What do particle accelerators, thermodynamics, and engineering have to do with Thanksgiving? Everything!
If you buy a turkey that has been shrink wrapped (especially Butterball turkeys), then you have particle accelerators to thank for producing that sturdy film that keeps the turkey fresh. Symmetry magazine did an article a few years back on how shrink wrap is made.
Trying to figure out how long you should cook the turkey? Cooking thermodynamics to the rescue! If you can assume a few things, like the turkey being plump enough to be considered a sphere and that the oven temperature will stay constant, then from that you can apply the principles of the Conduction of Heat in Solids to come up with cooking times. (Or, just cook the bird 15-20 minutes for each pound that it weighs.)
So where does engineering come in? Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, of course! The balloons in the parade are not your everyday type of balloon or float. Each float requires metal bending and carving and painting, while each balloon holds a series of chambers engineered to hold whatever shape you’re looking for. One of the most amazing things about these floats? They have to fold into a space no bigger than 11 by 6 feet to fit through the door of the studio they’re created in, as well as being able to fit in the Lincoln Tunnel!
And if you didn’t think Thanksgiving dinner and science had anything in common, you should talk to the mad food scientist himself, Alton Brown. He often makes the science of cooking easy to understand, or at the very least, makes people aware of the science behind baking a cake or brining a turkey.
We hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, and be sure to learn more the science of cooking (and so much more!) at the Maine Science Festival in March.