Week One: Cooking Up Some Ideas

Share This:

Friday, June 4, 2021


Jesse Zeldes

The first week of my Soft Matter Kitchen internship has been off to an exciting start. The late memorial day pushed the first day of the program to Tuesday, which started for me with the virtual intern orientation. During the three-hour program, I got a chance to meet the other interns, as well as the program coordinators. It was a great chance to get to know my fellow interns better, as well as to kick some butt in our virtual Pictionary game.

After an afternoon spent filling out forms, I finally got to meet my mentor, Arif, for a 6 p.m. meeting. Because of the virtual nature of this year’s internship and the ongoing effects of the pandemic, my mentor and I are separated by a 12 hour time difference! Though this does make finding meeting times somewhat challenging, at least the difference is easy to remember. For now, we seem to have settled nicely into a schedule of alternating early-morning and late-night meetings. One consequence of the large time difference is that I’m quickly learning how to manage my time and projects mostly independently. Our totally non-overlapping work schedules ensure that the expected value of the question-answer time delay rests around 8 hours. The best way I’ve found to work around this is to always have as many sub-projects going on as I can. That way, when I get stuck in one, there is always more work to do on one of my other ideas.

But enough about work schedules, let's talk some science! At my meeting with Arif, I got my first taste (no pun intended) of the field of rheology. Unlike fluid mechanics, which studies idealized models of fluids placed in complicated flow behavior, rheology considers much more complicated types of fluids under simpler flow conditions. Perhaps most importantly, we no longer consider viscosity -- a fluid's resistance to flow -- to be a nice constant. Instead, we consider how it can change as a function of the shear applied to the fluid, the rate of change of shear, or of time.

But Jess, I hear you saying, what on earth does this have to do with food? Well, dear reader, what an excellent question! The fact is that many of the foods we cook on an everyday basis have complex and interesting rheological properties. Take mayonnaise, for instance. When you drop a dollop of mayonnaise onto your bread, it mostly holds its shape, acting very much like a solid due to its very high viscosity. However, when you begin to spread it, the mayo easily spreads under your knife, flowing in a much lower viscosity state. This behavior, which is common in rheology, is that of a shear-thinning liquid. Our hope this summer's to use connections like these to help bring the complex world of rheology to a broader audience and expose more people to the beautiful world of complex fluid flow.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the project, check out the blog here!

Until next week!


Jesse Zeldes