Researchers at MIT created a machine to bend and twist noodles to snap them in two equal halves. This machine was specially designed to twist and break noodles. (All photo via MIT)


MIT is usually at the forefront of groundbreaking science and technology. And they’ve done it again, but this time it involves spaghetti. Breaking spaghetti noodles in half is easier than it sounds. Sure, you’ll get two halves, but they never break off into clean pieces. This issue has stumped scientists for decades. Even famed physicist Richard Fenman spent a night breaking pasta to figure out why the sticks won’t snap in two. It puzzled scientists at MIT too, but they may have figured out the secret: twisting the noodles first.


When you bend a spaghetti noodle, it breaks in the middle but sends another wave back along each side; this known as “the snap-back effect.” To combat this, researchers found a way to break noodles into two, by bending and twisting the dry noodles. The team made a special machine for the experiment. Each end has a clamp that holds a stick of spaghetti in place. One clamp rotates and twists the dry noodle by different degrees, while the other clamp slides towards the twisting one to make the spaghetti bend. After various experiments, the team found the noodles have to be twisted at 270 degrees and slowly bent at the speed of 0.11 inch (3 millimeters) per second, it will snap into two equal pieces.


Whereas snap back creates a bending wave, which makes the stick wobble back and forth, the unwinding creates a twist wave where the stick corkscrews back and forth before it comes to rest. Twisting the noodle creates a wave that travels faster than the bending wave, which dissipates energy so that additional stress accumulations, which could cause fractures, don’t happen.



So, what’s the point of this experiment? Is it geared toward foodies and chefs? There’s more to it than that. The team believes their research can help scientists figure out how to control fractures in other spaghetti shaped materials, like “engineered nanotubes or microtubules in cells,” multi-fiber structures, or even microtubules found in your cells.


"It will be interesting to see whether and how twist could similarly be used to control the fracture dynamics of two-dimensional and three-dimensional materials," said co-author Jörn Dunkel in a statement. "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."


Their findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and can be found here.


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