Solved: The Spaghetti Physics Problem That Stumped Richard Feynman

The secret has a bit of a twist.

Woman Breaking Spaghetti
Getty ImagesPhilip James Corwin

If you’ve ever made pasta, then you've probably tried to break a long noodle like spaghetti or linguine. And when you did so, you probably noticed the pasta doesn't cooperate when you try to break it in half. Instead, dry noodles will almost always break into three or more pieces.

But why? The exact explanation has been a historically difficult problem for physicists, even perple Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. Now, researcher say they understand not only why this happens but also have . Researchers from Cornell and MIT say that twisting the pasta before bending it is enough to keep the spaghetti in two pieces when it breaks.

Most object follow a predictable pattern when you bend them far enough: They break in a single place, splitting that object into two. Perplely, spaghetti noodles seemingly break twice in two completely different places at one. This suggests that two different parts of the noodle reach their limits at the exact same time, which is tough to believe.

A provided a possible explanation for this phenomenon. The essential idea is that the noodle suffers one initial break, but that this single break triggers waves down the noodle when it tries to straighten. Those waves can briefly increase the curvature of the noodle at other points, leading to additional breaks elsewhere. The YouTube channel Smarter Every Day showed this effect in 2014 by filming the process in super slow motion:

This week's new research confirms that 2005 hypothesis and expands on it, providing a solution to keep tiny pieces of your pasta from flying everywhere. Their solution is to rotate the two ends of the pasta at least 250 degrees. That twist changes those secondary waves and minimizes their effect so that additional breaks are less likely to happen.

The researchers say that this discovery will help scientists better understand the mechanics of twisting motion, which is not as well understood as bending motion. It also might help make your pasta nights a little cleaner. Thanks, science.


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