Have you ever wondered about the physical science of popping corn? What makes a corn kernel pop into a light and fluffy flake? Scientists have studied popcorn in the lab and their findings have been used by the food industry to develop new varieties. Some of the improved stocks insure a greater percentage of kernels that pop. Others have kernels that pop into larger, fluffier flakes. Critics, however, argue that these commercial advantages compromise the true corn taste.
Pop goes the kernel
Do you enjoy eating popcorn? If so, do you have a brand you prefer? What makes that brand different from other types of popcorn? In this activity, you’ll compare several brands of this snack food and see how all popcorn is not created equal.
Three varieties of popped popcorn samples
1. Place five representative flakes of one brand of popped corn on a plate.
2. Select one flake of the popped corn. Use a ruler to measure the length of the flake long its longest axis. Record the value in the table below.
3. Then, determine its greatest width. The width is measured at a right angle to the length axis. Record the value in the table below.
4. Finally, determine the height of the flake. The height is the measurement taken at a right angle to the plane of the length and width (at the point of their intersection). Record this value in the table below.
5. Determine the average length, height, and width of the other flakes.
6. How would you describe the general shape of a typical flake? Is it round? Is it irregular?
7. Select a representative flake. Place it on a sheet of graph paper. Sketch the general shape of the flake on the grid. Make additional sketches that illustrate the shape of two other kernels.
8. Repeat steps one through seven using two other brands of popcorn.
9. Compare and contrast measurements of the different brands.