Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, which is part of its inherent delight. But all those irregular shapes tend to be inefficient when it comes to packaging. So what if you could buy your pasta of choice in a simple, compact 2D form and then watch it take on the desired final 3D shape as it cooks, thereby doubling the fun factor? Scientists at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) have figured out a simple mechanism to do just that, according to a new paper published in the journal Science Advances.
“We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier, and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation,” said co-author Lining Yao, director of the Morphing Matter Lab at CMU’s School of Computer Science. “We decided to look at how the morphing matter technology we were developing in the lab could create flat-packed pastas that offered similar sustainability outcomes.” According to the team’s calculations, even if you pack macaroni pasta perfectly, you will still end up with as much as 67 percent of the volume being air. The ability to make flat pasta for shipping that takes on a specific 3D shape when cooked is one potential solution.
Yao and co-author Wen Wang, also at CMU, began experimenting with what they term “transformative appetite,” or shape-changing food, several years ago, inspired by their work with a bacterium that would shrink or expand in response to humidity—the same bacterium used to ferment soybeans to create natto, a popular Japanese breakfast dish that frankly smells a bit like aged cheese (and hence can be an acquired taste).