Experiments With Popcorn

Katelyn Michaud
popcorn

Popcorn or Zea mays everta, is a type of corn and out of the four most common types of corn - sweet, dent, flint, and popcorn - it is the only type that pops. Popcorn is unique from the other three types of corn in that its hull is thinner which is why it can break open. Popcorn makes a great experimental material for kids because it's readily available and fascinating to all.

Temperature Comparison Experiment

Most people store popcorn at room temperature in their pantries or kitchen cupboards, but what happens if your store popcorn in the refrigerator or the freezer? Does temperature affect popcorn's popping ability?

This experiment is perfect for kids, grades third and up. Set up for the experiment may take up to an hour. Then the bags need to sit for at least 24 hours. Finishing the experiment will take approximately one to two hours.

Materials

Popcorn kernels
  • 16 bags of the same brand and type of microwaveable popcorn
  • Microwave
  • Microwave popcorn popper
  • Two quart measuring cup that is microwave safe
  • Baking sheet
  • Ruler
  • Pen and paper
  • Sandwich baggies

Instructions

  1. Measure out a small sample size of about 50 kernels from each bag of popcorn. Place the kernels in a sandwich baggie. Make 15 baggies.
  2. Label each bag with a number so you can tell which is which later.
  3. Create a chart with a row for each baggie like so:
    Volume Number of Unpopped Kernels Popped Kernel Size
    Bag 1
    Bag 2
    Bag 3
  4. Place five bags in the freezer, five in the refrigerator, and five at room temperature on the kitchen counter. Leave the bags for 24 hours.
  5. Preheat the microwave by heating a cup of water for one minute. Remove the cup carefully. This only needs to be done before the first bag.
  6. Remove a small sample of kernels from the extra popcorn bag and place them in the microwave popcorn popper. Set the timer for five minutes. When you start to hear the popping rate slow to about two to three seconds between pops, stop the microwave and note the time. Set the timer for this time for the entirety of the experiment.
  7. Take one bag from the freezer, place all the kernels in the popper, and pop for the set time from step six.
  8. Remove the popper and wait until all the pops have stopped.
  9. Empty the bowl into a two-quart measuring cup and record the amount in the "Volume" column of the data table.
  10. Pour the contents from the measuring cup onto a baking sheet and count the number of all unpopped kernels. Record the number in the data table.
  11. Using a centimeter ruler, measure the length of an average size popped kernel. Record the length in the data table.
  12. Repeat steps six through 10 with the remaining bags from the freezer, refrigerator, and room temperature. Remember to test one bag at a time to ensure the kernels remain at their designated temperature for as long as possible before testing.
  13. Compare the data in the table and make conclusions.

Popcorn requires between 13 and 14.5 percent moisture to pop. This experiment will test whether temperature affects the moisture levels of popcorn kernels. The refrigerator and the freezer both lower the moisture content of the popcorn kernels so that children will see less popped kernels. This experiment is great for kids in grades five through eight. The experiment should take less than two hours to complete.

Each kernel of popcorn has a tiny drop of water inside. As the popcorn is heated up, the water expands in the kernel. The drop of water in the popcorn kernel starts to turn into steam around 212 degrees, but the kernel doesn't burst until about 347 degrees.

Popcorn Matters

Matter is everywhere and includes anything that takes up space and has mass. Everything on Earth is composed of atoms and molecules. Atoms and molecules are made up of matter. There are five phases of matter: solids, liquids, gasses, plasmas, and Bose-Einstein condensate. Molecules can change state. For example, water can change from a liquid form to a frozen solid form when it is put in the freezer.

Popcorn contains matter. By adding heat to popcorn kernels, they pop and change their physical state. In the case of popcorn, it's a permanent physical change, meaning you can't reverse the reaction. This experiment is a great way to introduce the concept of matter and states of matter by showing children that once popcorn is popped, it can't go back to kernels. The experiment will take less than an hour. The experiment is ideal for the younger elementary-aged set.

Materials

Popcorn matter experiment
  • Microwaveable popcorn bags or container of unpopped popcorn kernels
  • Two Mason jars or tall clear drinking glass
  • Microwave
  • Microwave popcorn popper (Only needed for unpopped popcorn kernels)

Instructions

  1. Have children count two groups of 100 kernels of unpopped popcorn. (Note: Kids might want to count about 120 kernels for the popped popcorn group to ensure 100 popped kernels are available for the experiment)
  2. Place one group of unpopped popcorn in a Mason jar or tall drinking glass.
  3. Pop the second group of unpopped popcorn kernels using a microwave popcorn popper. Alternatively, pop a microwave bag of popcorn.
  4. Place 100 kernels of the popped popcorn in a Mason jar or tall drinking glass.
  5. Compare the two jars of popcorn kernels.

Grow Popcorn

Popcorn doesn't grow in a microwave bag. It's a special form of corn that just happens to pop in high heat. It grows in the ground just like regular plants. Young children will love growing a popcorn plant. Growing a popcorn plant is a simple experiment to introduce children in grades two through four the concept of seed germination. It allows children to see what plants do underground.

This experiment takes about 30 minutes to set up, but it is a long-term project that will sit for a time while the plant grows. The plant will need occasional watering and a possible replanting after a week or so. After a few days, children should see a root start to emerge from the seed followed by a sprout in another few days. With adequate sunlight and water the seed should grow into a full grown popcorn plant.

Materials

Popcorn seed germination experiment
  • Popcorn seeds (Note: Most popcorn kernels sold in the supermarket will not grow so seeds should be purchased through a seed catalog)
  • Clear plastic cup
  • Paper towels
  • Permanent marker
  • Measuring cup
  • Water

Instructions

  1. Fold a paper towel, so it is as wide as the cup is tall.
  2. Place the paper towel, so it snugly lines the inside of the cup.
  3. Place two to three popcorn seeds in the cup between the paper towels and the cup walls.
  4. Mark the date of the planting on the cup and the name of the child (optional) with a marker.
  5. Add some water to the bottom of the cup. The paper towel should absorb the water.
  6. Place the cup on a windowsill where the plant can get some sunlight.
  7. Observe what happens to the plant over the next few weeks.

Experiment Notes

  • The popcorn seeds may need to be soaked in water for 24 hours before planting. Read the seed manufacturers notes for recommendations.
  • The paper towel should remain damp at all time, not dripping wet.
  • If the plant grows too big for the cup, it can be replanted in a pot with soil.

Popping Science Fun

Popcorn can be used in many science experiments for kids. It's a simple and cheap material that can be used in a variety of ways to introduce basic science concepts like matter, seed germination, and science experiment design. These are just several experiments that can be done with young children. Get creative and make your own!

Experiments With Popcorn