Exams, Dinos and next year :)

It’s almost the end of third year now which is really strange! I’ve still got one more year at Imperial doing my masters, but many of my friends are leaving this year. Integrated masters are a good thing to consider by the way for anyone thinking they might want to carry on in science– you can always transfer off the masters course if you change your mind, but if you do want to do a fourth year, this way it is counted as your first degree so you can take out a student loan, and it is also charged at the same price as an undergraduate course. Separate masters can cost much more than the cheap cheap price (!) of nine thousands pounds a year.

My main block of exams starts next Monday, but let’s not think about that!
Here is a picture of some dinosaurs I finger-painted instead…


This week I also found out I got my first choice of masters from next year! Here is the information I have about it so far:
“The most popular formula for a book title is perhaps “The art of [*****] cooking”. Indeed, cooking has long been considered the domain of the artistic. However the cooking process itself also depends on a wide range of sometimes complex interacting physical and chemical processes. For example, many recipes specify the boiling time for a soft-boiled egg. Yet even the most rudimentary consideration of thermal diffusion would suggest different times for different sizes of eggs. Modelling of the physical processes involved allows one essentially to engineer the cooking process. In fact it turns out that better results can be obtained by cooking the egg in water that is not boiling. It is even possible to achieve a set yolk and soft white if one so wishes!

The scientific approach has already caught the attention of chefs, with for example Heston Blumenthal and others using controlled water baths for cooking everything from fish to figs. The aim of this project is to investigate the physical process of cooking, in particular heat diffusion and transport of water. We will begin with a relatively simple steak. We shall begin by calculating the changing temperature distribution through the steak as it cooks, using a model based on heat diffusion equations, and use this to investigate different approaches to cooking. By incorporating the results in a finite element model (using COMSOL’s heat transfer module), it is hoped that more complicated meats such as roasting joints can be studied.

A common cooking fallacy is that searing meat keeps in the juices – it does not. But meat does contract and loose moisture during (and after) cooking. We will investigate such mass transport effects of water, both during cooking, but also in the related process of brining in which saline is used to hydrate meat (and also introduce flavours) before cooking. Our approach will be to model the water flow using the diffusion differential equations. The processes involved in brining however are still poorly understood – salt concentration is critical with one hypothesis being that chloride ions from the brine enhance capillary action within the meat. It is hoped the model may provide a tool to investigate this. Accompanying the steak, the “perfect chip”, with a persistent glass-like crunchy exterior and a fluffy inside, is far from trivial and chefs have suggested approaches including par-boiling, controlled water bath, frying multiple times at different temperatures and with refrigeration between, or all of these, in processes that can take several days from start to finish!

Again by considering thermal processes involved including diffusion and vaporisation we shall attempt to model and understand the physics behind these approaches and perhaps devise a better (simpler) method. To finish, we shall look at the physics involved in making a lemon tart. The project will have a strong theoretical and numerical modelling element, but will require some experimental work (cooking). Students interested in the project will work in our brand new laboratory kitchen equipped with the best, state of the art equipment. It therefore would be suitable for those with experience in numerical modelling and computational programming, but paramount is an interest in cooking. We already have the involvement of some local professional chefs. However, the choice of such well- known foods means that there could also be the opportunity for public engagement activity.”

Exciting stuff! I am really looking forward to starting research on this topic. As soon as exams are over I’m going to buy loads of books on the physics of cooking 🙂

In other physics cooking news Watson, IBM’s supercomputer has recently published a recipe book of recipes put together using his supercomputer brain full of new and weird flavour combinations. It’s definitely on my summer reading list 🙂

I also chose my options for next year officially:


Last weekend I went along with CubeSat to help run our stall and tell people about our satellite. We had the visitors to the festival vote on their favourite of a shortlist of names from the naming competition, and told them all about the satellite’s aims.

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Imperial festival was amazing– it was the first time I’d been and it was full of really incredible exhibits and people, and also a giant nose which you could get inside. It’s mostly aimed at families, and is so much fun, I will definitely have to try and get involved again next year. It’s just unfortunate that it’s always right in the middle of exams!

2 comments for “Exams, Dinos and next year :)

  1. So what name did the public pick for the CubeSat then Emma? And what exactly will it be doing up in space? Thanks

    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment. The final name chosen was IMPSAR (IMPerial Search And Rescue).
      The project is designed to show how the existing system of search and rescue satellites can be improved upon with minimal investment, as well as test several other engineering ideas– for example an origami-based deployable solar panels which have never been used in small satellites before. Its camera is planned to have the highest resolution of any CubeSat to date with 1.5m of the Earth’s surface per pixel.

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