Holy macaroni! After months of number-crunching, behold the strongest material in the universe: Nuclear pasta

Probably cost a pretty PENNE to run that physics simulation

Good luck sinking your teeth into nuclear pasta. For one it’ll be tricky to get a hold of since it’s the stuff lodged inside neutron stars. Additionally, it may also be the universe’s strongest material.

Neutron stars are the cores leftover from dead stars that have already shed their gaseous layers in a supernova explosion. All the mass remaining – normally greater than one solar mass – is squeezed into a tiny radius on the order of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), making them the densest objects in the known universe.

The strong gravitational pressure compresses the neutron star's crust, keeping it solid. Below this layer, the competing forces between protons and neutrons cause the particles to arrange themselves into strange formations. Sometimes they will organize into flat planes like lasagna or long cylinders like spaghetti, giving them the very scientific name of nuclear pasta.

Scientists believe that nuclear pasta may be the strongest material in the universe due to its extremely high densities and unique structures. The academics performed intensive computer simulations to model the interactions between millions of protons and neutrons to estimate the pasta's shear modulus is about 1030 ergs per cm3, and has a breaking strain greater than 0.1.

To put that in perspective, diamond on Earth typically has a shear modulus of 4.78×1012 ergs per cm3 – and the higher the number, the stronger the stuff. So nuclear pasta is in another league compared to our planet's materials. It's like comparing parsecs to kilometres.

Processing time

The simulations were computationally intensive, and required a whopping two million hours worth of processor time, or the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a decent GPU. In reality, hundreds of processors on a supercomputer crunched numbers in parallel to complete the calculation in a year or two, Matthew Caplan, first author of the research paper and a postdoctoral fellow in theoretical astrophysics at McGill University, told The Register.

“The simulation takes a long time for a few reasons," he said. "First, with 983,040 protons and 2,293,760 neutrons, there are a lot of forces to calculate. For example, every proton is repelling every other proton electromagnetically, which means our code has to calculate the forces between all of them,” he added.

“That requires a lot of math. To simulate them, we have to do this calculation over and over again. The simulation 'updates' by moving the protons and neutrons a very small distance, and recalculates the forces to figure out where to move them next. Our supercomputer did this over 16 million times.”

Liquid pasta

Nuclear pasta may be reality's strongest material, but it’s actually a liquid crystal with properties similar to solids and liquids. It’s like a solid crystal because it has a regular structure and order, with sheets of lasagna lying on top of one another. But it’s also like liquid because the particles within it can move around almost freely and flow. So nuclear pasta can be rearranged if you squeeze it hard enough.

The results are purely estimations gathered from simulations, however there may be ways to test them experimentally.


Neutron stars shower gold on universe in big bang, felt on Earth as 100-second grav wave


“While we can't make nuclear pasta in a lab on earth, we can study analog systems. Lots of polymers and liquid crystals have phases like nuclear pasta, they just have more serious sounding names!” Caplan explained to El Reg.

"One famous example are biological membranes in living cells. We've actually studied how the nuclear pasta lasagna exhibits the same structure and structural defects as the endoplasmic reticulum. Often times in science you can learn things about one system by studying another analog system with similar properties."

The paper has been accepted by Physical Review Letters. It may help scientists understand the gravitational waves emitted when two neutron stars collide, and if lone neutron stars produce gravitational waves, too.

“A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models, Caplan concluded on Tuesday.

“With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?” ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Share your experience: How does your organization introduce new systems?

    The answer is rarely obvious. Take part in our short poll and we'll find out together

    Reg Reader Survey The introduction of new systems into an organization is essential. If we stay still, if we continue to rely on legacy systems, if we fail to innovate – well, we (or, in reality, the company) will die. As business guru Sir John Harvey-Jones once put it: “If you are doing things the same way as two years ago, you are almost certainly doing them wrong.”

    But who should lead innovation in our companies? Who should be introducing new systems? The answer is not obvious.

    On one hand, the introduction of new systems into the business should be led by the business. In principle, the people doing the work, dealing with the suppliers, selling to the customers, are best placed to be standing up and saying: “We need the system to do X,” whether their motivation be to reduce cost, increase revenues, make products more efficiently, or even bolster our environmental credentials.

    Continue reading
  • These Rapoo webcams won't blow your mind, but they also won't break the bank

    And they're almost certainly better than a laptop jowel-cam

    Review It has been a long 20 months since Lockdown 1.0, and despite the best efforts of Google and Zoom et al to filter out the worst effects of built-in laptop webcams, a replacement might be in order for the long haul ahead.

    With this in mind, El Reg's intrepid reviews desk looked at a pair of inexpensive Rapoo webcams in search for an alternative to the horror of our Dell XPS nose-cam.

    Rapoo sent us its higher-end XW2K, a 2K 30fps device and, at the other end of the scale, the 720p XW170. Neither will break the bank, coming in at around £40 and £25 respectively from online retailers, but do include some handy features, such as autofocus and a noise cancelling microphone.

    Continue reading
  • It's one thing to have the world in your hands – what are you going to do with it?

    Google won the patent battle against ART+COM, but we were left with little more than a toy

    Column I used to think technology could change the world. Google's vision is different: it just wants you to sort of play with the world. That's fun, but it's not as powerful as it could be.

    Despite the fact that it often gives me a stomach-churning sense of motion sickness, I've been spending quite a bit of time lately fully immersed in Google Earth VR. Pop down inside a major city centre – Sydney, San Francisco or London – and the intense data-gathering work performed by Google's global fleet of scanning vehicles shows up in eye-popping detail.

    Buildings are rendered photorealistically, using the mathematics of photogrammetry to extrude three-dimensional solids from multiple two-dimensional images. Trees resolve across successive passes from childlike lollipops into complex textured forms. Yet what should feel absolutely real seems exactly the opposite – leaving me cold, as though I've stumbled onto a global-scale miniature train set, built by someone with too much time on their hands. What good is it, really?

    Continue reading
  • Why Cloud First should not have to mean Cloud Everywhere

    HPE urges 'consciously hybrid' strategy for UK public sector

    Sponsored In 2013, the UK government heralded Cloud First, a ground-breaking strategy to drive cloud adoption across the public sector. Eight years on, and much of UK public sector IT still runs on-premises - and all too often - on obsolete technologies.

    Today the government‘s message boils down to “cloud first, if you can” - perhaps in recognition that modernising complex legacy systems is hard. But in the private sector today, enterprises are typically mixing and matching cloud and on-premises infrastructure, according to the best business fit for their needs.

    The UK government should also adopt a “consciously hybrid” approach, according to HPE, The global technology company is calling for the entire IT industry to step up so that the public sector can modernise where needed and keep up with innovation: “We’re calling for a collective IT industry response to the problem,” says Russell MacDonald, HPE strategic advisor to the public sector.

    Continue reading
  • A Raspberry Pi HAT for the Lego Technic fan

    Sneaking in programming under the guise of plastic bricks

    There is good news for the intersection of Lego and Raspberry Pi fans today, as a new HAT (the delightfully named Hardware Attached on Top) will be unveiled for the diminutive computer to control Technic motors and sensors.

    Continue reading
  • Reg scribe spends week being watched by government Bluetooth wristband, emerges to more surveillance

    Home quarantine week was the price for an overseas trip, ongoing observation is the price of COVID-19

    Feature My family and I recently returned to Singapore after an overseas trip that, for the first time in over a year, did not require the ordeal of two weeks of quarantine in a hotel room.

    Instead, returning travelers are required to stay at home, wear a government-issued tracking device, and stay within range of a government-issued Bluetooth beacon at all times for a week … or else. No visitors are allowed and only a medical emergency is a ticket out. But that sounded easy compared to the hotel quarantine we endured in 2020.

    Continue reading
  • Intel teases 'software-defined silicon' with Linux kernel contribution – and won't say why

    It might enable activation of entirely new features on existing Xeon CPUs … or, you know, not

    Intel has teased a new tech it calls "Software Defined Silicon" (SDSi) but is saying almost nothing about it – and has told The Register it could amount to nothing.

    SDSi popped up around three weeks ago in a post to the Linux Kernel mailing list, in which an Intel Linux software engineer named David Box described it as "a post-manufacturing mechanism for activating additional silicon features".

    "Features are enabled through a license activation process," he wrote. "The SDSi driver provides a per-socket, ioctl interface for applications to perform three main provisioning functions." Those provisioning functions are:

    Continue reading
  • Chip manufacturers are going back to the future for automotive silicon

    Where we're going, we don't need 5nm

    Analysis Cars are gaining momentum as computers on wheels, though chip manufacturers' auto focus isn't on making components using the latest and greatest fabrication nodes.

    Instead, companies that include Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and Globalfoundries are turning back the clock and investing billions in factories that use older manufacturing techniques to make chips for vehicles.

    The rapid digitization and electrification of cars has created a giant demand for smaller, more power-efficient auto chips, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. He added that cars don't necessarily need the latest manufacturing processes, though, and many are still using analog-based components for various functions.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021