MIT Researchers End Age-Old Theory About Spaghetti

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

I’m about to have a whole mess of fragmented spaghetti noodles for lunch, and the reason why is super dorky. No, not dorky — educational.

When the Kitchn staff got wind that researchers at MIT were testing the long-held scientific theory that it is impossible to break a spaghetti noodle neatly into two halves, our hubris got the best of us. Of course it’s possible to break spaghetti into two pieces — just watch us! And we did.

(Image credit: Kaitlin Flannery)

In fact, a whole bunch of us tested out the theory, successfully snapping dry spaghetti into two pieces left and right. So much for this “Fragmentation of rods by cascading cracks: why spaghetti do not break in half,” study!

Before we picked up the phone to inform Ronald Heisser and Edgar Gridello of MIT that their work was done, we took a step back from our broken noodles to try to understand the actual science behind the study.

(Image credit: Lisa Freedman)

Just short of declaring ourselves smarter than the MIT scientists currently debunking the aforementioned theory, I decided to dig a little deeper into our scientific method. I tore into a brand new box of spaghetti and started snapping, applying equal amounts of pressure on both tips, very slowly at first. When snapped gradually, the noodles broke cleanly in two every time. Frustrated with my results, I snapped the next one super fast, and four noodle fragments sprayed across my kitchen. I did it again; three pieces this time!

(Image credit: Lauren Masur)

The faster I snapped, the more of a mess I made. My findings were corroborated by Associate Food Editor Meghan Splawn, who also replicated both results by using varying spaghetti-snapping speed.

(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

Ultimately, I determined that the speed with which you break the noodles matters, that we did not outsmart MIT researchers, that we should probably leave the science to the scientists, and that we should stick to eating pasta instead.

Because I do not have the resources for mathematical modeling, a one-of-a-kind-spaghetti-breaking contraption, and a high-tech camera that can capture up to a million frames per second, I can not replicate the MIT researchers latest breakthrough: It is possible to break a spaghetti noodle into two halves, using a very specific device which both bends and twists the noodle and thus controls the resulting fragmentation.

And since I don’t have time to lovingly bend each piece of spaghetti in two before adding it to a pot of boiling water, I guess I’ll just live with my fragmented spaghetti lunches for now.

The next noodle that the researchers plan to focus on? Linguine. If you need me, I’m currently applying to MIT. (What, like it’s hard?)