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Why Popcorn's Pop Sounds Like Uncorking Bottle of Champagne

By    |   Wednesday, 11 February 2015 07:51 AM

Scientists have discovered why popcorn makes a sound when it pops by using a slow motion camera.

Many people the world over had long assumed that the popping sound was produced by the kernel's interior bursting through the exterior husk, but that is not the case, say Emmanuel Virot, a doctoral candidate in mechanics at the École Polytechnique in Paris, and Alexandre Ponomarenko, a researcher at the CNRS in Grenoble, France.

Together, Virot and Ponomarenko had been using their high-speed camera to study why tree branches break at certain wind speeds. On a whim, they abandoned that project, and turned the camera toward popcorn, Live Science reported Tuesday.

"We decided to make a movie of exploding popcorn," Virot told Live Science. "Then, we discovered there are some interesting properties and biomechanics, so we continued to do it as a hobby."

Using the only type of corn that consistently pops, the species zea mays everta, they placed kernels on a hot plate, and cranked it up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

They soon discovered a number of properties consistent in the corn.

For one, they found the popping point of the corn was dependent primarily on temperature, not the kernel's geometry.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, they discovered that the sound popcorn makes is created by resonance. When water vapor in the popcorn burst outward with the cornstarch that forms the food's fluffy aspect, the air chambers in the starch vibrated enough to produce sound. They said that when the pressure is released, the popcorn is much like a champagne bottle, which also produces a "pop" sound when the cork is released.

The two researchers published their study in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface on Tuesday.

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Scientists have discovered why popcorn makes a sound when it pops by using a slow motion camera.
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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 07:51 AM
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