Friday, April 10, 2009

Food Physics

Pizza has been on my mind a lot lately. On the one hand it may just be that I missed lunch today. On the other hand, it's on my mind a lot no matter what. Mmmmmmm. Anywho, it's also been on the minds of researchers at Monash University in Melbourne Australia. They just released a study of the physics of pizza tossing.

No joke! This is the first in depth analysis of the mechanics of pizza flight. I'm just sort of amazed it's taken this long for people to look at the mechanics of the most marvelous food in the world. I would have thought some engineering student at MIT would have tried late one night while pulling an all-nighter before a final exam.

I don't mean to make light of the work, because really it does have practical uses and applications. The pizza toss works almost exactly the same as an ultrasonic motor, except using an Italian chef rather than vibrations. In an ultrasonic motor, like ones found in an automatic camera lens, very fast vibrations rotate a ring of metal.

The Australian team mapped the mechanics of a pizza including trajectory, energy efficiency and stability during its four portions of flight, sticking contact, sliding contact, parabolic flight and impact.

Food physics is a subject very close to my heart (really just a bit lower and to the left). The chemistry of food has been probed for years and been the subject of great public interest. But the actual physics has really only had its surface scratched. The first landmark study came in 1995 at (appropriately) Rice University, as students launched into an in-depth study of the physics of Twinkies. You can read about their investigations here and their results (in Haiku) here.

I for one would like to see more research into the physics of food. I want to know about the magnetic fields of iron rich peppers. What would happen if I accelerated a parsnip to 99 percent the speed of light? What is it about gnocchi that makes gravity seem to pull on them extra hard? These are the questions that I need answers to.

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