A recent UK survey carried out by the website T3.co.uk and Wilkinson Sword named the widget as the greatest invention of the past 40 years, putting it well ahead of the internet and the mobile phone.
The online survey involved close to 9,000 people and almost half who took part voted for the little plastic device inside a beverage can that generates a creamy head on canned beer. Computers, the internet, heart transplant surgery and genetics were all seen as less important. Space exploration was just one of many amazing innovations, including solar powered cars, pocket television and the contraceptive pill that failed to even make the list of the 10 greatest technology breakthroughs.
There are many different kinds of widget but the latest is a plastic, nitrogen-filled sphere with two tiny holes that is inserted into the filled can together with a slug of liquid nitrogen, just before the can is seamed and scaled. The liquid nitrogen evaporates during the canning process, pressurising the can and forcing some beer into the sphere and compressing the nitrogen inside. The widget floats on the surface of the beer, with a hole just slightly below the surface of the beer. When the can is opened, the pressure inside is immediately reduced, but the sphere acts like a blown up balloon that is suddenly released, and the contents jet out through the tiny hole and into the beer. As the beer and gas rush through the tiny hole, this agitation causes the N2/C02 that is dissolved in the beer to form tiny bubbles that rise to the surface of the beer and form the head. The technology is currently being trialled for an iced cappuccino drink by Kenco.