Leave it to a scientist in Wisconsin, America’s leading dairy state, to come up with a new way to cut cheese. Xiaochun Li, a mechanical engineer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, built a novel chopper around a laser that is so accurate it can slice pieces no thicker than a human hair, about 1/300 of an inch. “At first I used a traditional laser and it burned the cheese, so I almost gave up,” he says. “Then I thought about the excimer laser used in eye surgery.” This type of laser, which fires pulses that last only one-billionth of a second, creates a barrage of molecular fissures while leaving the surrounding material intact. “High energy means it breaks the bonds quickly,” Li says. “It’s a very clean cut.”
Li believes his machine is safer and more sanitary than conventional blades and could improve efficiency by eliminating tearing and sticking. The laser slicer can also make food more fun, as he has demonstrated: Guided by computer design software, it can carve cartoon shapes in American cheese.