What can avalanches teach us about ice cream?
In an unusual sharing of technology, a tool used to study of one of nature's more irresistable forces - the avalanche - is helping in the development of one of the more irresistable treats - ice cream.
An article was recently published in the journal, Soft Matter, and has the ice cream industry excited by the possibility of making better ice cream.
The key to the research is the x-ray microtomography machine at the Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, Switzerland. The machine is one of the few in the world that can capture images of microscopic structures at sub-zero temperatures.
By using this x-ray microtomography (also known as CT scanning) which results in a two-dimensional view of a slice of the material, snow scientists are able to observe the deformation of a snow on a microscopic scale. This deformation eventually leads to large-scale avalanches, and by creating a time lapse of the change, snow scientists can learn more about avalanches and further our understanding of how a snowpack changes over time. Some of these learnings are applicable to making recreation safer, and are integrated into programs like CMH Heli-Skiing’s snow safety program.
The ice cream study used the same machine to produce time-lapse images of water crystals forming on the ice cream. This change alters the texture and gives ice cream left too long in the freezer that chewy, frosty texture that only vaguely resembles fresh ice cream.
This research has food scientists from companies like Nestle, interviewed here by the BBC, excited about the potential to make a long-lasting ice cream. Reminiscent of Mr. Willy Wonka’s fictitious chocolate factory, where ice cream is made that doesn't even melt on a hot day, the company who invents ice cream that lasts better in the freezer will sell a lot of desserts.
Avalanche photo by John Mellis, CMH Cariboos, ice cream photo by Topher Donahue.