Tuesday, August 19, 2008


British newspapers are way more fun than American ones.

Consider exhibit A, from a series on, I kid you not, improbable research in the Guardian:

Many people, of a morning, wonder why their breakfast cereal becomes soggy. Thanks to a study published in 1994, the answer can be read over morning coffee.

A Study of the Effects of Water Content on the Compaction Behaviour of Breakfast Cereal Flakes, by DMR Georget, Roger Parker and Andrew Smith of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, looks at the basic physics of the matter. The scientists rigorously analyse how crunchiness declines in the presence of a soggifying liquid. [...]

Once they knew what was known and what was not, Georget, Parker and Smith had at the cereal. They did experiments. They did calculations. They plotted plots and graphed graphs. Ultimately, they made substantial progress in solving the puzzle.

They soaked some flakes in water, then dropped them into a cylinder, and then stuck a thingy down into the cylinder to compress the flakes. They measured how much and how rapidly the flakes compressed. For thoroughness, they repeated the process again and again, each time using slightly soggier flakes.

They discovered that, up to a point, as a flake takes on liquid it retains much of its youthful firmness. Beyond that point, though, the flake goes suddenly limp.

One can express this in formal language: the Heckel deformation stress becomes increasingly sensitive to the particle density as the water content increases - which may seem obvious now, but at the time came as a revelation.

I'm eagerly awaiting the article on how long it takes for a cup of tea to go from "mouth-blisteringly hot" to "disappointingly tepid." Though I suppose, given that the ambient temperature here in Texas is likely to vary quite a bit from whatever temperature European researchers will be experiencing, it will be necessary to adjust the mathematical calculations before any practical application can be enjoyed from such research.

Meanwhile, one wonders if the cereal experiment will ever be repeated using milk instead of water; does the 12 to 18 percent absorption level and its correlation to sogginess remain true in milk? The mind boggles.

Of course, if the researchers really wanted to change the world, they could study how much liberalism a political candidate has to absorb before he becomes soggy; but given that such a study would probably expose the researchers themselves to dangerously high levels of liberalism it's probably best to keep that particular question in the realm of the theoretical.

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