Origami isn’t just paper folding anymore.

Practical use of origami is a rising trend. Origami designs have been inspiring designers across many industries, including outdoor gear, medical stents, airbags, and even telescopes. Some believe the opportunities are limitless.

Many in the scientific community have accepted the expanding opportunities that origami can offer. Scientists generally use these techniques to reduce the size of objects that eventually need to open up and become bigger.

Former NASA-physicist-turned-origami-artist Robert Lang developed several techniques that have helped simplify the folding process, including free programming that produces made-to-order folding guides. The code uses a theory called circle packing in order to maximize paper surface area. The more circles in the folding pattern, the more complex a design can be.

Lang says he finds “no end of artistic and intellectual challenge in the world of origami and its accompanying mathematics. Origami scratches all the itches that physics did and much more.”

Lang believes that he is uniquely positioned to apply math to the art form of origami. As a scientist with a background in lasers, Lang currently has 46 patents on optoelectronics in his name. So it was natural for Lang to develop mathematical models to help him create his unique pieces of art. He calls his models “crease patterns.”

Crease patterns are multi-functional: to a designer, they provide a structural representative of any artwork. To the folder, they can provide visual step-by-step directions on where to fold.

As an origami expert, Lang believes looking into the past can solve many present day challenges. For example, Lang’s crease pattering coding was inspired by laws that were developed decades ago by an origami artist named Yoshizawa. Yoshizawa created a language of dots and dashes that help communicate paper-folding patterns. This language can then be transmitted into code, which Lang developed to help translate complex designs.

Lang believes that using math, coding, and art the world will be able to visually translate bigger and more complex designs to solve practical problems, not to mention creating useful products.