Carnegie Mellon Scientists Invent Self-Folding Pasta
by Desteny Alvarez, age 16
Researchers at a Carnegie Mellon University lab found that regular pasta can transform into 3-D shapes by being cooked in boiling water for seven minutes. The project that started it all was “The dynamic noodle.”
Each pasta design starts out flat, but later it turns into a three dimensional shape when boiled in water for seven minutes. In a paper published on Science Advances, researchers stated that the “flat-to-plump pasta isn’t only fun to make but better for the economy because it has a smaller carbon footprint and cooks way faster than traditional pasta.” Jennifer Lewis, a professor of biologically inspired engineering at Harvard University, who was not involved in this study, said “I think it’s really cool and elegant. Anytime you can bring science to people through food, it's a huge win.” In 2017, Dr. Lining Yao, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon and co-author of the new study, set out with her colleagues to build two-dimensional structures that would transform themselves into three-dimensional shapes. “We were thinking edible material could be very interesting…..we landed our eyes on pasta,” Dr. Yao stated on Science Advances.
The making of this pasta was very different from original pasta making. Dr. Yao’s team began with a conventional recipe, mixing a simple combination of semolina flour and water, while using a classic roller to create sheets of dough. Then, they stamped the flattened dough to create tiny patterned grooves on its surface. During cooking, surfaces with grooves expand less rather than smooth ones, giving rise to shapes like boxes, saddles, and waves. “You can just make a modification to a pasta dough and get a very impressive shape change,” said Teng Zheng, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Syracuse University and co-author of the study. Dr. Zheng developed a computer model that showed the final transformation of various designs based on factors such as how heat and water would change the dough’s gluten and starch during the cooking process. “It's more complex than just swelling,” he said.
Why is it important? In situations where a large amount of food should take up as little space as possible, this product could prove to be invaluable. An example of this could be food delivery to disaster sites or astronauts in space stations. Researchers also suggest in the paper that their work could have applications for soft robotics and biomedical devices. A small group cooked the pasta on a portable camp stove during a hiking trip near Pittsburg, PA. Dr. Yao served the pasta at the dinner party. Both trials were a success, she said.
The researchers found that the pasta holds best in 3-D shape when cooked no longer than seven minutes. “In other words, the pasta can never not be al dente,” Dr. Lewis concluded. “So this is great as long as you like al dente pasta. I personally am a fan.”
[Source: The New York Times]