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How MIT could help you pour ketchup

Brandon Griggs, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • MIT professor and his students invent nonstick coating that makes ketchup slide out of the bottle
  • LiquiGlide is made from edible, nontoxic materials that can be sprayed into food containers
  • A YouTube video of the ketchup bottle in action has been viewed more than 125,000 times

(CNN) -- The video is as short as it is surprising. A hand tilts a glass bottle containing a red glob of ketchup, which -- instead of oozing out in slow motion or getting stuck -- slides out easily, leaving the bottle nearly spotless.

Posted last week, the 20-second clip has been viewed more than 125,000 times on YouTube, prompting dozens of news stories and brightening the spirits of impatient ketchup lovers everywhere.

But it's not exactly what Kripa Varanasi had in mind when he and his students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set out to develop a new kind of slippery coating that would help de-ice planes, or keep water droplets from sticking to steam turbines in power plants.

"I never thought a ketchup bottle would make us this famous," said Varanasi, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "We were all focused on [solving] the big problems, like water and energy."

But one of the goals of Varanasi's MIT lab is to develop potential commercial products, not just publish research in academic journals. The coating, which he and his graduate students call LiquiGlide, seemed more immediately viable as a food-packaging product, he said.

LiquiGlide is made from a secret cocktail of edible, nontoxic materials that can be sprayed into bottles or other food containers. Videos on the LiquiGlide site show it working its slippery magic on plastic bottles of jelly and mustard, too.

"You could literally scratch it off and eat it," Varanasi told CNN in an interview. "It's that safe."

LiquiGlide first gained attention earlier this month at MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, an annual forum for launching academic projects into the commercial marketplace, where it won an Audience Award. Now Varanasi and his students are fielding interview requests, talking to bottling companies, filing for patents and planning to launch a startup this summer. An MIT grad student, Dave Smith, will serve as CEO, Varanasi said.

As Varanasi sees it, LiquiGlide offers several benefits: It's more convenient for consumers, and it makes recycling easier because the bottles are clean. It also wastes less food, because people won't be tossing out bottles coated with mustard that they can't squeeze out.

He also believes LiquiGlide has practical applications beyond condiments, such as high-end cosmetics. Who wants to waste precious drops of $50 hand lotion because they can't get the stuff out of the bottle?

"It works on everything we've tried so far," Smith told CNN.

Varanasi and his students hope to have their product on supermarket shelves within two years. Right now they have momentum on their side, thanks to a deceptively simple idea, a niche nobody realized needed filling -- and a little video.

"It just went viral," Varanasi said. "The video sold it."

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