Pancake Day: How Scientists Are Using Pancakes To Save People's Sight

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau flips a pancake at a Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Alberta, July 7, 2013. Scientists are studying how the properties of pancakes could aid the treatment of eye conditions. Todd Korol/Reuters

Scientists at University College London (UCL) have demonstrated how cooking the perfect pancake could give medical experts an insight into curing eye conditions such as glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a condition caused by a buildup of liquid in the eye and any subsequent visual impairment is irreversible. The researchers hope that better understanding the properties of a pancake will improve surgical methods for treating the disease.

The texture and appearance of a pancake, a flexible sheet with certain similar properties to an eye, is dependent on how water evaporates from the batter mix when cooked.

UCL's study, published in Mathematics TODAY, examined a range of pancakes of differing thicknesses and diameters and discovered the thinner and smaller the pancake, the more evenly the surface cooks. This is because water vapor is released more smoothly, avoiding the "craters" that form in thicker pancakes when water is trapped.

The treatment of glaucoma is dependent on mastering surgical techniques that can best alleviate the pressure caused by trapped water vapor in the eye.

"To treat this, surgeons create an escape route for the fluid by carefully cutting the flexible sheets of the sclera," says co-author Sir Peng Khaw in a press release. "We are improving this technique by working with engineers and mathematicians. It's a wonderful example of how the science of everyday activities can help us with the medical treatments of the future."