Archive for 'News about research'

Building on Ig Nobel-winning cereal soggification research

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

There’s news about soggy-cereal research — a study called “Crunchiness Loss and Moisture Toughening in Puffed Cereals and Snacks,” by Micha Peleg, published in the Journal of Food Science, epub July 29, 2015.

Peleg, at the University of Massachusetts, builds on the research of — among others — 1995 Ig Nobel Nutrition Prize winners D.M.R. Georget, R. Parker, and A.C. Smith of the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, UK. Georget, Parker, and Smith were awarded that prize for their rigorous analysis of soggy breakfast cereal, called “A Study of the Effects of Water Content on the Compaction Behaviour of Breakfast Cereal Flakes“. The Georget/Parker/Smith paper was published in the journal Powder Technology in 1994. (That particular Ig Nobel Prize drew an unexpected reaction from the then-chief scientific advisor to the British government.)

Peleg reports, in his new study:

Peleg“Upon moisture uptake, dry cellular cereals and snacks loose their brittleness and become soggy. This familiar phenomenon is manifested in smoothing their compressive force–displacement curves. These curves’ degree of jaggedness, expressed by their apparent fractal dimension, can serve as an instrumental measure of the particles’ crunchiness. The relationship between the apparent fractal dimension and moisture content or water activity has a characteristic sigmoid shape. The relationship between the sensorily perceived crunchiness and moisture also has a sigmoid shape whose inflection point lies at about the same location. The transition between the brittle and soggy states, however, appears sharper in the apparent fractal dimension compared with moisture plot. Less familiar is the observation that at moderate levels of moisture content, while the particles’ crunchiness is being lost, their stiffness actually rises, a phenomenon that can be dubbed “moisture toughening.” We show this phenomenon in commercial Peanut Butter CrunchR (sweet starch-based cereal), Cheese Balls (salty starch-based snack), and Pork Rind also known as “Chicharon” (salty deep-fried pork skin), 3 crunchy foods that have very different chemical composition.”

Here’s video of other, unrelated investigators investigating soggy chicharon:

Here’s further detail, about force and strain in cheese balls, from Peleg’s study:


Alexandra Ossola reports on the report, in Popular Science, under the slightly exaggerated headline “SCIENCE FINALLY UNDERSTANDS HOW CEREAL GETS SOGGY“.

(Thanks to Jennifer Ouellette for bringing this to our attention.)

Independently, an inventor named Michael Roberts developed a cereal bowl that is said, commercially, to prevent cereal from becoming soggy. Inventor Roberts and his colleagues advertise this bowl under the brand name Obol. Here is their story, as told by them or persons acting at their behest, in the form of a commercial that does not explore so very much the time element that inevitably figures into the story of soggification:

Evaluation of environmental impacts: The case of pasta

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Think, if you will, of the pasta. This study demonstrates one way to begin doing that:

Evaluation of environmental impacts in the catering sector: The case of pasta,” Alessandra Fusi, Riccardo Guidetti, Adisa Azapagic, Journal of Cleaner Production, epub 2015. (Thanks to Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy and at the University of Manchester, UK, report:

“This study, based in Italy, focuses on environmental impacts of deferred catering with the aim of evaluating different options for food preparation and distribution, to help identify environmentally sustainable solutions. For these purposes, the case of pasta, one of the most popular foods worldwide, is considered. Two main types of deferred system (cook-warm and cook-chill) and cooking technologies (pasta cookers and range tops) used in the catering sector are evaluated. The results suggest that cooking in pasta cookers saves up to 60% of energy and 38% of water compared to range tops and therefore reduces by 34-66% the impacts associated with pasta preparation. The environmental impacts of pasta cooking could also be reduced by using gas rather than electric appliances as the impacts of the latter are higher by 13-98%.”

This video conveys some of the excitement of commercial pasta cooking using a commercial pasta cooker. Watching it, you can almost hear music playing in your head:


Podcast #22: The hardness of security Guards

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

“Gluteal Hardness is simple to gauge, at least in security guards. The parameters of interest are: gender; age; fullness of uniform; visibility of scalp; and belt-width and -trappings. The values of these parameters reliably distinguish a guard who is basically strolling over to say hello in case his supervisor is watching, from a guard who’d shoot you if he could.” Private security guards — of many kinds — turn up  in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

BONUS: Here’s an earlier, fictional depiction of a private security guard: W.C. Fields in the movie The Bank Dick:

Progress in grandma and grandpa detection

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Grandfather DetectionA joint US research Project from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Disney Research, Pittsburg, has made steps towards an automated digital image family member detection system. The new Bayesian photo-analysis methodology is able, for example, to perform ”identity clustering” and make attempts at identifying not only which individuals might be mothers, fathers, and children – but also grandparents.

“[…] family photo collections have unique challenges and opportunities for face recognition compared to random groups of photos containing people. We address the problem of unsupervised family member discovery: given a collection of family photos, we infer the size of the family, as well as the visual appearance and social role of each family member.”

Future work is expected to expand the inferred family connections to aunts and uncles.

“Interesting directions for future work is to add roles for non-family members and additional relatives, such as aunts and uncles, and to consider other types of social groups, such as friends”

See: Family Member Identification from Photo Collections


Testing the Green-Cheese Theory of the Moon

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Edward Schreiber and Orson Anderson once tested whether the Moon really could be made of green cheese. Caltech planetary scientist David Stephenson discussed that achievement, in Box 1 of his article in Physics Today in November 2014. In their 1970 article in the journal Science, Schreiber and Anderson compared the speeds of sound waves in rocks that were returned from the Moon with measured sound speeds of various terrestrial materials, including various types of cheese. (Sound speeds correlate highly with density and are thus often used to try to infer the composition of rocks.)

Table from E. Schreiber and O.L. Anderson (Science, 1970) comparing the sound speed of various Moon and terrestrial materials.
Table from E. Schreiber and O.L. Anderson (Science, 1970) comparing the sound speeds of various Moon and terrestrial materials.

According to these data, the sound speed from lunar materials seems to be much closer to those of terrestrial cheeses than of terrestrial rocks. However, one should look at Stephenson’s excellent article to read about more serious hypotheses about the origin of the Moon.