Phenomena

Sharkskin Instability

Homemade spaghetti noodles exhibit a roughened surface that’s the result of viscoelastic behavior known as the sharkskin instability. It’s usually observed in the industrial extrusion of polymer plastics. In the case of spaghetti, the long, complex polymer molecules necessary for the instability come from the proteins in eggs. The characteristically rough surface of the extruded material is caused by the transition from flow through the die to air. Inside the die, friction from the walls exerts a strong shear force on the outer part of the fluid while the inner portion flows freely. When the material exits the die, the sudden lack of friction on the outer portion of the fluid causes it to accelerate to the same velocity as the middle of the flow. This acceleration stretches the polymers until they snap free of the die; after the strained polymers relax, the material keeps a rough, saw-tooth pattern. In industry, the sharkskin instability can be prevented by regulating temperature or flow speed. In the case of spaghetti, though, Modernist Cuisine suggests the roughness is desirable because it helps trap the pasta sauce. Bon appetit!  (Image credit: Modernist Cuisine)

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