May 29, 2017 09:19 PM EDT
Little kids and adults alike cannot resist the element of fun when eating alphabet soup. MIT researchers, however, are doubling the fun by making shape-shifting noodles that change to different shapes when cooked.
Researchers from MIT's Tangible Media Group have created flat, thin noodles that transform into different shapes using 3D printing, gelatin, and starch. The noodles can transform into the most common pasta shapes, such as rotini, ziti, and macaroni, as well as into more novel shapes like a flower.
There's also a transparent version that looks like a cannoli when it comes into contact with water and wraps around caviar and a spaghetti-like noodle that selfs-divide when placed in warm water. The scientists demonstrated the culinary potential of these shape-shifting noodles in a short video you can watch below.
The group of researchers, led by former MIT graduate student Lining Yao, studied different materials that respond well to moisture, but they focused more on gelatin since it is the most common material that expands when it absorbs water. Moreover, gelatin also responds differently depending on its density, a characteristic the scientists further explored.
Yao, together with MIT's Media Lab research scientist Wen Wang, began to play with gelatin and created a flat two-layered gelatin sheet with two different densities. The first layer is denser and can absorb more water than the bottom layer. When dumped into the water, the first layer responds and curls over the bottom layer.
To further manipulate the shape-shifting noodles, they 3D-printed thin strips of edible cellulose and place them on the top layer of the gelatin sheet. Aside from manipulating the shape of the gelatin, they also discovered that the cellulose film acts as a water barrier controlling how much the gelatin absorbs water.
The scientists said that aside from the aesthetic value of the shape-shifting noodles, another practical application is the reduction of shipping cost because the thin sheets can be stacked together tightly and transform later when cooked.
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