It's a problem we've all faced. Just when your omelet or burger is ready for a quick hit of ketchup before digging in, it happens: watery ketchup. The horror!
Unlike the rest of us, two Kansas City, Mo., teenagers were not willing to settle for anything less than perfect tomato spread, so they did something about it. As a part of their Project Lead the Way engineering class at Liberty North High School in which students create solutions to problems through engineering, Tyler Richards and Jonathan Thompson, both 18, came up with the idea after thinking of answers to the prompt, "It bothers me when…"
The two friends were both bothered by watery ketchup, and after an online survey to family and friends, they found that 85 percent of people said they agreed and, more than that, that they'd be interested in paying for a solution to too-liquidy spread. Thus, their year-long project was born.
"We got a lot of encouragement from that survey. The main issue that we have working against us is sometimes the solution is as easy as just shaking the bottle, and we have heard that a few times," Richards said. "But we got such a heavy response that there's still a lot of people that experience that problem. And there are reasons why, like sometimes you don't shake it enough or you forget to shake it. So when we got those results it made it really clear that this would be an interesting problem to tackle."
The pair spent the year coming up with the design for what they now call the Syneresis Negation Apparatus, or "SNAP" for short, which is basically a mushroom-shaped addition to the cap of squeeze bottles.
"Syneresis is the name of the process that gets you the watery ketchup. It happens to a lot of gel-structure material stuff where the gelatin structure contracts so the water separates," Richards explained. "Our solution basically negates that process."
The cap sits face-down to the way you would apply it to a burger or plate. It has a stem and a dome, and the stem extends into the dome. The stem has a hole in it, and when you squeeze the bottle, the ketchup has to go underneath the lip of the dome in order to reach the hole in the stem. Then, the water will sit at the bottom of the stem so it can't reach the dome. The boys decided to focus on at-home use only, which is why the apparatus is specifically for squeeze bottles only.
"Right now we're in the process of applying for a provisional patent which holds our spot for about 12 months while we get everything together and prepared for a utility patent," Richards said.
All while still in high school. Richards plans to attend the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla for engineering in the fall and Thompson will be going into the U.S. Army.