Thursday, April 24, 2014

Toothpick tripod: microwaving butter without melting it

toothpick tripod method butter microwave without melting puddling Josef Spalenka
The Toothpick Tripod Method of Microwaving Butter

Have you ever wondered how to soften butter in the microwave without it melting?

Softening refrigerated butter in a microwave to make it instantly spreadable has been a challenge to humanity for more than half a century. The inherent difficulty of microwaving butter is so well known that it was recently illustrated in a popular webcomic by The Oatmeal. Microwaving butter resting directly on a plate results in partial melting and puddling. Additionally, the time window between spreadably soft butter and mostly liquid butter is very narrow, and is highly variable depending on the microwave oven used, the size of the butter pat, and the material composition of the plate.

I am pleased to announce that this butter softening challenge has finally been solved.

I recently noticed that the initial puddling phenomenon always starts at the bottom of the butter pat where it contacts the plate, but the plate itself does not necessarily get hot and cause the melting. Even starting with a refrigerated plate results in melting from the bottom of the butter pat first. My idea was to elevate the butter pat above the plate, using toothpicks as shown in the above image, to avoid contact with the plate and hopefully achieve even heating without melting. I call this "The Toothpick Tripod Method" of microwave butter softening.

A tripod was chosen because it is the most efficient method to form a stable elevated support, with minimal surface area contact to the butter, and it is suitable for a butter pat of any shape. A bonus byproduct of this method, is that it also solves the problem of variable heating between different microwave ovens. Using the toothpick tripod method, you can simply set the microwave for any sufficiently long length of time, and then carefully watch the microwave until the buttery tripod softens and falls down under its own weight. The result is perfectly spreadable butter with no melted liquid, every time.

Try it for yourself!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Science Cats! Volume 2

This is a continuation of the Science Cats! theme I started last month. If you enjoy these, feel free to share them with friends and family, and make suggestions or requests in the comments.

Rutherford scattering experiment 1911 Science Cats! Chloe cat Josef Spalenka
Illustration of the classic Rutherford scattering experiment in which alpha particles (helium nuclei) elastically scatter from the nuclei of gold atoms (elastic scattering means the lighter α particles bounce off of the heavy Au atoms like billiard balls without losing their speed). In 1911, Ernest Rutherford used this experiment to prove that most of the mass of an atom is tightly concentrated in a tiny core nucleus in the atom, falsifying the previous "plum pudding model" of the atom in which the electrons are dispersed throughout a smeared-out positive spherical volume like blueberries in a muffin. The Rutherford Model for the atom was later updated in 1913 by the Bohr Model, which begins to hint at the first quantum mechanical picture of the atom. In this incarnation of the Rutherford scattering experiment, Chloe serves as the source of α particles.

Nicolaus Copernicus science cats heliocentric heliocentrism Jan Matejko Josef Spalenka
Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus formulated and published the heliocentric model in the first half of the 16th century, forever changing how humanity viewed its relationship to the Cosmos. The awe and majesty of this newly expanded cosmic perspective was beautifully captured in this 1873 oil painting by artist Jan Matejko (also Polish). In the foreground of the painting, Chloe plays with a rope and a random wooden pulley thing, completely oblivious to beauty and grandeur of the rest of the universe.

Antoine Lavoisier Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze chemistry Chloe science cats Josef Spalenka
Chloe disrupts a tender moment between Antoine Lavoisier and his wife (and scientific collaborator) Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze. Lavoisier is widely considered to be the founder of modern quantitative chemistry. He recognized and named the elements oxygen and hydrogen, predicted the existence of silicon, debunked the widely-held but incorrect phlogiston theory of combustion and oxidation, and played a major role in constructing the metric system. In spite of his incredible and far-reaching contributions to humanity, he was summarily guillotined in the aftermath of the French Revolution and overshadowed by politicians and war heroes in the history textbooks. So it goes.

Science cats Chloe Robert Goddard rockets rocketry liquid-fueled Josef Spalenka
"Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." -New York Times editorial from January 13, 1920, which was famously retracted in 1969 after the Apollo moon landing. Robert Goddard was ridiculed by the unimaginative fools in the press throughout his career and as a result kept much of his groundbreaking work private. His liquid-fueled multistage rockets were major milestones in the development of rocketry and the advance of space exploration.

If you liked these, be sure to check out Science Cats Volume 1!