Why a physicist dropped everything for paper folding

Susan Orlean in The New Yorker:

DragonorigamiOne of the few Americans to see action during the Bug Wars of the nineteen-nineties was Robert J. Lang, a lanky Californian who was on the front lines throughout, from the battle of the Kabutomushi Beetle to the battle of the Menacing Mantis and the battle of the Long-Legged Wasp. Most combatants in the Bug Wars—which were, in fact, origami contests—were members of the Origami Detectives, a group of artists in Japan who liked to try outdoing one another with extreme designs of assigned subjects. They engaged in the Bug Wars after one of the Detectives displayed what the group’s Web site calls “an incredible secret weapon”—a horned beetle with outspread wings, which he had folded from a single sheet of paper. “Then the origami insect war got full-scale,” the English translation of the Web site continues. “They compared their confident models with others at their monthly meetings, and losers left with chagrin.” During the Bug Wars, Lang was not yet a professional origami artist; he was a research scientist at Spectra Diode Labs, in San Jose, who did some paper folding on the side. He was busy at work—in 1993, the year of the Menacing Mantis, for instance, he patented a self-collimated resonator laser and worked on fibre-optic networks for space satellites—so he usually wasn’t able to travel to Japan to hand-deliver his bug of the month. Instead, he would e-mail his design to an ally in Tokyo, who would fold it and present it to the Detectives on Lang’s behalf.

More here.

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