From: Hannah Pell

Think of your favorite pasta dish. The classic spaghetti with marinara, layered lasagna, pasta salad, macaroni and cheese – there are a lot to choose from, you may just have to use your pasta. Now think about what you like best. Is it the texture? The taste? Or do you usually just treat yourself to a plate of carbohydrates? (Confession, that’s me).

Pasta is a wonderful culinary staple food not only because of its many uses, but also because of its diverse shapes. However, structured pasta such as rigatoni or farfalle are fragile and can easily break apart during packaging and transport. Additionally, there is extra unused space in the boxes, which results in a lot more waste.

Orzo, that used to be the case. Scientists may recently have come up with a solution to our pasta packaging problems (though that’s not the incomparable, but potentially problematic, joy of carbohydrates). In a new article published in the open access journal Science Advances, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Morphing Matter Lab developed a pasta that, when cooked in water, can expand and transform into various surprising shapes, including a rose !

How does it work? The authors performed theoretical simulations to predict how structures with “zero Gaussian curvatures” (also known as flat) would behave when swelled, and modeled conditions similar to cooking noodles in boiling water. Based on their results, they etched divots in pasta made from semolina flour and water, controlling the angle, width, depth, and spacing of the grooves that bloomed into different shapes as they cooked, as thinner areas of the pasta take less time to cook than thicker ones Sections. The result is quite a breathtaking – and delicious – science.

Photo credit: Tao et al. “Morphing Pasta and Beyond.” Advances in Science (2021).

Important applications of these technical noodles are potential improvements in food production processes through less packaging waste and more sustainability. In fact, lead author Ye Tao grabbed samples of the transforming noodles on a camping trip as a field test and showed that they took up significantly less space, didn’t break, and could be easily prepared with a small, portable camping stove. This morphing technique can also be implemented using inexpensive manufacturing methods including stamping, molding, and casting.

Furthermore, this research could go beyond noodles to strategically shape flat silicon plates. “This could potentially be used in soft robots and biomedical devices,” co-author Wen Weng told Physics World.

What we do know for sure, however, is that the pasta possibilities are endless when scientists are in the kitchen.


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