A Bowl Full Of Pasta Engineering

11:15 minutes

When you walk down the pasta aisle at the supermarket, there are so many tasty choices: There’s the humble spaghetti, the tubes of ziti, the tiny shells, and the butterfly-like farfalle. But every pound of pasta is not created equal—some of the boxes pack mostly air.

In recent work published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Lining Yao of Carnegie Mellon’s Morphing Matter Lab and her colleagues discuss an innovative way to solve the problem of puffed-up pasta boxes: What if different pasta shapes could be flat-packed into containers like DIY IKEA furniture?   

The researchers developed a way to map out tiny grooves and ridges on the surface of a flat noodle sheet. When the pasta is cooked in hot water, it swells at different rates around the ridges and grooves, causing it to fold on its own into shapes such as boxes, rose-like flowers, and helix curls. Yao joins SciFri’s Charles Bergquist to talk about the research, and the challenges of making your dinnertime pasta plate into an origami craft project. 

View more of these pasta shapes up close and in action! All images courtesy Carnegie Mellon’s Morphing Matter Lab.

two pieces of pasta side by side. on the right is the pasta flat in a curved s-shape, on the left is that pasta after boiling in a curled up shape two pieces of pasta side by side. on the right is a zigzag block flat pasta shape, on the left is that pasta shown curled up in a tube shape after boiling
a long coiled noodle on the top, beneath is that noodle unfurled in a more bouncy springy shape
two pieces of pasta. in the right is a flat rectangular pasta. on the left is that pasta after being boiled in a twisted helix shape two pieces of pasta. on the right is a flat rectangular noodle. on the left is a that pasta after boiled showing a wavy shape

fluorescent folded shapes falling into watera bunch of different pastas in various shapes with 3d models of them next to it

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Segment Guests

Lining Yao

Lining Yao is an assistant professor and director of the Morphing Matter Lab in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Segment Transcript

The transcript for this segment is being processed. It will be posted within one week after the episode airs.

Meet the Producer

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.

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