Science

Cracking Spaghetti In Two? MIT Knows How

Cracking Spaghetti In Two
Daria-Yakovleva / Pixabay

Have you ever tried cracking spaghetti in two pieces? Were you successful? Yes, you’ll say, but are you sure? If not, head over to the kitchen if you’re at home, find yourself a box of spaghetti and pull out a single spaghetti stick. Grab it by both ends and try to break it. Did you succeed? You either have three of four pieces scattered around your kitchen counter, or an entire mess, should you use a whole box of spaghetti.

The spaghetti challenge isn’t a recent mystery. In fact, even a great physicist Richard Feynman spent a good amount of time trying to solve the challenge by cracking spaghetti in two. He couldn’t figure out a logical and theoretical explanation as to why the sticks refused to snap in two.

His experiment had gotten an explanation back in 2005 when a group of French physicists made a theory that described the forces that act on a single spaghetti stick when it’s bent, or any kind of a thin rod for that matter. They discovered that when the stick gets bent from both ends evenly, it will crack near the center, where the curvature is the highest.

The crack triggers a “snap-back” effect and a bending wave or vibration, which are responsible for the additional cracks on a spaghetti piece. That answered Feynman’s questions, and the discovery itself received the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize.

But is it really impossible to crack spaghetti in two?

Two mathematicians from MIT have discovered the secret of cracking spaghetti in two, by adding a little twist as they were bending it. They described the entire process in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They were looking for a topic for their final project and decided to check if there is any force that could be responsible for a proper and neat break. Ronald Heisser, who is now a graduate student at Cornell and Edgar Gridello discovered that they needed to twist the spaghetti while bringing their ends together so that it would neatly break in two. Nevertheless, they needed a strong twisting motion for this to happen.

Soon enough, Heisser constructed a special spaghetti-breaking device that was equipped with a clamp on either end that would tightly hold the strand. One of those two clamps would rotate the strand of spaghetti while the other clamp would be moving toward the other one to make the strand break properly. After that, Heisser and MIT grad student Vishal Patil ran tests on hundreds of spaghetti strands to record how each one of them broke.

What did they get?

They needed to twist the spaghetti at 270 degrees, before merging the two ends slowly together. After that, the spaghetti would break in two pieces. The twist successfully weakens the snap-back effect which affected additional cracks.

Cracking spaghetti in two is, however, not some kind of a joke or a game the two mathematicians played (although it really looks like a lot of fun). The experiment led to collaboration between Basile Audoly, one of the French physicists, and Columbia University computer scientist Eitan Grinspun to making an Adobe paint brush that is capable of bending and moving. The brush was introduced in Adobe Illustrator 5 and Adobe Paint Brush 5.

The scientists from MIT also noted that their work can now be used to learn more about how cracks form and spread across materials with a similar structure, like bridge spans, human bones and more.