Scientists and engineers are finding practical applications for the Japanese art form in space, medicine, robotics, architecture and more

One of Brigham Young University engineering professor Larry Howell’s initial origami projects was a solar array that compacted to 9 feet during launch, but deployed to 82 feet across in space to generate power. (Larry Howell)

When Anton Willis moved into his San Francisco apartment, he had a space problem: no room for his beloved kayak. He’d grown up paddling the Pacific and local waters in Mendocino County. Retrieving it from storage was an inconvenience he was determined to solve.

He found inspiration in a 2007 New Yorker story about Robert Lang, a NASA physicist who had become a full-time origami artist in 2001. Lang applied his math background to transport the art of folding into new frontiers, creating pieces never before possible. He was beginning to explore practical possibilities like containers, medical implants and air bags.