With a combination of a high-speed camera, microwave popcorn and an oven, researchers have detailed the mechanisms behind the tiny explosions that turn hard, compact popcorn kernels into a favorite fluffy treat.
At 180° Celsius (356° Fahrenheit), popcorn kernels pop regardless of size. As the kernels expand into fluffy flakes, they resemble a seed bursting from its outer coating. The starches inside then spring outward, in a manner the scientists compare to human muscles contracting and stretching during a jump. And the characteristic “pop” sound comes from the release of pressurized water vapor in the kernels, the scientists report February 11 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.