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Origami and rocket science aren't all that different. Just ask Robert Lang, who traded his physics career — he even worked for NASA — to fold paper full time.

But Lang's use of the Japanese art form goes far beyond paper cranes, boats and hats. He uses math and engineering principles to fold complex and elegant designs that are beautiful and useful.

"When you get math involved, problems that you solve for aesthetic value only ... turn out to have an application in the real world," Lang said during his 2008 TedTalk. "As weird and surprising as it may sound, origami may someday even save a life."

The California physicist and origami artist will be at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum July 19 to teach two folding workshops. Origami in the Garden, the Arboretum's summer outdoor exhibit of monumental metal origami shapes, is partly based on Lang's work, as is an indoor display of origami-related art.

Lang has achieved global renown for his scientific approach to the art. Folds that were once thought impossible are now being used to develop air bag technologies, optic lens technologies and solar sails for satellites in space.

Duogami paper sculpture folded by Robert J. Lang in collaboration with sculptor Kevin Box.
Duogami paper sculpture folded by Robert J. Lang in collaboration with sculptor Kevin Box.

Tom Horgen, Star Tribune

Despite Lang's success using paper to explore science, he still uses origami to create ... origami. Using one, uncut sheet of paper, Lang can create a grizzly bear with toes and claws, a rattlesnake with 1,500 scales, and an American flag with 50 stars.

"I find that every origami activity I do, whether primarily artistic, or primarily technological, is a mixture of art and science," Lang told the Arboretum. "Sometimes it's more art; sometimes it's more technological; but there's always some of both."

If you go
When: July 19. Workshops at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Where: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Dr., Chaska