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Origami and engineers: SciFest speakers show interconnectedness of art and science

Physicist and origami expert Robert J. Lang leads an open class as the kickoff for Randolph’s Science Festival Thursday

Physicist and origami expert Robert J. Lang leads an open class as the kickoff for Randolph’s Science Festival Thursday

As Robert J. Lang clicked through a slideshow featuring his most impressive creations, the students in the audience gasped in amazement. His origami works include everything from a 500-micron bird that’s so small it can only be seen through a microscope, to a more than 20-foot-tall Hero’s Horse monument shaped like a Pegasus in Irving, Texas.

Lang conducted an open class and a keynote lecture as the kickoff for Randolph’s Science Festival Thursday. During his presentations, Lang explained that origami is not just limited to paper folding. Although many of his creations are made by hand using a single fold of uncut paper, others are made of wood and even bronze and steel, which are fabricated using a laser cutter.

At his keynote lecture Thursday evening, Lang described how geometric concepts led to the solution of a broad class of origami folding problems. Algorithms and theorems of origami design, he said, have shed light on long-standing mathematical questions and have solved practical engineering problems. For example, origami has helped in the creation of safer airbags, Brobdingnagian space telescopes, and more.

A physicist, Lang has also been an avid student of origami for more than 50 years and is recognized as one of the world’s leading masters of the art, with over 700 designs catalogued and diagrammed.

Lang’s presentations were just one part of Randolph’s multi-day Science Festival. On Friday afternoon, three of the College’s alumnae shared their experiences with successful careers in the sciences. The featured speakers were Jessica Sidebottom Jones ’17, a medical scribe at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital; Danielle Stone ’17, an engineer for BWX Technologies, Inc.; and Laura Williams ’92, senior environmental analyst for Katten Muchin & Rosenman LLP.

As a medical scribe, Jones works closely with ER physicians to document patient symptoms and history of present illness. She also keeps track of patient lab work and imaging results and “trends” any critical lab values that pop up to determine the patient’s baseline. While working in the ER, Jones has logged over 4,000 hours of patient experience and plans to apply to PA school this spring.

Jessica Sidebottom Jones ’17, Danielle Stone ’17, and Laura Williams spoke during the Women in Science Panel Friday

Jessica Sidebottom Jones ’17, Danielle Stone ’17, and Laura Williams spoke during the Women in Science Panel Friday

At BWXT, Stone is a lower-tier development engineer and is responsible for developing test procedures for quality control issues, comparing instructions and operating procedures to applicable technical requirements, and revising outlines and work instructions for future production. Stone completed Randolph’s duel-degree program, earning both an engineering physics degree from Randolph and a mechanical engineering degree from Washington University. She is also a member of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers and the American Physical Society.

As a senior environmental project analyst with the law firm of Katten Muchin & Rosenman LLP, Williams assists attorneys with environmental expertise on civil and criminal cases for corporate clients. She is currently part of a court-appointed monitor team charged with assessing the environmental compliance of a major cruise line as part of its federal criminal probation. She began her career with the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, and has worked with various law firms over the past 20 years. In addition to her bachelor’s degree in biology from R-MWC, she earned a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University of Virginia.

The Science Festival continues this weekend with even more free activities for all ages! See the full schedule at


The Science Festival is a series of free events during March that allow the community to discover and celebrate the beauty of science and its connection to many aspects of life. The program, which has something for all ages, has grown significantly since it began in 2009, and continues to add new attractions each year.

The Randolph College Science Festival evolved from the popular Science Day, a free program offered to children in grades 3-6, which began in 2005. The popularity of the one-day Science Day, which routinely fills its registration early, led to the creation of an even bigger festival that would allow Randolph to share the beauty, fun, and relevance of science to all ages. The event has now grown to encompass multiple days. Led by the Randolph College Society of Physics Students, the Science Festival features one of the largest groups of student, faculty, and staff volunteers on campus.

More information is available at

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