Physicists Reveal the Science Behind Popping Popcorns

By | Feb 11, 2015 11:18 AM EST
Popcorn popping

High speed photos show popcorn popping.(Photo : Royal Society Interface)

Ah, science! Two French physicists took the time to conduct a study into the science of how popcorns pop to show the rest of us how to cook perfect popcorns.

Physicists Emmanuel Virot and Alexandre Ponomarenko went to the trouble of studying each stage of the popcorn  popping process in detail to understand its underlying scientific basis. They discovered the entire process of bursting, jumping and popping occurs in just hundredths of a second.

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These intrepid Frenchmen discovered the critical temperature at which popcorn bursts. At a temperature of 180 degrees Centigrade, the popcorn's outer shell has no choice but to burst open.

"We found that the critical temperature is about 180 C (356 F), regardless of the size or shape of the grain," said Virot.

Their research also revealed the way popcorn jumps as it breaks open, and the sound a popcorn emits when water vapor is suddenly released.

The duo came to these findings by using high-speed cameras recording at 2,900 frames per second. These photos show that when the temperature rose to 180 degrees Centigrade or 356 degrees Fahrenheit, the pressure inside the popcorns rose to 10 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level.

The massive pressure easily splits open the popcorns' outer shell. The starchy interior of the popcorn forces its way out through the cracked hull and expands to form cooked popcorn's familiar flowery shape..

Of course, the physicists also examined the way popcorns jump. After popcorns cracks open under heat and pressure, what emerges is a leg-shaped structure the scientists called a leg. The stored energy in the leg explodes and hurls the kernel into the air.

As for what causes that popping sound, the physicist said this was most likely caused by the sudden, rapid release of water vapor from the kernel. A drop in pressure turns the cavities inside the popcorn into acoustic resonators.

The phycisists' study was published in the journal, Royal Society Interface.

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