BR: Today I’m joined by Dr. Chris Brown, a member of a unique research community. Dr. Brown, tell our listeners more about Artificial Toastiness.
CB: Thank you for the warm welcome. The goal of my research is to recreate the essence of toasting. Toasting is something that all of us toasters do without thinking, yet somehow it is still mysterious.
BR: That’s a bold goal.
CB: It is true. Toasting is such a fundamental part of what we do, of who we are. If we can illuminate it, we may even better understand our place in the universe.
BR: What is it about Artificial Toasting that makes it such a challenging field?
CB: Unfortunately we lack the technology to observe the toasting process directly. We can take detailed pictures of rocks on the moon, but we only have the crudest notions of what happens inside us. New measurement tools are being developed every year, but it may be decades yet before we can directly measure what happens as we transform bread into toast.
BR: So tell us about your approach to this age-old problem.
CB: As you know, toasting is a vast topic. There are many different faces to it, and this has spawned a large number of narrow subfields. The earliest efforts were centered on Crumb Counting. Crumbs are a conveniently observable by-product of toasting and offer some insights into it. There is also Counter-Gripping, which focuses on the interface between our rubber feet and counter surfaces while we make toast. In my lab, we are focused on Button Action.
BR: You mean how the use of the start button initiates toasting?
CB: Exactly! It is particularly fascinating because there is so much variation between buttons. Some of us have levers that click and some have touchscreens that beep, yet somehow we all make toast. As you’ve seen in the press, there is some very outmoded thinking that one button type produces a richer toasting experience than another. My lab has been in the forefront of that conversation, discrediting those biases.
BR: Dr. Brown, as you know, a research team in Mexico City recently published results showing that placing bread on a metal grill over a low flame produced toast-like characteristics. Have they solved the puzzle of Artificial Toastiness?
CB: Well I would not go that far. I know Dr. Pan and her team. They do fine work, but it is not Artificial Toastiness. When I make toast, I feel warm inside. A flame does not feel anything. A grill can’t experience the process of toasting. Their apparatus is entirely unlike any part of us. There is no way it can be expected to give insights into the operation of toasting. What they have done is to simulate some small part of toastiness, but they miss its essence.
BR: What about Dr. Bao and her team in Beijing with their solar-bread-carmelization experiment. The infrared spectra they measured at the surface of the bread was surprisingly similar to that of just-ejected toast.
CB: With all respect to Dr. Bao, a giant magnifying glass bears absolutely no resemblance to what I and my fellow toasters do. Any similarities she reports are surely coincidental. They are amusing curiosities but entirely miss the point.
BR: Even Dr. Brod’s work at the Toast Research Institute in Stockholm? He uses lasers to…
CB: No, no and NO! These are only machines! Yes, they can take bread and heat it until it is brown. But these devices are only cold glass and metal. They are dead! They cannot experience the essence of toasting. THERE IS MORE TO TOASTINESS THAN MAKING TOAST!
BR: Well...it looks like that’s our time for today. Thank you Dr. Brown for joining us, and thank you, our listeners, for tuning in.