April 23, 2014
Watery Ketchup Solution Inspired By Teens Participating In STEM Program
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
With grilling season slowly making its way up to the northern latitudes, many Americans are looking forward to cooking up a few burgers and dogs with friends and family.One of the main scourges of backyard grilling is the watery mess of tomato-y liquid that often accompanies that squirt of ketchup on a freshly grilled hot dog or hamburger; however – a couple of high school seniors from Kansas City, Mo. have used a 3D printer and a little old-fashioned ingenuity to develop a new cap that provides a thick squirt of ketchup every time.
As part of Project Lead the Way – a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program in over 5,000 US schools – Tyler Richards and Jonathan Thompson said they came up with their solution to the novel problem as a way to answer the question, “It bothers me when…”
The two 18-year-olds told their local WDAF television station in Kansas City that their teacher was initially skeptical about their idea.
"Our teacher wasn't even going to let us do this idea," Thompson told the TV station.
After a brainstorming session, some research and a few surveys – the teenagers were given the green light to go ahead and develop their problem-solving idea. As part of their research, they discovered that stagnant ketchup undergoes a process called syneresis – the separation of water from tomato paste. The realization inspired the duo to develop a specially-designed cap that would allow thick ketchup to flow out of the bottle but not water.
“We had to design a solution, we had to research the patents, and the science behind the concepts we’re exploring,” Richards said.
Richards and Thompson finally settled on a plastic cap with a mushroom-shaped tube that points up into a downward-pointing bottle.
“So the only way out is to go up under the dome, and then through the tube,” Richards said. “And so when you squeeze it out, all the water is sitting on the bottom, and the ketchup is the only stuff that will go through.”
“We would put our cap on, squirt out the ketchup, and we were getting none,” Thompson said.
The teens have said that they are currently looking into getting a provisional patent for the product and want to explore ways to monetize their design.
While some anonymous online commenters have already suggested just shaking the ketchup bottle is a simpler solution to eliminating the watery-ketchup problem, the new invention is an example of the STEM project in action. Through the project, the Kansas City teens were able to identify a problem, survey potential interest, develop several designs and refine their idea into a working product – a creative process that app developers and software engineers go through on a daily basis.
Perhaps most importantly, the high school seniors said they actually enjoyed the process – an accomplishment for anything school-related.
"Mostly it's just been kind of fun, because there's not many classes where you can do a year-long research project on ketchup," Richards said in an online video posted by Kansas City’s public television station.