Viral Videos of Cellphones Popping Popcorn Kernels: Debunked!


Have you seen the cellphones popping popcorn kernel videos? They've been viewed more than a million times since they were uploaded last week.

If not, here's a summary of the captivating 45 seconds: three friends encircle several popcorn kernels with their cells, the phones receive calls and the kernels do their popcorn thing, popping away.

Lest you get overly excited, Wired bursts your bubble and debunks it. University of Virginia physics professor and How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary author Louis Bloomfield told Wired that the trick is a physical impossibility.

In your microwave, energy excites the water inside popcorn kernels until it turns into highly pressurized gas, which causes the kernels to pop. "If mobile phones emitted that much energy, the water in the fingers of people holding them would heat up." But sometimes my phone gets weirdly hot. Finger warming hot. But apparently, not popcorn popping hot.

Seems like the film got it wrong in more ways than one:

"Ringing the phones doesn't help because they're interfering with each other and receiving a signal [from a cellphone tower]—not transmitting it," he said. Furthermore, while it is possible to heat with sound, it's not likely to happen at the low volume emitted by a mobile phone. "It would be like gathering opera singers together to sing, and trying to make the corn pop," Bloomfield said.

If this is not enough bubble bursting, wants make it clear that neither popcorn, nor eggs, can be cooked by cellphone. A Russian tabloid gave a recipe for cellphone-hard-boiled egg. It went something like this: take one phone; call another phone; position a raw egg between the two phones; retrieve a cooked egg in about an hour. But like the popcorn, the egg experiment flopped when reporters tried to recreate the extravaganza.

So how did the blue-jeaned YouTube stars pull off the miraculous? Bloomfield posits tricky video editing, or a heating element beneath the table.

The lesson: don't go eBaying your microwaves into oblivion.

Previously: In Videos: Cell Phones Pop Popcorn Kernels