A pioneering origami artist is in Blacksburg to teach and discuss how art and science fold together.
Dr. Robert Lang was invited to be the featured banquet speaker for the 2012 International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s World Polymer Congress, hosted on the Virginia Tech Campus, which started on June 24.
While in town, Lang is also leading an origami workshop for Virginia Tech’s Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology on Friday, June 29.
Lang’s interest in origami sparked when he was six-years-old. He followed folding instructions from books to learn the craft. As he got older, he met and learned from other origami artists. From there, he began developing his own techniques based on ideas from the books and crafters.
Though he was passionate about his art, Lang said that the idea of being a full-time origami artist was unusual, so he assumed it would just be a hobby.
Lang said he enjoyed math and science, which inspired him to pursue an education in these fields. Eventually he received his Ph.D. in applied physics from Caltech. He soon realized how both his art and scientific studies coincided.
“Some of the things I learned along the way of a scientific career turned out to be really beneficial for the artistic development,” he said. “In particular, in science, math, and engineering we learn to try to describe a phenomenon in a mathematical way, and if we succeed in developing that description, then we can use the techniques of math to learn a lot more.”
Once Lang recognized the overlap between his hobby and educational theories, he utilized the blend between art and science to develop his artistic abilities even further.
“It seemed to me that we could use the same approaches in my art, because origami seemed to be governed by mathematical principles,” he said. “If I could learn what those principles were, then I could use the tool kit that I developed in my engineering and science education to accomplish my artistic goals.”
His understanding of how art and science are combined has bolted him into a career of more than just folding paper.
Lang leads origami workshops, attends international origami conventions, is an acclaimed author, offers science and engineering lectures and also uses his research for technological solutions.
“Both the origami and the science turned out to be necessary to get me on the path I am today,” he said.
His path has brought him to Virginia Tech as the banquet speaker for the World Polymer Congress, a prestigious international conference where scientists and engineers collaborate to address and research modern issues.
Dr. Timothy Long, Virginia Tech professor and the chair of the regional organizational committee for the World Polymer Congress, said Dr. Lang was invited because he is specialized in a field that showcases how art and science can be used together.
“There’s a big effort to try to show the interconnectivity of art and science,” Long said. “That relationship is not so obvious to most people, but when you think about folding a piece of paper, it’s just like folding a molecule.”
Long also said that bridging the scientific and artistic communities is the secret to future success and innovation.
“I think we need to start establishing forums for discussing science and art and keeping those communities engaged,” he said.
Dr. Lang’s speech will be during the banquet at the Inn at Virginia Tech, Thursday night. Dr. Long said there will be pre-made origami pieces at each table to highlight the craft being discussed.
Long said that the topic is engaging, fun and modern. He said it is unusual for an American to be a full time origami artist. However, he is also a scientist, and it shows how science and art are not exclusive and often have similarities.