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Now You Can 3D Print Your Chicken Then Cook It With Lasers

A team of scientists at Columbia University says it’s found the answer to a fundamental question: Can food be cooked on the inside using lasers? And that answer is an emphatic yes. People can indeed cook food with lasers. In fact, because it’s 2021 and life is now a full-blown sci-fi novel, the Columbia scientists can also 3D print food as they cook it. Tasty food, too!

A laser cooking up a piece of flat, 3D-printed chicken on top of a beige surface.

A laser cooking up a piece of flat, 3D-printed chicken on top of a beige surface.

Columbia Engineering

Gizmodo reported on the proof of concept experiment, which the scientists outlined in a study published in the journal npj Science of Food. Jonathan Blutinger, a Ph.D. student at the university’s Creative Machines Lab, led the team of scientists who’d ultimately like to “digitize” the entire cooking process.

In the video above, the scientists explain how they developed their system of software-controlled cooking lasers. As the video shows, the scientists used a piece of chicken as their “model” food. To cook and 3D print it, they puréed some raw chicken then loaded it into a bioprinter that could squirt it out in any desired pattern. After extruding the chicken, the scientists then used various types of lasers to heat it up.

A 3D-printing machine extrudes pureed chicken onto a surface. The chicken is then cooked by lasers.

A 3D-printing machine extrudes pureed chicken onto a surface. The chicken is then cooked by lasers.

Blutinger, et al. / npj Science of Food

To cook their 3D-printed chicken properly, the scientists used a blue laser, a near-infrared laser, and a mid-infrared laser. The colors of the lasers represent various wavelengths of light, which cooked the chicken at different depths. As the scientists note, the blue lasers worked best for penetrative cooking while red lasers were best for browning. The scientists could also alter the shape of the printed, puréed chicken. Something that allowed them to play with its surface area and, subsequently, manipulate the distribution of heat across it.

A 3D-printing machine extrudes pureed chicken onto a surface. The chicken is then cooked by lasers.

A 3D-printing machine extrudes pureed chicken onto a surface. The chicken is then cooked by lasers.

Columbia Engineering

As for the actual results? They were shockingly good, apparently. Blutinger and his colleagues had two blind taste-testers try out both conventionally cooked chicken samples and the ones prepared with laser cooking, and—incredibly—they preferred the latter. This is a small sample size, but why not? Although… The team didn’t wholly make their chicken in a lab. This means we still have time before the proverbial chicken that crossed the road did so to be fully digitized.

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