The Spaghetti Mystery is finally unleashed!

Mama mia, eat dolmio! (COPYRIGHTS RESERVED)

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Ever noticed the catching moment when you have that box of spaghetti noodles and wish to throw them straight into the boiling pot of water? Well, at least I have.

Next second, you hear a crunch. Visceral adaptation bears your mind. Calmness is the only word you pronounce to yourself. And BAM! You just dropped half of the noodles on to the floor my dividing them into minor pieces unconsciously. “Ha-ha,” says your sister.

But now, let us imagine a different scenario:

You consciously pick a dry noodle and will to bend it until it brakes.  How many fragments did you make? If the answer is three or more, pull out another stick and try again. Can you break the noodle in two? If not, you’re in very good company.


Origins go first

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Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

It all started from a American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics named as Richard Feynman.

The spaghetti challenge has flummoxed even the likes of famed physicist Richard Feynman ’39, who once spent a good portion of an evening breaking pasta and looking for a theoretical explanation for why the sticks refused to snap in two.

Feynman’s kitchen experiment remained unresolved until 2005, when physicists from France pieced together a theory to describe the forces at work when spaghetti — and any long, thin rod — is bent.

They found that when a stick is bent evenly from both ends, it will break near the center, where it is most curved. This initial break triggers a “snap-back” effect and a bending wave, or vibration, that further fractures the stick. Their theory, which won the 2006 Nobel Prize, seemed to solve Feynman’s puzzle.

But a question remained: Could spaghetti ever be coerced to break in two?


Research study time!

To investigate, MIT researchers carried out experiments with hundreds of spaghetti sticks, bending and twisting them with an apparatus they built specifically for the task.

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The answer to the mystery, according to a new MIT study, is  there is a way — with a twist. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that they have found a way to break spaghetti in two, by both bending and twisting the dry noodles.

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They carried out experiments with hundreds of spaghetti sticks, bending and twisting them with an apparatus they built specifically for the task. The team found that if a stick is twisted past a certain critical degree, then slowly bent in half, it will, against all odds, break in two.

The researchers say the results may have applications beyond culinary curiosities, such as enhancing the understanding of crack formation and how to control fractures in other rod-like materials such as multifiber structures, engineered nanotubes, or even microtubules in cells.


Ok, but how does this whole machine EXPLOITATION work?

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Vishal Patil, Dunkel’s group at MIT

This young fella utilized the previous declared theories by French scientists in order to form a model applying a secondary wave caused by a stick’s initial break creates additional fractures, causing spaghetti to mostly snap in three or more fragments.

Patil adapted this theory by adding the element of twisting, and looked at how twist should affect any forces and waves propagating through a stick as it is bent. From his model, he found that, if a 10-inch-long spaghetti stick is first twisted by about 270 degrees and then bent, it will snap in two, mainly due to two effects.

The snap-back, in which the stick will spring back in the opposite direction from which it was bent, is weakened in the presence of twist. And, the twist-back, where the stick will essentially unwind to its original straightened configuration, releases energy from the rod, preventing additional fractures.

He and a team of scientists found that the theoretical predictions of when a thin stick would snap in two pieces, versus three or four, matched with their experimental observations.

“The way the model is constructed it applies to perfectly cylindrical rods. Although spaghetti isn’t perfect, the theory captures its fracture behavior pretty well,” – Dunkel


Thanks for reading!

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Written by Shohruh Artaman
A typical writer illustrating typical principles
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