Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Nanotech and Condiments

Getting ketchup out of a bottle is hard.  Really hard.  No, I mean really, ketchup is harder when its sitting in the bottom of the bottle.  It is a sheer thinning fluid meaning that when its sitting still it can't flow very fast but when it starts moving, the moving gets easier.  This is why the old trick of banging on the "57" gets the last of your ketchup out of the bottle.  Well at least most of it, bottles are usually thrown away with plenty of ketchup that no amount of banging could get out.  About 1 million tons of this most favorite of condiments is thrown out a year.  That's a lot of fish stick improvement goo going to waste.  A group of scientists at MIT recently came up with a solution to this unfortunate problem.  A "super slippery" coating called LiquiGlide  (careful when googling this) allows all of the ketchup fall right out of the bottle.  Fries everywhere are elated.




Getting condiments from the bottle to your dinner has always been difficult.  That's because they are sheer thinning fluids.  This is the opposite of the famous "ooblek."  Ketchup and mayo act like solids when they aren't moving, but as soon as they are jostled they begin to flow.  This is not news to anyone that has gotten a sore arms from trying to get that last little bit.   But grad student David Smith and his lab wanted to correct the problem.  They created a "super slippery" coating called LiquiGlide that causes ketchup and mayo to slip right off the sides.  All the ketchup or mayo can find its way out of the bottle, no tapping required.  Here is a demonstration using mayo (this is for you, Nick):



This video should give you an idea of the normal mayo extrication process:

 

The team was originally trying to create slippery coatings to help remove ice and make oil flow easily down pipes.  Though they do not specifically say how they came up with the idea to coat bottles with the stuff, knowing how grad students eat I have a pretty good guess.  One big trick was creating something that wouldn't taint the food. They could work only with FDA approved materials.
"'We had a limited amount of materials to pick from,' Smith says. 'I can't say what they are, but we've patented the hell out of it.'"
They don't yet have a contract with a bottling company, but I bet they will soon.  I, for one, can't wait to try it.  Though I'm not sure I would want to be on the product development team.  Imagine how many bottle of ketchup and mayo they've shaken?  And I remember what my lab looked like when we were only playing with metal and water, I can't imagine the mess they've made.   

2 comments:

  1. Everything has to be faster for you guys, doesn't it?

    Speed dialing, click to purchase, instant messaging, nanosecond financial trades. Hell, you've even managed to accelerate the entire freaking Universe! Can't you just leave ketchup alone?

    With everything in our 'hurry up and go nowhere' existence rapidly shooting toward a conclusion, it's nice to have a little anticipation from time to time.

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  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shear_thinning for those who are looking through the curtains.

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