
© Robert Lang

What is truly remarkable about Lang's origami works is that they are folded from one piece of paper, no cuts and no glue. To aid his exploration of origami forms, Lang has developed a free origami computational software called TreeMaker (downloadable from his site) which allows users to generate the crease patterns for a desired shape. These crease patterns are lovely to look at too, and t's pretty neat to think that these full-fledged forms are created from a single piece of paper.

© Robert Lang

Beyond these recognizable animal forms, Lang has also folded polypolyhedra, and approaches origami from a purely theoretical stance, writing about the implications of angle quintisections and Huzita-Justin axioms in origami -- proving that there is way more to modern origami than folding paper cranes.

© Robert Lang

As Lang notes, there's "origami mathematics, computational origami and origami engineering," but:

These divisions are a bit arbitrary, of course; one genre blends into another. Origami math defines the "ground rules" for computational origami's goal of solving origami design problems (and quantifying their difficulty). The results of computational origami, in turn, can be (and have been) pressed into service to solve technological problems ranging from consumer products to the space program.

© Robert Lang
© Robert Lang
© Robert Lang

It's an eye-opening view into how something as simple as folded paper could potentially solve the major design problems of our day -- which we've seen in furniture, fashion, electronics, robotics and more. Origami seems too simple to be important, but pioneers like Lang are helping to bring it into unexpected and exciting applications. To read more, visit Robert Lang's website.

Tags: Artists | Arts | TED

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