The (Not So) Humble Rice Krispie

The (Not So) Humble Rice Krispie

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Eating breakfast at your desk may be acceptable in many jobs, but somehow I don’t think you would get away with it in a science lab. So why are researchers at the University of Sydney reaching for this favourite breakfast cereal?

Unsurprisingly, studying or simulating natural phenomena within a laboratory can be difficult. So Dr Einav and Dr Guillard are using puffed rice cereal as a surrogate material for naturally-occurring dry snow and rocks; all of which fall under the category of brittle, porous media. Of course, it all makes sense now…

It turns out that puffed rice is a great stand-in for such materials as, like snow and rock, cereal breaks under pressure and degrades in fluid.

Previously, researchers in Australia had been working with dry cereal. Oh yes, you read that right. It turns out that Rice Krispies, or Rice Bubbles as they’re called Down Under, have been helping scientists for some time now.

As some collapse events involve water, such as those that occur in ice shelves and sink holes, scientists at the University of Sydney are now adding milk to their cereal. Literally.

By adding milk to the Krispies, researchers found that they could simulate these types of collapses in a sped-up, scaled-down way. They even have their own name for the famous “snap, crackle and pop” reaction: “ricequakes” (Atlas Obscura). Yes, honestly.

From the scientists’ work with Rice Krispies (yes, it does sound like an oxymoron), they have been able to create a mathematical equation that can explain when, and why, the ricequakes happen. This in turn can be used to help understand, and even predict, natural phenomenon such as the recurring tidal icequakes of Antarctica.

Who knew that Rice Krispies, physics and mathematics were all so closely connected.


Photo by Alex McCarthy on Unsplash

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