Physics of Low Pressure Popcorn Popping

There’s news, though a few years old, about low-pressure popcorn popping:

quinnThe Effects of Popping Popcorn Under Reduced Pressure,” Paul Quinn [pictured here] and Amanda Cooper, Bulletin of the American Physical Society, Volume 53, Number 2 (poster at the 2008 APS March Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana). The authors, at Kutztown University, report:

“In our experiments, we model the popping of popcorn as an adiabatic process and develop a process for improving the efficiency of popcorn production. By lowering the pressure of the popcorn during the popping process, we induce an increase in popcorn size, while decreasing the number of remaining unpopped kernels. In this project we run numerous experiments using three of the most common popping devices, a movie popcorn maker, a stove pot, and a microwave. We specifically examine the effects of varying the pressure on total sample size, flake size and waste. An empirical relationship is found between these variables and the pressure.”

That’s not the end of the story. For the next chapter, read “From popcorn to the patent office.” It begins by saying:

How did the popcorn get to the patent office? It started out as part of an undergraduate research project to explore what physical parameters were related to the efficiency of the popping process. However, when the experiments were more successful than expected, the professor and his students decided to see if they had developed something patentable….

NOTE: The researchers apparently have no connection with the entity called Quinn Popcorn.