Shape-Shifting Noodles Could Be on Menu for Space Travel

Researchers engineered self-folding pasta to feed astronauts on future space missions.

June 11, 2017 5:00 am

An Italian dinner on Mars may consist of self-folding rigatoni.

Researchers from MIT Media Lab have engineered flat noodles that change into their desired shape when dunked in water in an effort to cut down on shipping costs and environmental waste. The futuristic food was originally designed for use on Earth, but it could radically transform cuisine for astronauts as well.

These pasta shapes were caused by immersing 2D flat film into water. (Michael Indresano Production)

According to one of the researchers, Wen Wang, 67 percent of the volume in pasta packaging is air. Packing the noodles flat saves room and money, both of which are crucial in planning space missions.

Helix noodle with Point Judith squid, confit egg yolk and white hoisin (coined by Matthew Delisle). (Michael Indresano Production)

To get the noodle’s general shape, two layers of gelatin of different density are pressed on top of each other. The denser layer absorbs more water than the other, so it curls over when submerged. To control the shape, the MIT researchers used 3-D printed cellulose strips to serve as a crease since they absorb very little water, preventing it from touching the top layer of gelatin.

The idea for the shape-shifting noodles came about when the researchers were experimenting with bacteria used to ferment a Japanese soybean dish called natto, previously used to design self-cooling clothing.

Phytoplankton pasta salad with heirloom tomatoes and wild sorrel (coined by Matthew Delisle). (Michael Indresano Production)


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.