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Gizmorama - September 12, 2018

Good Morning,

MIT does what only thought to be impossible...they have broken a piece of spaghetti into two separate pieces. It's possible and incredible!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- MIT researchers do the impossible, break piece of spaghetti into two pieces --*

Are you up for the spaghetti challenge?

MIT researchers were. They did what most scientists thought was impossible. Scientists at the research university successfully broke a single strand of spaghetti into two pieces.

Famed physicist Richard Feynman first made the spaghetti challenge popular in the middle of the 20th century, after noticing that spaghetti always seemed to break into several small pieces. Feynman never figured out why, but scientists in France finally explained the phenomenon in 2005.

When slowly bent from each end, scientists showed spaghetti strands initially crack in the middle, where the bend is greatest. The break causes a vibrational wave that triggers additional fractures -- the "snap-back" effect.

The discovery explained why spaghetti always shatters into several small pieces, but scientists still wanted to know whether spaghetti could ever be broken into two pieces.

The latest experiments by MIT researchers prove the feat is possible.

Scientists showed it's possible to break a piece of spaghetti in two by twisting the pasta strand past a specific critical degree. One the pasta has been sufficiently twisted, a bending force can be applied, causing the strand to break into exactly two pieces.

Researchers accomplished the feat with the help of a special apparatus designed for the task of bending sticks of spaghetti. The scientists littered the lab floor with broken spaghetti before finally accomplishing the feat.

Scientists described their accomplishment in the journal PNAS.

The feat was made possible by advanced mathematical modeling. Using the formulas developed to describe the snap-back effect, scientists showed twisting triggers a similar reaction. When the strand breaks, the remaining two pieces still want to straighten, inspiring a snap-back wave, but the pieces also want to untwist.

Because the untwisting wave moves faster than the snap-back wave, it works to dissipate the energy of the snap-back vibration.

"Taken together, our experiments and theoretical results advance the general understanding of how twist affects fracture cascades," Jörn Dunkel, an associate professor of physical applied mathematics at MIT, told MIT News.

Scientists believe the discovery could help material scientists control for the fracturing patterns in other materials.

"It will be interesting to see whether and how twist could similarly be used to control the fracture dynamics of two-dimensional and three-dimensional materials," said Dunkel. "In any case, this has been a fun interdisciplinary project started and carried out by two brilliant and persistent students -- who probably don't want to see, break, or eat spaghetti for a while."

*-- Physicists control molecule for a millionth of a billionth of a second --*

Using a microscope and its electrical current, physicists have found a way to manipulate and control a single molecule. The breakthrough happened by accident.

In the lab, scientists were observing a basic chemical reaction under an electron microscope. Normally, when the current of the microscope is increased, the reaction happens faster.

This time, it didn't.

"This was data from an utterly standard experiment we were doing because we thought we had exhausted all the interesting stuff -- this was just a final check," Kristina Rusimova, physicist at the University of Bath, said in a news release. "But my data looked 'wrong' -- all the graphs were supposed to go up and mine went down."

Scientists at Bath spent months trying to explain the anomaly. After repeating their experiment several times, researchers realized they had discovered a new way to control a single molecule and influence a chemical reaction.

The reaction being studied is triggered by the introduction of a single electron.

The physicists found the length of time the introduced electron spent stuck to the target molecule was reduced by an order of two magnitudes when the tip of the electron microscope was between 600 to 800 trillionths of a meter away from the molecule.

Scientists believe the microscope tip and molecule interact to produce a new quantum state, allowing the electron to briefly jump ship and minimizing contact between the electron and molecule.

The experiments yielded a surprising result using an unexpected tool.

"I always think our microscope is a bit like the Millennium Falcon, not too elegant, held together by the people who run it, but utterly fantastic at what it does," said researcher Peter Sloan. "Between Kristina and Ph.D. student Rebecca Purkiss the level of spatial control they had over the microscope was the key to unlocking this new physics."

The researchers described their feat this week in the journal Science.

"The fundamental aim of this work is to develop the tools to allow us to control matter at this extreme limit," Sloan said. "Be it breaking chemical bonds that nature doesn't really want you to break, or producing molecular architectures that are thermodynamically forbidden. Our work offers a new route to control single molecules and their reaction."


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