MIT Engineers Discover Science Breakthrough… With Chocolate

A new theory discovered by MIT engineers can predict the thickness of thin shells — and all because of chocolate.

Reported this week in Nature Communications, MIT researchers found out that by just knowing a few key variables, they can now predict the mechanical response from chocolate shells and can thus use this process on many other types of outer layers. The potential to use this new theory on small pharmaceutical capsules as well as large airplane and rocket structures all comes from this chocolatey discovery.

“I’m sure chocolatiers have come up with techniques that give empirically a set of instructions that they know will work,” said Pedro Reis, the Gilbert. W. Winslow Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “Our theory provides a much better, quantitative understanding of what’s going on, and one can now be predictive.”

Every year, the worldwide consumption of chocolate is approximately 7.2 million metric tons. It’s surprising, therefore, that researchers were able to use the popular treat to examine shell mechanic issues, which have been under examination since about the 1950s.

“We’re revisiting an old topic with new eyes,” Reis said. “This is a really simple, robust, rapid prototyping technique, and we’ve established design principles together with a predictive framework that characterizes the fabrication of thin shells.”

These MIT researchers are hopeful the technology breakthroughs will greatly help other industries, and not just the chocolate one. “I think ‘rapid fabrication’ is how we can describe this technique,” Reis added. “Usually that term means 3-D printing and other expensive tools, but it could describe something as simple as pouring chocolate over a mold.”

According to Gizmodo, the formula developed by the MIT researchers is the square root of any fluid’s viscosity multiplied by the radius of the mold and then divided by the curing time of the polymer. Finally, they multiply that figure by the polymer’s density and the acceleration.

This new technology could improve everything from pharmaceutical capsules to aircraft and rocket design — or even perfect the art of chocolate fondue.

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