Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Physical Review Letter on Breaking Spaghetti Leads to 2006 Ig Noble Award

By Aussiegirl

If you scroll down, you'll find this post on the 2006 Ig Nobel prizes. Here's an article on one particular prize, the solution to a puzzle we've all encountered while idly waiting for the spaghetti to cook: why does a piece of spaghetti almost always break into more than two pieces? Even the great Richard Feynman puzzled over this, so it can't be that trivial.
Here's another article on this problem, with a link at the end to a 5-page technical paper complete with forbidding mathematics.
In all modesty I must admit that my spaghetti and meatballs are nothing short of divine!

Physical Review Letter on Breaking Spaghetti Leads to 2006 Ig Noble Award

Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie earned the infamous 2006 Ig Noble prize for physics for their insights into why dry spaghetti often breaks into more than two pieces when it is bent. Fragmentation of Rods by Cascading Cracks: Why Spaghetti Does Not Break in Half was published in the American Physical Society journal Physical Review Letters in August of 2005.

Pasta-eaters and scientists alike have been puzzled by the physics of breaking spaghetti. Even Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman pondered the question. In order to solve the mystery Audoly and Neukirch experimented with several different thicknesses of dry spaghetti, which they clamped at one end, then bent and suddenly released, causing the strand to break.

According to their analysis, after release, the rod's curvature initially increases near the just-released end. Then a wave travels along the pasta. The first break occurs somewhere along the rod when the curvature exceeds a critical limit. The shock of the initial break then causes more bending waves to travel along the two newly formed pieces of the spaghetti, where they locally increase the curvature further and cause more breaks, leading to a cascade of cracks.

"I don't really follow kitchen science," says APS Public Outreach Specialist Kendra Rand, "but I'm sure it's great relief to kitchen physicists everywhere that Audoly and Neukirch have put this nagging issue to rest, and earned a prize for their efforts. Although, they might have preferred a nice thank you card or something."

While the subject may at first seem a bit frivolous for the pages of a prestigious journal such as Physical Review Letters, it provides important information about the failure of any long, brittle structure. Bridge spans, buildings, vehicle parts, and human bones may fracture into multiple segments under some circumstances. Thanks to a study of pasta, Audoly and Neukirch have given us added understanding about why things break the way they do.


At 11:40 AM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Some of the greatest ideas have come from pondering what to others would seem trivial; everybody remembers Newton`s revelation while watching an apple fall (that the apple fell for the same reason the moon doesn`t float away). The bubble chamber (used to study radioactivity) was invented by a guy sitting in a bar watching bubbles rise in his beer. Archimedes was taking a bath when he realized that density could be used to determine the composition of something (he noticed the water rise when he got in, and jumped out buck naked and ran down the streets of Thebes screaming ``Eureka! Eureka! I found it! I found it!)

Science is, after all, about understanding the world around us, and the little things are often the most profound when all is said and done. Another example; Robert Brown noticed that tiny organisms moved around frantically on his microscope slide-giving Einstein his direct evidence for the existence of atoms.

Interesting post, Aussiegirl!


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