Modernist Cuisine Video: Popcorn Popping at 6,200 Frames Per Second


"People tend to start filming themselves doing stupid things when there's a high speed camera lying around," said Nathan Myhrvold during our tour of the Modernist Cuisine laboratory. He was showing us a video of two Office Space-types practicing Judo moves on each other.

At 6,200 frames per second—that's real life slowed down by a factor of over 2,000, it can take a good 15 minutes for a person to fall to the ground with a normal shoulder throw.

This video was one of the cooler ones we watched. It shows what happens when a kernel of popcorn pops. As it heats up, moisture trapped inside converts to steam, building up a massive amount of pressure. Eventually, that pressure becomes so great the the steam starts to escape the outer shell, causing the kernel to shoot up on a thin jet of steam. Within milliseconds, the small hole the steam escapes from tears open into a large fissure and the steam rapidly forces its way out.

Popcorn at 6,200 Frames Per Second

So what exactly is that white stuff? Well, as the moisture in the popcorn escapes, the starch inside expands and forms tiny bubbles, a lot like soap bubbles in a bubble bath. The hot steam causes this bubbly, foamy structure to set almost instantaneously. That's the white cloud that forms a piece of popcorn.

So really, when you eat a piece of popcorn, it's basically like sucking back a solidified bubble bath. Weird.

Anyhow, check out the awesome video.

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