When building aircraft and rockets, you need a structure that’s strong, but also as light as possible. That generally means you have to make a thin structure, but how do you create a thin, seamless shell without breaking? MIT scientists realized that to find out, they should just ask the guys making bonbons down the street. And not just because chocolate improves brain function, either.
A good bonbon has a smooth, thin, chocolate shell, and chocolatiers have been perfecting the art of the bonbon since the days of Louis XIV. Researchers at MIT were looking for a technique that would create a smooth, thin shell of other material, and not just because they want to improve your M&M eating experience. Even a single flaw in the hull of a rocket or aircraft can result in enormous damage as the drag of air pulls at it, so getting that smooth shell is good news.
And, it turns out, surprisingly simple. Working from a theory and the resulting equation they derived from it, it turns out that it’s not the height you drizzle your chocolate or rocket hull material or how much you layer on, but how thick the fluid you pour is, how long you let the mold sit, and the shape of your mold. Runnier mixtures, for example, tend to drip off faster, forming a thinner shell, while more viscous mixtures are more likely to stay in one place, giving you thickness.
Before you ask, yes, this means it will be easier and simpler for chocolatiers to make crispy, tasty bonbons, although how you improve on slices of chocolate ganache is an open question. But it’ll also allow engineers to quickly and simply create shapes from molds and different polymer mixtures, with a reliable smoothness, letting them build everything from airplane windows to rocket hulls without needing expensive manufacturing techniques or long turnaround times. In other words, we might have bonbons to thank, in part, for better and faster space exploration. Is there anything chocolate can’t do?