MIT 3D-printed The Shape-Shifting Noodles

Next step closer to a self-folding dumpling.


Scientists at MIT recently combined 3D printing, molecular gastronomy, and macaroni. Scientists have engineered flat sheets of gelatin and starch into shape-shifting noodles that react and fold when exposed to water. According to researchers, this could help in reducing food shipping costs and lead to new trends in fine dining.

These shape-shifting noodles are created using thin layers of gelatin with different densities and compressed tops. As its compressed top absorbs water, it bends over the less-dense bottom layer creating a simple piece of tube-shaped pasta. Next, they 3D print strips of cellulose starch over the top layer to control the final shape of the noodles and create everything from traditional rigatoni to avant-garde mushrooms and blossoming flowers.

By doing this, they found that the strips could act as a water barrier. Through this, they controlled the amount of water at the top gelatin layer is exposed to.

MIT 3D-printed The Shape-Shifting Noodles
Phytoplankton pasta salad with heirloom tomatoes and wild sorrel, by Matthew Delisle
Image: Michael Indresano Production

By using macaroni- and rigatoni-like configurations, scientists created a number of different shapes from the gelatin films.

Wen Wang, research led said, “We did some simple calculations, such as for macaroni pasta. Even if you pack it perfectly, you still will end up with 67 percent of the volume of air. We thought maybe in the future our shape-changing food could be packed flat and save space.”

Hiroshi Ishii said, “This project is the one of the latest to materialize our vision of  ‘radical atoms’ — combining human interactions with dynamic physical materials, which are transformable, conformable, and informable.”

MIT 3D-printed The Shape-Shifting Noodles
Helix noodle with Point Judith squid, confit egg yolk, and white hoisin, by Matthew Delisle
Image: Michael Indresano Production

By using lab-graded 3D printer and modeling software to pattern cellulose onto films of gelatin. But, they outlined ways in which users can reproduce similar effects with more common techniques, such as screenprinting.

Wang said, “We did many lab tests and collected a database, within which you can pick different shapes, with fabrication instructions. Reversible, you can also select a basic pattern from the database and adjust the distribution or thickness, and can see how the final transformation will look.”

Yao said, “We envision that the online software can provide design instructions, and a startup company can ship the materials to your home. With this tool, we want to democratize the design of noodles.”


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