When you study physics, you’re bound to brush up against some of the universe’s larger mysteries. What came before the Big Bang? What lies inside a black hole? Is it possible to break a stick of dry spaghetti into exactly two pieces?
Perhaps you’ve found yourself asking that last question in your own kitchen. Why is it that, when you try to snap a single piece of uncooked spaghetti in half, you almost always end up with three or more pieces of pasta clattering across your counter? It’s a logic-defying phenomenon that has baffled chef and scholar alike for decades; even Nobel physics laureate Richard Feynman, who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II, is said to have spent the better part of a night sitting in his kitchen, snapping spaghetti sticks and searching for an explanation.
Feynman came up dry, so to speak — but finally, a new study published Monday (Aug. 13) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides some closure. With the help of some mathematical models and a spaghetti-bending robot, researchers at MIT have found that, yes, it is possible to break a piece of uncooked spaghetti into just two pieces, but there’s a twist … literally. To prevent bent spaghetti from splintering into a half dozen pieces, the researchers wrote, one end of the pasta first has to be twisted nearly 360 degrees.