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Unique Science Fair Experiment: What Prevents a Pasta Boil-Over?

Posted by on October 5, 2014

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There are so many science experiments that can be done in the kitchen! Here is one example: Macaroni Mayhem

Practical science fair Experiments you can do in your kitchen: Preventing the pasta boil-over!

Practical science fair Experiments you can do in your kitchen: Preventing the pasta boil-over!

To design your own experiment, all you need is a testable observation, or idea, or solution to a problem.

Background: This is how pasta is made in my house – boil water, add pasta, walk away from stove, hear sizzling sounds from kitchen, run back to kitchen to find “pasta suds” spilling out of pot all over the stove … Sadly this also happens with rice and potatoes.

So when my neighbor, who loves to cook, wanted to design her own science fair project we tackled this question: What is the best way to prevent the pasta boil over? (Aside from the obvious… don’t leave the kitchen). We looked for solutions on the internet that we could test. We found an article for little known uses of butter, and one was listed as preventing pasta from boiling over. And that is all we needed to design an experiment – an observation we can test!

Question: Does butter prevent pasta boil-over?
Hypothesis: If butter is added to the pot, then the pasta will not boil over.

Procedure: In its simplest form we would have two same-sized metal cooking pots, each with the same amount and type of pasta, and each with the same amount of water (these are all the controlled variables and we need them to be as identical as possible). We put them on the same size burners at the same time and set the heat to the same temperature setting. One pot gets butter (that is the experimental condition) and one pot does not (that is the control). “Butter” is the independent variable because that is what we are manipulating. Our dependent variable is the boil over – which we could just count as yes or no (technically quantitative) but to make it more quantitative we use a stop watch and time when the first “sizzle” happens (i.e. marking the official start of the oh so familiar boil-over). Don’t forget to repeat the whole experiment 3 times (cooling the pots between runs) for the appropriate level of replication and use the same amounts of water, pasta, and butter each time.

Did it work? Yes…sometimes!

So now you can use this basic design to create your own project.

Dependent variable is:
—yes/no for the boil-over happening and
—TIME it takes for the boil over to occur

Independent variable is:
—what you will manipulate, so think about each component of the above design. Pick one that interests you and vary that, for example:

* How much butter is needed? (compare 0.5 tsp, 1 tsp, 1.5 tsp, etc.)
* Does salt content of butter matter? (compare salted to unsalted butter)
* Does margarine work better than butter? (compare margarine to butter)
* Butter is a fat, so is oil – does oil work? (compare oil to butter)
* Which oil works best? (compare olive oil, to vegetable oil, to peanut oil, coconut oil, etc.)
* How much oil is needed (compare different amounts of oil)
* What other strategies do people use to avoid this?
(e.g. salt, wooden spoon, lower temperatures, more water, etc.)

When the pasta is cooked, the trial is over. In all cases, “better” and “best” will be determined by (1) if no boil over happened and/or (2) the longest time before the boil over happens

Once you find the best solution, you can add a follow-up experiment:
* Does my solution work for all pasta types (compare wheat pasta to white pasta to gluten free pasta)
* Does my solution work for different volumes of water and different ratios of water-pasta?


13 Responses to Unique Science Fair Experiment: What Prevents a Pasta Boil-Over?

  1. JAYDA


  2. Amanda

    thank you for this great idea I hope it turns out well ohh and I love how it is so easy for my school I hope I can get a 1st,2nd or 3rd metal or I will get a participant one but thank you

    5th grade

  3. Destinee

    Will this be done in a day

  4. jakris

    what is the data

  5. ben

    what is the amount of water and noodles you used, this could be very helpful if you could reply.

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Depends on the size of pot you have. Also, try whole wheat noodles. Use the ratio you would use if you were cooking them for dinner, so it mimics what might happen in the kitchen.

  6. ally

    How do you graph this data?? Please reply

  7. lisa

    is this project advanced enough for middle school?

  8. Slacker boy's mom

    You are a freaking angel!!!! I would have paid big money for this information…. This mommy has never been so thankful!

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