Scientists have worked out how to break spaghetti into just TWO pieces

Scientists have finally worked out how to snap a piece of dry spaghetti into two pieces (and the secret is in the twist!)

  • Atypical shattering of dried sticks of spaghetti has stumped scientists for years
  • MIT scientists carried out experiments with hundreds of spaghetti sticks 
  • The researchers unlocked the perfect method for a clean break: If a stick is twisted past a certain critical degree it will only break in two pieces
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If you’ve ever made a pasta dish at home, you’re probably already aware that it’s almost impossible to break dry spaghetti into just two pieces. 

Normally, when trying to break dried pasta, the strands will shatter into more than two pieces – a baffling phenomenon that has stumped some of history’s most illustrious scientific researchers, including award-winning physicist Richard Feynman.

However, researchers have finally shown how it can be done.

Scientists spent three years carrying out experiments with hundreds of spaghetti sticks, bending and twisting them with an apparatus built specifically for the task.

The team found that when a stick is twisted past a certain critical degree, then slowly bent in half – it will against all odds break in two.

For a 10-inch-long spaghetti stick, scientists claim you’ll need to twist the strand by 270 degrees and then bend it by bringing the extremities together at a speed of 3 millimetres per second to achieve a clean break.

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Spaghetti’s unusual shattering process has stumped science’s best brains for years, including Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. However, researchers have finally shown how and why it can be done (stock image)

Physicist Feynman once spent a good portion of an evening breaking spaghetti 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 — or any other long, thin rod — is bent.

They found that when a stick is bent evenly from both ends, it will break near the centre, where it is most curved.

However, this initial break triggers a ‘snap-back’ effect and a bending wave, or vibration, that further fractures the stick.

The bending wave travels down the remaining strand of spaghetti before it relaxes and un-twists.

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Their theory, which won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize – a parody of the prestigious award ceremony that takes place each year, seemed to solve Feynman’s puzzle.

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

The answer, according to a brand-new MIT study, is yes — with a twist.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report claim to have finally found a way to breaking spaghetti in two, by both bending and twisting the dry noodles.   

Two MIT students, Ronald Heisser and Vishal Patil, built a mechanical fracture device to uncontrollably twist and bend sticks of spaghetti.

Two clamps on either end of the device held a stick of spaghetti in place. 

A clamp at one end could be rotated to twist the dry noodle by various degrees, while the other clamp slid toward the twisting clamp to bring the two ends of the spaghetti together, bending the stick.



Feynman (pictured) once spent a good portion of an evening breaking spaghetti and looking for a theoretical explanation for why the sticks refused to snap in two

HOW CAN YOU MAKE SPAGHETTI SNAP IN TWO?

Spaghetti’s unusual shattering process has stumped science’s best brains for years, including Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman.

However, researchers from MIT have finally shown how and why it can be done.

Two MIT students, Ronald Heisser and Vishal Patil, built a mechanical fracture device to uncontrollably twist and bend sticks of spaghetti.

Two clamps on either end of the device held a stick of spaghetti in place.

A clamp at one end could be rotated to twist the dry noodle by various degrees, while the other clamp slid toward the twisting clamp to bring the two ends of the spaghetti together, bending the stick.

They used the device to bend and twist hundreds of spaghetti sticks and recorded the entire fragmentation process with a camera, at up to a million frames per second.

They found that by first twisting the spaghetti at almost 360 degrees, then slowly bringing the two clamps together to bend it, the stick snapped exactly in two.

They found that if a 10-inch-long spaghetti stick is first twisted by about 270 degrees and then bent it will snap in two.

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.

They used the device to bend and twist hundreds of spaghetti sticks and recorded the entire fragmentation process with a camera, at up to a million frames per second.

They found that by first twisting the spaghetti at almost 360 degrees, then slowly bringing the two clamps together to bend it, the stick snapped exactly in two.

For a 10-inch-long spaghetti stick, the researchers claim it is necessary to twist the strand by around 270 degrees and then bring the ends together at a speed of 3 millimetres per second to snap it perfectly.

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.

This prevents the twist-back, where the stick will unwind to its original straightened configuration, releases energy from the rod to prevent any additional fractures.

‘Once it breaks, you still have a snap-back because the rod wants to be straight,’ said co-author Jörn Dunkel, associate professor of physical applied mathematics at MIT.

‘But it also doesn’t want to be twisted,’ said Dr Dunkel.

Just as the snap-back will create a bending wave, in which the stick will wobble back and forth, the unwinding generates a ‘twist wave,’ where the stick essentially corkscrews back and forth until it comes to rest. 

The twist wave travels faster than the bending wave, dissipating energy so that additional critical stress accumulations, which might cause subsequent fractures, do not occur.

‘That’s why you never get this second break when you twist hard enough,’ Dr Dunkel said.

Researchers say the results could enhance understanding of crack formations and how to control fractures in other rod-like materials.  

‘In any case, this has been a fun interdisciplinary project started and carried out by two brilliant and persistent students — who probably don’t want to see, break, or eat spaghetti for a while’, Dr Dunkel said. 

 

 

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