Research

Popcorn Popping

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The familiar popping behavior of popcorn is the combination of several events. When heated, unpopped kernels act like pressure vessels, managing to contain their boiling water content until a critical temperature of 180 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, nearly all kernels fracture. Popcorn’s jump doesn’t come from the fracture, though. Most of its acrobatics occur when a leg of starch branches out of the popping kernel. The starch acts somewhat like a muscle – after being compressed against the ground, it springs back, propelling the corn upward. Finally, by synchronizing high-speed video and audio recordings of popping corn, researchers determined that the pop in popcorn is not caused by fracture or rebound but instead is the result of the release of water vapor. (Image credit: TAMU NAL, source; research credit: E. Virot and A. Ponomarenko; submitted by Chad W.)

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