Engineer Robert J. Lang has been interested in origami for a long time. "What first got me as a kid was just the idea that you can create all these different shapes from such a simple starting material—an uncut sheet of paper," Lang says. Now, Lang is at the forefront of efforts to use the mathematics and algorithms underlying origami in applications from air-bag folding to circuit-board design.
A recent episode of the syndicated TV series Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science (DBIS) focused on Lang's intricate origami creations and the value of algorithms used to construct such structures. "Science, technology, space, automotive, medicine—all these different fields have benefited from origami," Lang notes in the video.
Lang is thrilled that this traditional art can be effective in both education and invention. "There has been some testing that shows that after students have done origami, that they have a higher appreciation or understanding of various mathematical geometric concepts," he says.
As for invention, "an algorithm that origami artists had come up with for the design of insects was the right algorithm to give the creases for flattening an airbag," Lang says. "So that has now been adopted into airbag simulation code, and presumably automotive engineers are using those codes now to design airbags."
The applications of origami math are, in fact, still unfolding.
The MAA and the American Mathematical Society contributed to this report, which the American Institute of Physics produced. The DBIS project delivers twelve 90-second segments each month for showing on local TV stations across the country