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Everyday science

Physicists create 'anelloni' – a new kind of pasta

01 Dec 2014 Matin Durrani

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By Matin Durrani

Rigatoni, fettucine, tagliatelle, penne? We think they’ve had their day.

It’s time to say hello to “anelloni” – a new kind of pasta created by two physicists from the University of Warwick in the UK. Consisting of giant loops, it’s the brainchild of Davide Michieletto and Matthew Turner, who invented the pasta in an attempt to demonstrate the complicated shapes that ring-shaped polymer molecules can adopt.

With its name derived from anello – the Italian word for “ring” – the new pasta is exclusively unveiled in an article that Michieletto and Turner have written in the December 2014 issue of Physics World magazine, which also contains their secret recipe for making it.

The two researchers created the large loops of pasta using just two eggs and 200 g of plain flour. When cooked and thrown together in a bowl, the pasta rings get hugely tangled up, in much the same way that real ring-shaped polymers become massively intertwined with each other.

Michieletto explains more about ring-shaped polymers in the video above, which was filmed at Physics World headquarters in Bristol. As he explains, whereas it’s easy when faced with a bowl of normal spaghetti to suck or pull a single strand out, it’s much harder to extract a single piece of pasta from a pile of anelloni, which get horribly tangled up.

While the new kind of pasta is just a bit of fun, Michieletto and Turner’s real work involves carrying out computer simulations of ring-shaped polymers. These studies have shown that if the molecules are long enough, they are likely to get so tangled up that they would appear frozen in place. If this were true in real life – and there is some evidence to suggest that it is – then they believe they would have discovered a new state of matter, which the pair dub a “topological glass”.

PWDec14cover-200You can find out more about the new pasta and polymer mysteries in the December issue of Physics World. If you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can now enjoy immediate access to the new issue with the digital edition of the magazine on your desktop via or on any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet via the Physics World app, available from the App Store and Google Play. If you’re not yet in the IOP, you can join as an IOPimember for just £15, €20 or $25 a year to get full access to Physics World both online and through the apps. The Michieletto and Turner article is also available online here.

For the record, here’s a run-down of all the highlights of the December issue:

• Driving the innovation agenda – The Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics is the first UK branch of Germany’s famed applied-research organization. Margaret Harris travels to Glasgow to find out how it will boost Scotland’s laser industry.

• Driving the innovation agenda – Arti Agrawal says that more needs to be done to address the gender gap in science.

• Literature of the lab – Robert P Crease surveys novels with scenes set in physics laboratories, and wants your suggestions of others.

• The pyramid detectives – Lucina Melesio explores how physicists are mapping the internal structures of ancient pyramids in Mexico and Central America using muons – potentially revealing hidden chambers that could finally lead archaeologists to where ancient rulers are buried.

•  A taste for anelloni – The behaviour of ring-shaped polymers is one of the last big mysteries in polymer physics. Davide Michieletto and Matthew S Turner illustrate just why they are so hard to understand – using some delicious home-cooked pasta that they dub “anelloni”.

•  Listening to the world – Philippe Blondel reviews Sonic Wonderland: a Scientific Odyssey of Sound by Trevor Cox.

•  A strong model, with flaws – Sabine Hossenfelder reviews Cracking the Particle Code of the Universe: the Hunt for the Higgs Boson by John W Moffat.

•  Artistic influences – Dan Falk reviews Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art by Arthur I Miller.

• Social physics and antisocial science Martin Zaltz Austwick reviews Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – the Lessons from a New Science by Alex Pentland.

•  A cabinet of invisible curiosities – Ulf Leonhardt reviews Invisible: the Dangerous Allure of the Unseen by Philip Ball.

•  Elegant constructions – Margaret Harris reviews Beautiful Geometry by Eli Maor and Augen Jost.

•  Finding balance in a new lab – Setting up a new laboratory is a formidable challenge for early-career researchers. Sarah Bohndiek shares a few lessons she learned in her first
year as a group leader.

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