The Science Behind the Widget

Or, A Mathematician Walks Into a Bar…

Next time you’re pouring yourself a can of Guinness, after the dark and thick stout settles in your glass, listen for the widget bouncing around the bottom of the can.  You might briefly wonder, what’s the point of that little plastic piece?  If you’re like me, you’ve simply assumed the widget keeps the beer mixed, and have left it at that.

Others take the widget’s effectiveness more seriously.  MIT’s Technology Review recently discussed the widget’s importance in the context of mathematics research underway at the University of Limerick in Ireland – where else?

The quick and dirty on the widget: Most beers only require carbon dioxide carbonation to form their head. Thicker stouts, like Guinness, are carbonated with mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen “because nitrogen forms smaller bubbles giving the drink a smoother, creamier mouth feel.”   The widget – a hollow plastic ball filled with the necessary gas mixture – accomplishes this task; when the can is opened the gas mixture is released and makes Guinness poured from cans just like the tap, smooth and heady.

The widget is clearly an ingenious application of science to benefit beer drinkers.  But Irish mathematicians studying the theory of bubble formation used “a mathematical model of a small nitrogen/carbon dioxide bubble trapped in a cellulose fiber” to work out ” how quickly it would grow.”  Their conclusion: “to replace the beloved widget with a credit-card sized sheet of paper.”

But my Guinness doesn’t need a better widget, you might bemoan.  On this point, I agree; but never have math and science been so relevant to us beer swilling dregs and simpletons.

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Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 9:40 am  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. I had no idea about widgets. I don’t drink Guinness, so maybe that’s why. Dark beers are not for me. But that’s a cool concept, and I will definitely check it out the next time I am with someone who is drinking a Guinness from a can. I assume that will be this Thursday for St. Paddy’s!


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