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UNH Engineering Students Build a Better Delivery Box for a Piping Hot Pizza

Release Date:
7/15/2013 9:00 PM
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Updated 8/1/13

Ali Abdulkareem, 500px 
Grad student Ali Abdulkareem Al Nemer with the heat transfer prototype

Click here to watch the Engineering team's interview with Fox 61 WTIC

WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- A team of UNH engineering students has tackled an age-old quandary: how to get a pizza home piping hot, even during cold winter days.

Ravi Gorthala, associate professor of mechanical engineering, asked students in his “Heat Transfer” class to take a real-world problem and solve it. One team of students set out to solve a problem that has vexed pizza lovers everywhere. While some pizza delivery personnel have insulated, thermal pizza bags, sometimes heated by electrical heating elements, the UNH students focused on those who pick up their pies and still have 15 or 20 minutes or more to travel home and on those delivery persons who drop off pizzas that are lukewarm at best.   

Their tests indicated a pizza just out of an oven is typically 167 degrees Fahrenheit. They found studies that showed that people tend to like pizza served at about 122 degrees.

After design work and a great deal of testing (and tasting), the engineering students created a pizza box fashioned from wood that the cardboard version can slide right into.

Inside the wooden box are compartments that hold phase change materials (PCMs). They change from solid to liquid at a constant temperature and store thermal energy when heated.  They release heat and change phase back to solid when cooled. The temperature difference between the pizza and the surrounding PCMs is small, so the pizza does not lose heat and maintains its temperature.  RGEES, LLC, a company based in Asheville, NC, donated PCMs to promote experiential education.  The students heated the PCMs to different temperatures and placed them in plastic bottles.

In one experiment, the bottles were inserted into the wooden box at 127 F and 136 F (phase change temperature) and that kept the pizza at optimal temperature. Two hours later, the pizza was 115 F, still hot, Gorthala said. Six hours later, the pizza was still quite warm.  

Gorthala guaranteed an A for the project if the pizza brought to the final class presentation in the prototype box was piping hot in 40-degree weather.  The pizza was devoured and the students’ project received an A.

And now, the engineering students have a pizza restaurant to collaborate with, a place to test and further develop their prototype this fall.

Donato Cappetta of Cappetta’s Italian Imports, Pizza & Catering, just down the road from UNH at 188 Boston Post Road, saw a story about the pizza box invention on UNH’s Facebook page. He thought it was a great idea and wanted to see how they could get involved. He and his brother Luigi Cappetta, `94, a graduate of UNH’s hospitality management program, invited Gorthala to the restaurant and they discussed a plan over pizza.

Cappetta’s mother, Palma, is the original owner, and she still cooks often at the restaurant. Cappetta said UNH students stop in all the time for subs and the Donato Special – pepperoni, sausage and mushroom pizza. “We’re neighbors; we’re both in Allingtown and we love the University,” Cappetta said. “We’re excited to work with the students. It’s a win-win for both of us.”

Gorthala said he is thrilled with the collaboration and called the entrepreneurial venture “the hot topping” on a delicious STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education pie. UNH engineering students typically experience the engineering process from concept to prototype. But now they will be able to experience taking a prototype to market, working with the Cappettas by combining engineering, economics, functionality, aesthetics and safety through different experiments to make the design feasible. “It is exactly the kind of experiential, STEM-entrepreneurial learning that we want for our students,” Gorthala said.

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico and California. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.