Lecture: Robert J. Lang

University of California, Berkeley

Friday, March 15, 12 pm in 310 Jacobs Hall

Robert J. Lang


From Flapping Birds to Space Telescopes: The Art and Science of Origami”

The last decade of this past century has been witness to a revolution in the development and application of mathematical techniques to origami, the centuries-old Japanese art of paper-folding. The techniques used in mathematical origami design range from the abstruse to the highly approachable. In this talk, I will describe how geometric concepts led to the solution of a broad class of origami folding problems – specifically, the problem of efficiently folding a shape with an arbitrary number and arrangement of flaps, and along the way, enabled origami designs of mind-blowing complexity and realism, some of which you’ll see, too. As often happens in mathematics, theory originally developed for its own sake has led to some surprising practical applications. The algorithms and theorems of origami design have shed light on long-standing mathematical questions and have solved practical engineering problems. I will discuss examples of how origami has enabled safer airbags, Brobdingnagian space telescopes, and more.

Robert J. Lang has been an avid student of origami for over fifty years and is now recognized as one of the world’s leading masters of the art, with over 700 designs catalogued and diagrammed. He is noted for designs of great detail and realism, and includes in his repertoire some of the most complex origami designs ever created. His work combines aspects of the Western school of mathematical origami design with the Eastern emphasis upon line and form to yield models that are at once distinctive, elegant, and challenging to fold. They have been shown in exhibitions in New York (Museum of Modern Art), Paris (Carrousel du Louvre), Salem (Peabody Essex Museum), San Diego (Mingei Museum of World Folk Art), and Kaga, Japan (Nippon Museum Of Origami), among others.

In 1992 Dr. Lang became the first Westerner ever invited to address the Nippon Origami Association’s annual meeting; he has since been an invited guest at international origami conventions around the world. He lectures widely on origami and its connections to mathematics, science, and technology, and teaches workshops on both artistic techniques and applications of folding in industrial design.

Dr. Lang is one of the pioneers of the cross-disciplinary marriage of origami with mathematics; he has been one of the few Western columnists for Origami Tanteidan Magazine, the journal of the Japan Origami Academic Society, and has presented refereed and invited technical papers on origami-math at mathematical and computer science professional meetings. He has consulted on applications of origami to engineering problems ranging from air-bag design to expandable space telescopes. He is the author or co-author of twenty-one books and numerous articles on origami art and design and in 2011 was elected an Honorary Member of the British Origami Society.

Dr. Lang was born in Ohio and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Along the way to his current career as a full-time origami artist and consultant he worked as a a physicist, engineer, and R&D manager, during which time he authored or co-authored over 80 technical publications and 50 patents awarded on semiconductor lasers, optics, and integrated optoelectronics. He is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America, a member and past Vice-President of the IEEE Photonics Society, and from 2007–2010 was the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics. In 2009, he received Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award and in 2013, he was chosen as one of the inaugural Fellows of the American Mathematical Society.