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Popcorn Physics

This video posted today took me back to the very first science fair project I ever wrote back when I was writing books. Popcorn is such a great topic for a science fair project – of course it’s delicious but it has so many properties to explore!

What makes it pop?

How can its wonderful aroma travel so far, so quickly?

Here are just a few ideas to help you explore these questions:

  • Measure the speed at which popcorn (and other smells) travel.  Gather several volunteers (promise them fresh popcorn and you should have not trouble getting more than enough) with stopwatches and space them all increasing distances from a bag of unopened, just popped, microwave popcorn.  Have them measure the time from when you open the bag until they smell the buttery goodness.
  • Compare methods for popping – air-popped, in a pan with oil, microwave (store bought and paper bag)
  • Does the age of popcorn matter?  Use the bag you’ve had in the cupboard for a few months and one fresh from the store.
  • Does it matter if you put the butter on before or after you pop?
  • What is the ideal time and power level to maximize the number of popped kernels in the microwave?

UPDATE:  My friend Claudine shared Popcorn Decay, a project to create a phone app to detects the popping sound of the popcorn and analyzes the frequency of pops as a model of radioactive decay!