Anyone who has ever tried to break up uncooked spaghetti twigs in two will have noticed that this is almost impossible. Almost always three or more pieces arise. In 2005, French physicists discovered how that came about. Experiments showed that when you bend the ends of a spaghetti cord towards each other, it knocks in the middle – where it is most bent. The spaghetti is no longer under pressure and springs back. The end winds – encouraged by what researchers call elastic waves – back and forth, looking for an equilibrium. And so new fractures can easily arise in the already slightly weakened spaghetti cord. It is therefore considered a domino effect: the first break results in a new break. And that second break can also just turn into a third.

Two pieces
With this French study – which was rewarded with an IG Nobel Prize – the mystery of the messy spaghetti fracture was solved. But it remained unclear whether it was possible at all to break an uncooked spaghetti cord in two pieces. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now researched this and have to conclude that it is possible. But it does require that you spear the spaghetti while you bend it slightly.

The researchers rely on experiments with hundreds of spaghetti strains that they developed and curved with a device that they developed especially for this study. They discovered that when you turn a spaghetti cord about 270 degrees and then bend it, it invariably breaks into two pieces. And they can explain that too. Normally speaking, a spaghetti break after the break only wants one thing: to spring back. And new fractures are created in this process. Also a twisted spaghetti twine wants to spring back after the fracture, but also has to come out of that turn. And while the spaghetti is turning back to its original position, it already relieves itself of a large part of the pressure that the spaghetti bends on the ropes. The result: the discharge in the form of elastic waves is more limited and there is no second or even third break.

It may seem like a rather playful research – which does not even have any direct implications in your kitchen – but it certainly is not . It can also provide more insight into how fractures occur in other rod-like materials, such as nanotubes or even microtubules (found in our cells). “It will be interesting to see if and how a twist can be used to check fractions in two- and three-dimensional materials,” researcher Jörn Dunkel thinks.