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Physicist Uses Math To Make The World’s Most Complex Origami

Robert Lang applies a healthy dose of tech and math to origami to create some next-level designs.
June 25, 2014, 7:15pm

It is said that folding 1000 paper cranes can grant a wish, but what happens if they’re each just 500 microns big? This is a question for ex-NASA laser scientist Robert Lang, a man who left the space community behind and is now bringing the ancient art of paper folding to the next level. Or, possibly, the next five levels.

Using computer-powered calculations, Lang has designed origami sculptures no humans could possibly create with bare hands. He's made the smallest origami sculpture in the world, and even applied his craft to a space project involving compacted solar panels that unfolded once on an orbital satellite. His work with nano-sculpting reminds us of Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho's project where they etched micro drawings on single grains of sand. Or, Jun Mitani's incredible origami work.


His work is on display at museums the world over, including a 14-foot long origami pteranodon, his largest piece. Many of his projects, including a praying mantis, humming bird, and owl (all meticulously crafted and stunning in their own right) are composed of a single sheet of paper, folded dozens—or sometimes hundreds—of times through the aid of technology.

Lang models his more difficult project in an origami design program called Treemaker, which he’s been building since 1990. A computer can hold many more folding patterns in its databanks than any human, allowing a designer to explore theories and hunches without wasting hours of folding time—and many trees worth of paper—along the way. The precision of his technological assistant empowers Lang to unlock the stunning, lifelike designs that have made him famous.

Lang’s fusion of technology and origami to technology could feasibly be applied to any creative realm he sets his sights on—be it space exploration, architecture, or any other field. Ancient Japanese swordsmiths used to apply folding techniques similar to origami to create the ultra-strong yet flexible weaponry that earned the Empire of the Rising Sun dominance over the Japanese Isles for centuries. Hopefully Lang’s future work will involve more peaceful disciplines, but it will undoubtedly be just as extraordinary.

For more on Lang, visit his website here.

Images via h/t FastCo


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