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Science, it’s a piece of cake!

February 7th, 2011


Last week I posted a fun little video we made at the Goddard Space Flight Center “Science As Food” contest. It was part of an annual event here, the “Poster Party Blowout,” where NASA scientists and engineers show off their research and projects to colleagues.

The Science As Food winner, Joe Hourclé, sent me some photographs of “the making of” an erupting sun cake. Want to know how to make pudding rocket from a cake on command? Here is Joe’s explanation, more or less word for word:

The actual cake part is a 10″ round cake, a boxed mix, with extra baking powder inside, and baked in a hotter oven than what the directions called for to increase the domed top.

I then affixed it with icing to an MDF cake round, so I could trim the edge a little more, and then crumb coated it.  I wrapped it in plastic wrap, so while I was cutting the Styrofoam, I wouldn’t accidentally contaminate the cake.

I tapered the 12″ Styrofoam cake form slightly, so it more closely matched the contour of the cake:


I then trimmed the styrofoam to fit a canister I had, with a large enough opening that I could fit my hand inside to connect up everything:


I then mounted the tubing and “gallo gun” (drain line cleaner) to the canister, and cut channels in the styrofoam form for the tubing, then gave it a test firing (using water; not pudding, so I didn’t have to clean out):


The exit tube stuck out from the styrofoam a little bit, as the icing would have some thickness to it:


I then re-stacked the cake, using icing to fill the edge of the cake, and then gave it a covering of orange fondant, which might’ve been overkill. (Note: There was a brass fitting in the exit tube so I didn’t accidentally fill it with icing.)


I had mixed the icing colors the day before, as they can take a day or so to reach their full color, in case I had to correct them, as I was attempting to match the false color table used by SOHO and STEREO for 304 Angstrom images:


The solar granulation effect was achieved by loading two different shades in each bag, so when I piped out little stars, there’d be variation.  I could also change the color that showed through more by turning my hand and angling the piping bag differently:


And I made sure to use some white to signify an active region around the exit point:


The canister inside the cake was actually filled on site. I used a squeeze bottle to inject the pudding through the exit hole.  The color’s a little dark because I used soy milk for the pudding; it was made with more liquid than the pudding mixed called for, so it wouldn’t set up too much.


And a cut-away of the actual canister after firing:


OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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