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April 01, 2006

Physics of a spaghetti

I never cease to marvel at the things physicists get fascinated by. Take a dry spaghetti, for example. If you hold it at both ends and bend it, it breaks, of course, but not into two pieces as one might expect but into quite a number of small pieces.

The reason for this was now found by two French scientists from the University of Paris: elastic waves. The waves increase the tension in the bent spaghetti causing it to break up into many little pieces. They proved this experimentally, filming the breaking up of the spaghetti with a high speed camera. As expected the first breakage occurs when the curvature of the spaghetti has reached a maximum. This, however, does not relieve the tension in the rest of the spaghetti but sends forward elastic waves. Interference of the waves causes futher breakage along the spaghetti because the spaghetti is bent strongly in those places. The experimantal results were collaborated by computer simulations.

However, theoretically each new breakage should send out new elastic wave packages so that the spaghetti should actually be reduced to smithereens. Why this doesn't happen, the scientist don't know yet but I am sure they'll find out before long. But first of all they'd like to have a look at different materials like fibre glass or metals.

If you think I've made this all up because it's April Fools Day today you are quite wrong. The spaghetti problem actually goes back to Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant physicists of the 20th century. He became widely known during the investigation of the Challenger disaster when he showed how a rubber o-shaped seal had failed due to low temperatures during the night before the start by simply dropping it into a glass of water and ice cubes in front of him. After that no more excuses were heard.

Posted by Mausi at April 1, 2006 07:45 AM

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