The Loh Down On Science

Can you cook in space?

What do astronauts on long missions miss most?  Is it . . . fries?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

On Earth, frying works due to convection—the transfer of heat through motion.  Hot oil rises from the bottom of a fryer, and cool oil sinks from the top.  That creates circular convection currents that transfer heat from hotter areas to cooler ones.  Add potatoes, say, and heat transfers to them, too.

But in space, there's not enough gravity to keep food in a pan, much less cook it.  So researchers at Greece's Aristotle University are testing ways to cook inside custom-built centrifuges.  Centrifuges spin things rapidly, creating forces stronger than Earth gravity.  It's known as 1g.  By contrast, a front-load washer's spin?  Over 300 g's! 

Turns out "centrifuge fries" crisp up best at about 3 g's.  But a band of water vapor escaping from the underside still leaves fries partly soggy.  Ugh.  Higher than 3 g's and the crust separates from the core.  Bummer!

Frying.  It’s not rocket science, but actually it is!  Don’t get us started on ketchup packets.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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