Technology & Science

Geographer shows 'Kansas flatter than a pancake'

Researchers use topography data, microscopes and flattening ratio to compare Kansas to a pancake.

An American geography professor has shown the landscape of the state of Kansas is "as flat as a pancake."

In fact, geography Prof. Mark Fonstad of Southwest Texas University concluded the topography of the wheat state is flatter than a pancake.

Using simple instruments, topography data from the U.S. Geological Survey's Web site and microscopes, Fonstad and his colleagues compared the state's terrain to a pancake from a restaurant.

A pancake may look flat to a human examining it from above, but the problem is one of scale.

"For an ant walking on a pancake, it would look like the Grand Canyon," Fonstad told CBC Radio's As It Happens.

To determine the flatness of a pancake, the researchers cut it in half, took a picture of its outline, and scanned the image into a computer.

They then applied a measure called the flattening ratio, which scientists used to figure out how spherical the Earth is.

In a few hours, the team found Kansas is "very, very flat," with an overall curvature quite a bit less than the length of the state.

Fonstad said if you imagine a pancake blown up to the size of Kansas, the pancake would be much more curvy and stretched than the state. Under a powerful microscope, a pancake looks slightly curved, with holes and grooves, he said.

He acknowledged the study is fun, but it often helps to play such conceptual games to get our brains to think about important problems.

The study appears in the May/June issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.