1999 – Tea and Biscuits

Have you have ever wondered how to dunk a biscuit in a cup of tea for the optimal effect or how to create a teapot spout that does not drip? Then read on, for scientists have the answers.

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

Tea and Buscuit by Paul Downey

Tea and Buscuit by Paul Downey

In 1999, the physics prize at the annual Ig Noble Awards was shared by two scientists, Dr Len Fisher, for his research into biscuit dunking, and Professor Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck, for investigating non-dripping teapot spouts.

Dr Fisher’s team, from the University of Bristol, not only tackled the problem of biscuits breaking if dunked too long, but also calculated the effect that dunking has on flavour. Their results showed that a dunked biscuit releases up to 10 times more flavour than a dry one.

When a biscuit is placed in a hot beverage, the sugar that bonds the structure together melts and it becomes unstable. By modelling the physical properties of the biscuit with a mathematical formula, it is possible to calculate both the length of an ideal dunk and the angle of insertion into the liquid. Dr Fisher also recommends the use of a thermometer, as temperature is also a factor.

Professor Vanden-Broeck’s studies in fluid dynamics, and the flow of waves around a ship’s hull, led to additional investigations into the flow of tea through a spout. In a 20-page report about the problem of teapots he discussed the variables involved, including the size of the spout and the angle of pour, and explained the calculations that could be used to design the perfect non-dribbling teapot.

Also in this year, the prize for literature was presented to the British Standards Institution for BS-6008, a specification for making a proper cup of tea. The standard ran to 8 pages.

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