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CMU Researchers Play With Pasta Shapes To Save Packaging

Carnegie Mellon University

When you walk down the pasta aisle at the supermarket, there are so many tasty choices: There’s the humble spaghetti, the tubes of ziti, the tiny shells, and the butterfly-like farfalle. But every pound of pasta is not created equal—some of the boxes pack mostly air.

In recent work published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Lining Yao of Carnegie Mellon’s Morphing Matter Lab and her colleagues discuss an innovative way to solve the problem of puffed-up pasta boxes: What if different pasta shapes could be flat-packed into containers like DIY IKEA furniture?

The researchers developed a way to map out tiny grooves and ridges on the surface of a flat noodle sheet. When the pasta is cooked in hot water, it swells at different rates around the ridges and grooves, causing it to fold on its own into shapes such as boxes, rose-like flowers, and helix curls.

As Yao told Science Friday, the next step is creating a design tool for chefs to use. “We will be able to convert the 3-D shape they want into a flat sheet, and also with suggested groove patterns,” Yao said.

Aside from the culinary creations, Yao hopes this morphing pasta can help reduce packaging waste.

Listen for an interview about this research, and the challenges of making your dinnertime pasta plate into an origami craft project on Science Friday.