3D printing solves watery-ketchup conundrum

Two high school students create the ketchup-dispensing invention the world's been waiting for.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

Tyler Richards shows off the 3D-printed cap that holds back an unpleasant squirt of water in ketchup bottles. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

Sure, 3D printing has been used to create things like a skull and a kayak. But those are kind of niche items. What about something that would solve a problem that's affected all of our lives at some point? I'm talking about that gross squirt of water that precedes a satisfying flow of ketchup, people. Who hasn't been dismayed when their burger bun was fouled with the stuff?

The technical term for the process that leads to the separation of tomato paste and water is called syneresis, and two enterprising high school students in Missouri believe they've vanquished it using a 3D-printed bottle cap.

The replacement cap looks a bit like a mushroom on its underside and works by holding back the water that forms at the top of bottled ketchup and letting the thick red paste flow through, giving a perfect squirt every time.

When Jonathan Thompson and Tyler Richards first came up with the idea, according to a report on WDAF TV in Kansas City, their teacher wasn't entirely onboard with it. "Our teacher wasn't even going to let us do this idea," Thompson told the TV station. But after doing their homework, which consisted of surveys and research, they won the educator over.

The project was part of the Project Lead The Way program, a national STEM initiative that "gives students in kindergarten through high school a chance to apply what they know, identify problems, find unique solutions, and lead their own learning," according to the project website.

The duo is now seeking a provisional patent for their invention, which could possibly revolutionize ketchup packaging, but mostly they're just enjoying themselves. "Mostly it's just been kind of fun, because there's not many classes where you can do a year-long research project on ketchup," Richards said in the video below that gives more details about their what-took-us-so-long-to-come-up-with-this invention.