Don Pettit, a NASA astronaut, recently spent six months floating around the International Space Station. During his free time in outer space, he amused himself with “science of his own design:” he took a bunch of candy corn and a blob of water, and created a candy corn sphere.
This sphere is actually a macroscopic analogy to how a surfactant (or soap) molecule works, Pettit told SciFri.
Soap molecules have a hydrophilic (water-loving) and a hydrophobic (water-hating) end: the water-hating one sticks to the oil, while the water-loving one pokes into the water.
To create the sphere, Pettit coated one end of each candy corn with oil to make it hydrophobic. The candies arranged themselves around the glob based on attraction or repulsion to water.
Once the surface is covered with surfactant molecules (this phenomenon is called “critical micelle concentration”), the grease floats off and mixes with water. In the case of the candy corn bubble, once that concentration is reached, the sphere goes from squishy to hard: surface tension is what holds the form together.
To make his awesome experiment come to life, Pettit squandered all the candy corn supplies aboard the spacecraft.
For that, he sincerely apologizes to the rest of the crew.
Here’s some other fascinating stuff we found on the Internet today:
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma might be made into a feature film [Eater]
How to make world-class bar-style pizza in 12 minutes [Serious Eats]
The most insane fall cocktail ever is served in an entire delicata squash [Gothamist]
The exercise cost of your favorite foods [The Atlantic]