On the biomechanics of popcorn


When popcorn pops, the biomechanics resemble both an explosion and a spring, a new study finds. 

HeatherLion/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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