Next time you treat yourself to a double scoop of choc chip ice cream you may want to pause a moment and consider the contribution that physics made to the material properties and to the processes that delivered it into the tub.
To the casual observer the interaction between physics and the food manufacturing industry (the UK’s largest) is far from obvious. However, look a little closer and you’ll be struck by the range of physics disciplines used in the manufacturing of food. In fact there are huge opportunities for improvements in manufacturing costs and efficiency by adopting the latest technologies (such as sensing and data science) as well as applying rigorous scientific approaches.
In addition to optical sensing for monitoring ripeness and detecting contaminants in food, applications include optical sorting (rejecting individual grains of rice), modelling material properties of microwave snacks and ice cream, improving process fluid flows with ultrasonics, and predicting the flow of water through coffee grounds for a perfect coffee (the maths on that one look remarkably similar to flows of hydrocarbons in oil wells….).
The Institute of Physics is leading a push to raise awareness of physics in food manufacturing. Leading manufacturers (Unilever, PepsiCo, Mondelez (Cadbury) etc.) are all keen adopters but the challenge now is how to raise broader industry involvement to achieve greater competitiveness for the UK food manufacturing sector.
So, if you thought the only link between food and physics was Newton's apple – think again!