Scientists Create ‘Flat-Pack’ Pasta That Morphs Into Shape Like Moving Organisms

It all adds up in our efforts to contain our overwhelming burden on the Earth’s living biosphere. Even the shape of pasta (of all things!) Can affect our resource consumption.

For this reason, scientists have now developed flat-wrapped noodles that are more efficient to pack and transport, but can unfold in shape in the pot.

Food packaging makes a big contribution to landfilling. For example, in the US, food packaging, along with food waste, makes up almost half of all consumer solid waste. However, scientists estimate that flat-wrapped noodles could reduce noodle packaging by up to 60 percent by eliminating all of the air space that is present in differently shaped noodles like penne tubes and fusilli spirals when they are packaged.

Inspired by space-saving and resource-saving, flat-packaged furniture, researcher for digital manufacturing Ye Tao from the University of Zhejiang and colleagues have created noodles that can change their shape.

Building on previous experiments in which grooves stamped in flat noodles caused the noodles to spontaneously transform into 3D shapes when immersed in water, the researchers used computer and physical tests to determine how these annoying transformations are controlled can be.

“The groove side expands less than the smooth side, which causes the noodles to transform into shape,” said Syracuse University biomechanical engineer Teng Zhang.

And the morphing noodles do quite a show – they twist and wind along strategically placed grooves like an unfolding flower or wiggling worm as they swell with water.

“The transformed noodles mimicked the mouthfeel, taste, and appearance of traditional noodles,” Tao said after testing it on a hike.

Flat noodles can also cook faster than preformed noodles, which may also reduce cooking emissions. The researchers found that their pasta completed its transformation in about seven to 12 minutes of cooking – the same time it takes to be ready for us to devour.

“In principle, we expect this to be adaptable to a variety of foods that can soak in water, including food gels like gelatin dessert or Japanese wagashi – and other flour-based noodles,” said Carnegie mechanical engineer Lining Yao Mellon University Sarah Wells at Inverse.

She loves the possibility of creating even more creative shapes, like decorative flower shapes for a celebration.

“It enables people to rethink how food can be cooked and consumed while conserving resources on packaging and shipping,” Yao said. “These noodles could be used quickly at disaster sites and even be valuable for space travel. When it comes to a multi-year mission to Mars, the space on board the shuttle is of paramount importance.”

These origami-like techniques could also be applied to other useful materials like 3D printed hydrogels, which have great potential in medicine – from drug delivery to diagnostic biosensors – as well as robotics.

If enough of us focus on developing greener initiatives like this one along with broader systemic change, perhaps we can also change the shape of our impact on the earth.

This research was published in Science Advances.

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