Science Has Found a Way to Snap Dry Spaghetti into Two Equal Pieces

But if you want to use this method for making dinner, you’ll need some extra prep time.

Photo: Philip James Corwin/Getty Images

If you’ve ever pined for shorter strands of spaghetti, you know this agony: Though logic would seem to tell us otherwise when you try to snap dry spaghetti in half, it refused to break into two pieces. Instead, you’re left with multiple spaghetti shards flying in all directions. What the heck is with this uncooperative pasta? And is there any way to make it bend to our two-piece-desiring will? Scientists say they finally have the answer.

Believe it or not, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this spaghetti challenge actually has a long and illustrious history. In fact, a team of French physicist even won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for explaining why spaghetti and other long, thin rods refuse to evenly break down the middle. But explaining why they don’t break in half doesn’t fix the problem. That’s where a different team of MIT scientists picked things up with a new study.

Their paper, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finally provides cooks with the how: It’s entitled “Controlling fracture cascades through twisting and quenching.” Yes, control can be yours!

It turns out the story of how to break spaghetti into two pieces has a twist to it. Literally. “[MIT student Ronald Heisser, together with project partner Edgar Gridello,] did some manual tests, tried various things, and came up with an idea that when he twisted the spaghetti really hard and brought the ends together, it seemed to work and it broke into two pieces,” co-author Jörn Dunkel, associate professor of physical applied mathematics at MIT, said. “But you have to twist really strongly. And Ronald wanted to investigate more deeply.”

Based on these findings, the research team built a device to controllably twist spaghetti. After hundreds of tests with different noodles, they discovered the trick was to twist the spaghetti strand almost 360 degrees before slowly bending it together. The results were the stick snapping exactly in two—both with Barilla No. 5 and Barilla No. 7, two spaghettis with slightly different thicknesses.

Sadly, however, though this study provides a framework for successfully snapping spaghetti in half, it isn’t quite practical because it requires each noodle to be snapped individually, making it a time-consuming process if you’re looking to make a family meal. Of course, MIT could potentially mass produce their spaghetti snapping machine for the public, though there’s no indication that they plan to use their finding for this culinary purpose.

Meanwhile, the researchers were also left wondering about other pasta types. “Linguini is different because it’s more like a ribbon,” Dunkel added. “The way the model is constructed it applies to perfectly cylindrical rods. Although spaghetti isn’t perfect, the theory captures its fracture behavior pretty well.” Scientists… Is there anything it can’t make more complicated?

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