1996 – Murphy’s Law and Falling Toast

Have you have ever wondered why toast falls butter side down? In the mid 1990s Robert Matthews turned his scientific brain to this problem and was awarded the 1996 Ig Noble award for physics for his research.

(This article was originally published at Scienceray.com on 31 December 2010.)

Why Does Toast Fall Butter Side Down?

Why Does Toast Fall Butter Side Down?

The 1996 prize for Ig Noble prize for physics was awarded to Robert Matthews for his research into Murphy’s Law, and especially its connection to the problem of toast falling butter side down. His 1995 paper, “Tumbling Toast, Murphy’s Law and the Fundamental Constants”, was published in the European Journal of Physics.

In his paper, Matthews explains that when toast is knocked from a table it is given enough gravitational torque to turn butter side down, but not enough to complete the rotation. This is due to the height of the table. If tables were 3 metres high the toast would turn full circle and land butter side up.

Matthews goes on to show that the height of tables is dependant on the height of humans. The maximum safe height of humans can be calculated from a formula involving the strength of chemical bonds in the skull, the size of atoms and the strength of gravity.

As these variables are determined by three fundamental constants, Matthews concludes that humans will always have a problem with buttered toast due the nature of the universe.

Matthews has since extended his research into Murphy’s Law by considering the problem of odd socks.

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