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]

Periodic Table Discovered at Scotland's St Andrews University Could Be World's Oldest

Alan Aitken
Alan Aitken

The oldest surviving periodic table of elements in the world may have been found at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, according to the Scottish newspaper The Courier.

University researchers and international experts recently determined that the chart, which was rediscovered in a chemistry department storage area in 2014, dates back to 1885—just 16 years after Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev invented the method of sorting the elements into related groups and arranging them by increasing atomic weight.

Mendeleev’s original periodic table had 60 elements, while the modern version we use today contains 118 elements. The chart found at St Andrews is similar to Mendeleev’s second version of the table, created in 1871. It’s thought to be the only surviving table of its kind in Europe.

The periodic table soaks in a washing treatment
Richard Hawkes

The St Andrews table is written in German, and was presumably produced for German universities to use as a teaching aid, according to St Andrews chemistry professor David O’Hagan. The item itself was dated 1885, but St Andrews researcher M. Pilar Gil found a receipt showing that the university purchased the table from a German catalog in 1888. A St Andrews chemistry professor at the time likely ordered it because he wanted to have the latest teaching materials in the scientific field, even if they weren't written in English.

When university staffers first found the table in 2014, it was in “bad condition,” O’Hagan tells The Courier in the video below. The material was fragile and bits of it flaked off when it was handled. Conservators in the university's special collections department have since worked to preserve the document for posterity.

The 19th century table looks quite a bit different from its modern counterparts. Although Mendeleev laid the groundwork for the periodic table we know today, English physicist Henry Moseley improved it in 1913 by rearranging the elements by the number of protons they had rather than their atomic weight. Then, in the 1920s, Horace Deming created the boxy layout we now associate with periodic tables.

Learn more about the St Andrews discovery in the video below.

[h/t The Courier]

Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

iStock.com/RyersonClark
iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

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