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A Loh Down is a capsule of intriguing scientific research presented clearly, in a witty way, because we believe humor makes knowledge sticky. There is no limit to the science we can present—whether it be in astronomy, biology, computers, evolution, global warming, psychology, politics, sports or beyond—as long as we can make the gist of it graspable in 90 seconds. Our audiences are experts and novices, old and young. Explore the site to customize your journey in your area(s) of interest!

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Popcorn Science

05.01.15

popcornHave you ever wondered why popcorn pops? French scientists have.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Emmanuel Virot and Alexandre Ponomarenko. They study extreme forces. Things like: how wind breaks trees. Their experiments require special equipment, including cameras that record thousands of images per second.

What could be better for understanding the extreme forces involved in popping corn?

So the duo heated popcorn kernels, turned on a camera and microphone, and watched.

Result? They discovered several things. First, popcorn’s ideal popping temperature is 356 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next, when kernels explode, a tiny leg kicks out, like a French Can-Can dancer. That “kick” catapults the kernel into the air.

Finally, the sound of the pop? It’s not from the hull cracking. Instead it’s an instant later, when water vapor escapes due to the pressure drop. Think of a champagne bottle’s pop when opened.

The findings could help classroom teachers explain the laws of physics.

As to why buckets of movie popcorn always tip over? That law might be closer to Murphy’s.

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