Students and faculty may have been surprised on their way into physicist Robert Lang’s lecture Monday. They weren’t handed sheets with equations or complex physics laws that he discovered. Instead, they were given pieces of paper with dotted lines on them.
Lang has an unusual hobby: origami. More specifically, Lang is concerned with the science of origami. Over the course of his hour-long lecture, he convinced the audience that origami is not just a coffee-break puzzle for high-brow academics, but rather a field that the scientific community should take seriously.
Lang started the lecture by giving a brief history of origami. He discussed its initial functionality as an art form in Chinese and Japanese cultures and its subsequent move into the global mainstream. Although origami as art has been in the Western world for years, its popularity soared only after it captured the attention of scientists and mathematicians in the ’70s and ’80s.
Today, origami is used in everything from car commercials to industrial design. As an example, Lang played a Mitsubishi commercial that used origami designs exclusively. The commercial featured a car speeding through forests and suburban street as a dragon was chasing it. Lang himself was responsible for both the design and the actual folding of the origami featured in the commercial.
Lang then explained the actual folding process, claiming that any 3-D shape can be made using a set of origami “moves.” In the construction of distinct origami points, for example, the 2-D folding pattern takes the shape of a circle. By folding through the center point of the circle, the shape becomes increasingly narrow; the user can then fold it in half until they reach the desired width. By using this technique, the user can create end-points to an origami piece, such as insect legs or moose antlers. Lang brought these procedures to life by showing origami animals he had constructed.
Origami has practical applications, as well. Since high-end car companies like Mercedes-Benz can’t afford to continually crash cars for safety tests, they developed airbag simulation programs. Lang has worked on these programs, simulating the transition of a folded airbag to a fully expanded one using origami. “Origami can save lives,” he said.
Students left Monday’s lecture with more than just a stack of folded paper; they left with an understanding of origami’s importance in everyday life.