Physicists Have Come Up With the 'Perfect Pizza Equation'

iStock.com/nickcurteman
iStock.com/nickcurteman

Three scientists have cracked the code for pizza perfection. As Live Science reports, a physicist and a food anthropologist in Rome teamed up with a physicist from Northern Illinois University (who also worked in the Italian capital) to figure out how to use an electric oven to bake pizza that’s as good as a wood-fired one.

Their paper, titled “The Physics of Baking Good Pizza,” was published on the pre-print platform arXiv [PDF]. A seasoned pizza-maker in Rome told the researchers that a brick oven was key to crafting a flawless pizza. It should be set at about 626°F (330°C), and the pie should be baked for just two minutes, the pizzaiolo said.

That’s all well and good if you happen to have a wood-fired brick oven at home, but the researchers wanted to test whether the same results could be achieved in an electric oven with a steel surface. They approached the question from a thermodynamic point of view, using the principles of heat transfer, thermal radiation, and water evaporation—factoring in the thickness and temperature of the bottom of the pizza, as well as other characteristics—to come up with the perfect method of cooking a classic Margherita pizza. In case you’re curious, the equation they arrived at looks like this:

The researchers' equation

Essentially, what this means is that similar conditions to a brick oven can be achieved in an electric oven by setting the temperature to 450°F (rounded up from 230°C) and leaving the pizza in there for 170 seconds. However, pizzas with toppings that have a higher water content (especially vegetables) should be left in the oven a little longer in order to take the process of evaporation into account.

The result is a perfectly fine pie, but as the researchers admit, “the dry heat and the smell of wood in traditional firebrick ovens remain the ideal way to bake the perfect pizza.”

[h/t Live Science]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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