Bringing Quality Control to Burritos

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Photo credit: jeffreyw via Foter.com / CC BY

The final page of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), Newscripts, covers interesting scientific research. The item “Scientific Search for the Perfect Burrito” quickly caught my eye. After all, I like burritos. But what I read made me want to share the ideas with you:

Scott Cole, a neuroscience Ph.D candidate at University of California San Diego introduced a statistical burrito rating system. Why, you ask? As he suggests online, a “lack of funding to support public burrito knowledge has led millions of people to eating a burrito and subsequently feeling dissatisfied, a tragedy that can be avoided.”

He notes, “even the most experienced burrito eaters have experienced the following disappointments:”

• “I just took a bite entirely of sour cream”
• “This carne asada has the texture of rubber”
• “THE TEMPERATURE OF THE EGGS IN THIS BURRITO IS TOO DAMN HIGH”
• “I am not looking forward to the leftover burrito in my fridge”
• “Where is the meat in this burrito?”
• “I need a fork”

To address the tragedy, Cole and his reviewers have set out to deploy a 10-factor rating system to evaluate the “majestic cylinder.” The considerations, per Cole’s site, are:

1. Volume
2. Tortilla quality
3. Temperature
4. Meat quality
5. Non-meat filling quality
6. Meat: the ratio between meat and non-meat.
7. Uniformity: “bites full of sour cream and cheese with no meat are disappointing.”
8. Salsa quality – and variety!
9. Flavor synergy
10. Wrap integrity

Need to see the data? It’s viewable online at Cole’s website in a Google spreadsheet.

What I love about this is the systematic way Cole has approached the problem. Just as we would do with an engineering problem, he’s talked with many people involved with producing and utilizing the burrito, developed an overarching checklist and a rating system, and created a spreadsheet to analyze the problem and formulate solutions.

While it sounds simple, we all know, it’s not so easy. After all, as Sherlock Holmes reminds us, we need to be open to investigating the basics; according to the great detective “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

Juiced up about Baseball Science

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Those who have followed my blog already know some about my background. For instance, I am an avid baseball fan. But here’s a new fact…I have been playing baseball since I was 5 years old. In fact, when I was 12, I was coached by the famous musical band, The Tokens, whose biggest hit was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Needless to say, this was not a winning team. Success was always just “a win away, a win away…”

 

The Chemistry of Baseballs

With the playoffs and World Series looming, the controversy once again has arisen about the “juiced baseball.” This season the number of home runs per game has increased to 2.54 from 2.03. Hit Tracker Online provides us with all the stats and information on “how far it really went” for MLB games.

But what is really going on? There are many theories:

  • hotter temperatures due to global warming
  • strike zone changes
  • stronger and younger players
  • pitching changes.

If we focus on the data, which is what we do as chemical engineers, there are some other interesting ideas to consider.

One theory is based upon the drag coefficient (air resistance) of the ball, as discussed by Rob Arthur. His hypothesis is that the drag coefficient has decreased to 0.344 from 0.357. While this does not sound like much, it can add over five feet to the ball’s distance. This would be enough to increase the number of home runs by 10 – 15%.

Another theory by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman suggests an “air-ball revolution” meaning that players are swinging differently. Several MLB players have been in the news for focusing on hitting the ball harder in the air, and elevating it off the ground more.

 

Testing Baseball’s Stuff

Chemical & Engineering News also has weighed in on data from Rawlings, which has been the Major League Baseball (MLB) supplier for many years. Matt Davenport’s 26 June 2017 article Materials: What’s That Stuff? states the ball is the same and references the ball’s Coefficient of Restitution (COR) value, which has always been between 0.514 – 0.578. The COR refers to the ability of an object to bounce back to its original height when dropped from a certain height. The recognized standard for COR testing is an ASTM method F-1887.

Thus, why we’re seeing such a run on home runs remains a mystery and will be debated for a long time. My idea…let’s have a hot dog and a beer and share theories. As Ernie Banks said “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”