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Popcorn Projects – YUM!

Posted by on January 31, 2012

Advantages: Quick, relatively cheap, relatively easy, and you can bribe kids with eating the popcorn AFTER the project is done.

Disadvantages: Most lack creativity. The best option is always to design your own, but here are a few ideas to inspire you.

I popped this bowl just for this blog - but it's gone now, my kids ate it - after they cleaned their rooms!

Let’s start with variables – what are the “things” we can change when it comes to popping popcorn?
• Brand Name vs. Generic
• Brand Names (ranked by price per bag)
• Type/Flavor
• Butter Content
• How they are popped: microwave, stovetop, or air popper
• Surface they are popped on
• Size of bag/amount of kernels
• Age of kernels
• Storage temperature for kernels
• Storage conditions (e.g. airtight vs. open air)
• Time for popping

Now let’s think about what we can measure as a QUANTITATIVE outcome (i.e. it has to result in a number):
• Total number of kernels popped/un-popped
• Percentage of kernels that popped (or not)
• Volume of popcorn produced
• Weight of popcorn produced
• Maximum size of individual popped corn
• Average size of popped corn

Once you have identified potential variables – start putting them together for interesting questions. Warning – as tempting as it is – stay away from using “taste” because it is a qualitative and subjective variable.

Here are some examples:

Question: How does the storage temperature affect percentage of kernels that pop?
Question: Do expensive brands yield more popcorn?
Question: Does butter content affect average size of popped corn?

Remember you must, must, must replicate, replicate, replicate! You will need to repeat whatever you do at least 3 times, but that’s no problem – it just means more popcorn to eat later.

66 Responses to Popcorn Projects – YUM!

  1. shayla

    i am doing my science fair project on does different brands of popcorn leave different amount of kernnels behind, and i need some help with the research and the experiment.im in 8th grade.can u help??

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Research the history of popcorn and find out how companies ensure good popping success. Also look into which popcorn company started the craze and who is now the leading popcorn seller.

      Your experiment needs replication (3 bags from each brand) and a control (based on your hypothesis). In general – what do you think results in the differences between companies? Could it be price? Or butter content? Or age of kernels? The control will be the brand with the LEAST of whatever you think makes a difference because you will compare all the other brands to that one. For example, as price increases, does the number of unpopped kernels decrease?

  2. hcg

    Good reading. Thank you for doing such a good job. I’ll check again to find out more and recommend my people about your website

  3. KD

    I am doing my science fair project on how does the storage temperature affect percentage of kernals that pop? I have done something similar in the past but I did not have to do research on it. Can you help me with ideas on research? I looked at the brand of popcorn I used website and got their storage information but I have to have 3-5. I am in the 6th grade can you help me too???

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      If you can’t find 3 to 5 storage temperatures for different brands, then use the one you have and vary the storage temperatures systematically – for example plus and minus 5 degrees and also plus and minus 10 degrees. That would give you 5 temperatures centered around the storage temperature you did find.

  4. JENNI

    How many packages of popcorn are needed in the entire experiment?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      It depends on what you decide to do, but a minimum of 6 (3 for the control and 3 for whatever change you select). For proper replication, you will need 3 bags per level of the change (e.g. if you evaluate low, medium, high temperatures then you will need 9 bags, 3 each.

  5. Christopher

    We are doing the experiment on which yields more popped kernels: plain or buttered popcorn. Should we compare one brand to the same brand several times or should we compare different plain brands to different buttered brands? We want to keep it simple (6th grade). How would we keep track of the unpopped kernels: graph, tally marks? We are new to all of this! Thanks for your help!

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Replication can be done in more than one way. In the purest sense, it would be 3 bags of plain from Brand X vs. 3 bags of buttered from Brand X, but it would be more interesting if you did 1 bag of plain from Brand X vs. 1 bag of buttered from Brand X and then repeat that for 2 more brands. What you DON’T want to do is 3 bags of plain vs. 3 bags of buttered from 6 different brands because the measured differences could be due to brand and not the buttering.

      For each bag, count the number of popped and the number of un-popped so that you have a total number of kernels (popped + un-popped). You can then calculate the percentage of popped kernels (number of popped divided by total number of kernels times 100 to get a percentage; for example: from Brand X: plain = 78% popped vs. buttered = 50% popped – I made those numbers up!). You could then make a bar graph to compare plain vs. buttered for each brand and/or all plain vs. all buttered to show variation between brands. Good Luck – once you have the data, if you still have questions – just post them here!

  6. cindy

    Hi, my 5th grade child decided to do her science project on how does storage temperature affect popcorn popping? So we used the same brand of popcorn, then stored popcorn bags in three different temperature locations freezer, countertop, and frig we stored them for 24 hours. Then we popped each bag in the microwave for two minutes. We are confused about different variables constant, control, Independent, and Dependent? And we are trying to measure the best place to store popcorn? By counting the unpopped kernels in each bag? HELP!

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      The experimental design is fine – hopefully you had 3 bags stored in the freezer, 3 in the fridge and 3 on the counter – if not, you could repeat the whole thing 2 more times.

      The independent variable is what you chose to manipulate: storage temperature
      The dependent variable is what you decide to measure: “popcorn popping”
      The constants are things you kept the same: brand, popping time, microwave power, etc.

      The control depends on how you worded the question and hypothesis. You probably thought:

      As temperature decreases, the percentage of kernels popping decreases/increases

      So the control is the room temperature bags and you compare those results to when you change the temperature by decreasing the temperature in the fridge (colder) and then in the freezer (coldest).

      You can measure the effectiveness of popping in several ways: number of kernels popped, number of kernels that did not pop, percentage of popped (# popped divided by total number of kernels), percentage unpopped, etc.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Demeshia

    Hello, I’m doing a science experiment and I wanted to know do you think this is a good hypothesis. If three different storage locations temperatures are used ,The three listed, then the popcorn will have more or less unpopped kernels.

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Generally, the hypothesis is the predicted answer to your question.

      If your question is:

      How does storage location temperature affect percentage of popped kernels?

      Then your hypothesis needs to be something like:

      As the temperature of storage (increases or decreases – pick one), the percentage of popped kernels will (increase or decrease or stay the same – pick one)

  8. jackie

    My son wants to do an experiment on what oil makes popcorn pop faster? How would he research? Could you help us please?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Great idea – you could use a variety of oils (your independent variable) to see if there is a difference in how fast the popcorn pops (dependent variable = time for 100 kernels to pop) and/or how efficient the popping is (dependent variable = percentage of kernels that pop) and/or any other dependent characteristic that you can measure.

      As far as research goes, have him look into all the different types of oil people use in cooking. What makes vegetable oil different from olive oil? canola oil? peanut oil? etc. Are there any advantages to using one over the other? (Note this will help with the hypothesis).

      Good Luck!

  9. Tyson

    We are testing 4 brands of popcorn to see which one has the least amount of unpopped popcorn. We have tested each 3 times. Do you take an average of the 3 tests to come up with that brands unpopped kernels. Thank you.

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Yes – the average of the three trials for each of the four brands will allow you to compare results and make a conclusion regarding which brand was “best”. However, I would make at least 2 bar graphs – one showing all three results for each of 4 brands and then a summary graph showing the average. This will ensure that judges/teachers will see that you properly replicated the experiment (i.e. they will see the three bars for each brand). Sometimes, when students only present the average – it appears that they only did it one time.

  10. Abigail

    Hi I am doing a science project that uses popcorn
    Question: what method of popping popcorn pops more kernels

    In this case what would my control be?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      That depends on what your question is, your hypothesis is and what methods you are using. Post them here and I’ll walk you through it.

      The general idea is that the control, controls for the independent variable, so – for example, if you thought the MOST expensive method of popping should produce the most popped kernels, then the LEAST expensive method is your control because you will compare the results of the more expensive methods to the least expensive method.

      Your question would be along the lines of: Do more expensive methods produce more kernels and your hypothesis would be something like: As the expense of the popping method increases (independent variable), the amount of popped corn increases (dependent variable).

      Likewise you could be thinking that the more recent methods should pop more (control: oldest method) or the methods that use the most energy should pop more (control: method that uses the least energy).

      Keep in mind that the control is what you will compare all the other results to! – Good Luck!

  11. Sara

    My son is doing a project on how the storage temp effects popcorn popping. My question is since we are doing it on the stove should we use a set time for each sample?

  12. Abigail

    So does this increase on how many variables because I can only have 1?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      No – as long as you pick ONE. So decide why you think different popping methods might lead to different results and formulate a question

  13. Abigail

    Thank you!
    I’ll try to figure out this whole mess of mine with your advice

  14. Abigail

    Thank you!
    I’ll try to figure out this whole mess of mine with your advice :D

  15. Abigail
  16. michelle

    hi im a 7th grader and my project tittle is (what makes popcorn pop?) I wanted to know if this is a good projet
    *what are the vaiables and control of this project
    *what type of category is this project

    plez answer back ASAP PLEASE its important <3 :)

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      No – not really – because what you want to ask is how one thing affects another thing. So instead of a “what” question, look for a “how does” type of question. So, first – find out what makes popcorn pop (google it) and then think about what variables would affect that process. Then, ask how does … (insert one variable) affect the … rate of popping, or percentage of popped kernels, or something you can actually measure.

      Good Luck

  17. michelle

    hey my teacher said it was ok but with a a face so-so. so what if I named my project
    ( how does popcorn pop?)

  18. Cherishrichardson

    I love this project it got me an a+

  19. Cheri

    We are doing a science project on Does temperature impact how kernels pop? We are not understanding what the control would be this project. Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      The control would be room temperature kernels because that is the “regular” or “normal” condition. Your experiment is to change the temperature and see if that change in temperature affects popping compared to room temperature. Good Luck!

    • Mackenzie

      It was awesome I got an A+ thanks a lot

  20. Cheri

    Thank you for providing the resources to complete this science project. It is much appreciated! Thanks!

  21. April

    Hi,
    My son is in the fifth grade and he is doing a project based on where should you store your popcorn. We are trying to get an idea on the direction for the hypothesis?

  22. Katelyn R.

    i need help with my science fair project i’m in 6th grade and i’m doing my project on popcorn i really need help with the whole project and i don’t know what i am doing because this is my first project i have ever done in my whole entire life because i use to go to a private school and we did not learn a thing at all but all we did was play all day i would be glad for your help. THANK YOU!

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Start with “Getting Started” and look at the basic designs of the popcorn projects I have with this post. PICK ONE thing to test and one thing to measure for a simple project.

  23. Tamiya

    hi my name is Tamiya and I go to a broadview Middle School of NC and I in a time crunch I have until Friday This Friday to Finnish and I’m not sure of to do this one but not only that I have little time because I have practice until 6:00 so……. Do you have any ideas if so please mail me or reply

  24. Kimberly

    I have a question my daughter is in 5th grade and we are doing her background research paper and at a loss at how to help her start. her topic is..Which brand of popcorn make the largest yield? Can you please help us help her

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      I would maybe start by learning about the popcorn industry
      –How much do Americans spend on popcorn?
      –Where is the corn for the popcorn grown?
      –What are the costs associated with making popcorn?
      –Which brands are the most popular by sales?
      –Which brands are the most expensive?
      It sounds like the purpose of her project will be to determine which is the best popcorn for the money spent (???), so I would research what goes into the costs of production, distribution, marketing, etc. and determine if you spend more, do you get more?

  25. tonesha

    I am doing how storage temperature affects the percentage of popcorn unpopped. we have to do a research paper how would we go about doing that?

  26. Arianne

    My daughter is doing a science project similar to Abigail’s. We decided to compare which method of making popcorn is the most efficient. We decided to compare the following methods: microwave, stove top and hot air popper. We will measure efficiency based on the most number of kernals popped. We microwaved a bag of popcorn and counted the popped and unpopped kernals. We will use the same total number of kernals for our other variables. I am confused on what our control will be or if we need one for this experiment?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      This is a tricky one because of the way you have asked the question. Technically each method (e.g. microwave) functions as the control for the other two methods (e.g. stove and air) because what you are asking when you ask “which method is most efficient” is really “are these other two methods any better than this one method” – for each of the 3 methods.

      So… unfortunately… it might look like you have no control and a judge that is less experienced might score her lower because they don’t see it correctly (sorry – it happens, just like inexperienced umpires).

      Therefore, I recommend you declare the microwave method as the control – because it is probably the most common and it is the one that determined how many kernels you would use in the other two trials. You can keep your question the same, but clearly state the way you are going to address the question is to do the microwave method first, determine the kernel #, then test the other two methods and compare the results to the microwave results.

      Hope that helps!

  27. Arianne

    Also, do we need to do each method 3x then come up with an over al average per method?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Replication is an important part of any experiment and one that is often overlooked in science fair projects. Think about what you want to know and make sure the replication targets that component. Typically you need to have 3 replicates for the variable you are varying. Sometimes that requires repeating the entire method 3 times, but sometimes you just need 3 “items” to test – depends on the question being answered. Utlimately you want an average for the results (not the method steps), but make sure you show all three trials and the average – otherwise you run the risk of the judge thinking you only did one trial.

  28. adrian

    My son is doing a science project on which popcorn brand pops the least amount of unpopped kernels but i have no idea what is the application. Could you please help?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      One application is saving money – because if you knew which brand yielded the least popcorn, you would probably pick a different brand.

  29. rocio

    Does more expensive brand of popcorn pops the most kernels

  30. Dominic Cacciotti

    I am doing a science experiment as well on which microwave popcorn pops best? Does each brand of popcorn have to be the same amount in oz.? Or would I be able to just to use the percentage of total kernels vs, the unpopped kernels? Do you think it would be more valid to do the experiment using brands with the exact same amount? The varying brands sell varying sizes? Thoughts?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      In a perfect situation – if you can find them – it would be best to use different brands with the same starting amount (e.g. 3.5 oz bags) – but it is OK if you can’t find that because once you calculate the percentage, you are comparing apples to apples and, in reality, the consumer has to choose between brands that sell bags in different amounts.

      If you end up using brands with different starting amounts, keep track of that aspect and determine if the bigger/smaller starting values align with the more/less percentages popped.

  31. Omari

    Hello my name is Omari and I am in the 6th grade. This is my second science fair project and my mother did most of the work on my first one. I have to do this project all on my own and your help will be greatly appreciated. The name of my project will be The Less Kernels the Better. My question is which method of making popcorn will leave the least amount of kernels? I will be using microwave, stovetop, and hot air pop. My hypothesis is If I do the microwave popcorn, then it will have less kernels. I would like your help on what my constant will be and what kind of research I should look up. Do you think my title fit my research?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      “Constants” are any of the variables that don’t really care about as far as the question goes, so you will keep them “constant” while you change the one you are interested in (e.g. cooking method).

      You will need to keep the number of kernels constant, so do the microwave first and count the total number of popped and unpopped (add those together to get the number of kernels you will use under the other 2 methods of making popcorn).

      For research, you could learn about the history of pop corn, the economics of the pop corn industry, etc.

  32. Omari

    Thank you so much.

  33. Carolyn

    Hello
    We are working on a science project and wondering if you soak the kernels in a liquid before popping, will that add flavor to the air popped popcorn? if so any suggestions for the liquids to be used?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      If you are trying to impart a sour taste…. I would soak in vinegar (think salt and vinegar)

      If you are trying to impart a sweet taste…. I would soak in fruit juice or maybe just sugary water

      Think of liquids that have a strong taste or smell: coffee, lemon aid, fruit punch, tea, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, peanut oil

      • Carolyn

        Thank you informaiton–we used pickle juice, fruit punch, lemon aid, apple juice had some luck with some but not all-fun project.

  34. Gabriela

    Im in third grade and i am having trouble doing my science project.the project is witch type of popcorn will leave the fewest un popped kernels and im having trouble with hypothisis and the research.Can you please help me.

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      The hypothesis is an educated guess as to what you think will happen. So think about which types of popcorn you are testing and write down which one you think will leave the fewest un-popped and why. The research should include information on the different types of popcorn, maybe the economics of the popcorn industry, etc. The research should support the importance of the question you are addressing.

  35. Louise

    Hi. My son is finding out which brand has the least un popped kernels. We have 5 brands and are doing 3 bags per brand. How important is it to keep the time spent in the microwave the same? The first brand we popped burnt if left in longer than 1 min 45 sec. The second brand burnt at 1 min 45 sec. The 3rd brand had barely started popping at the same time which left a LOT of unpopped kernels! Should the time be kept the same for each brand or just stop popping at the recommended so many seconds per pop? Also, in order to get an accurate count of kernels, I have been opening the bags and he has been counting the kernels to start with, then I tape the bags back up and microwave. Is that ok?

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Ideally, the time would be the same for each, but as you found out – that won’t work. So I recommend either popping for the length of time recommended on the bag/box (so making each according to instructions) OR (if that info not available) then yes, pick a standard time that you will stop all bags at (like you said above, as soon as the popping to drops to less than # per # (e.g. 3 pops per 5 seconds – or similar – whatever the average person making popcorn might do) as long as you do it the same for each, then that variable is normalized (i.e. taken care of).

      I recommend leaving the bags intact before popping. He should count the total number of popped and unpopped and then he can divided the number of unpopped by that total (sum) OR if he as been opening them… are then consistent? He could use that data to get an estimate of the number that should be in each bag and then divide the number of unpopped by that number. Opening the bags first will tamper with the heat dynamics in the bag and potentially bias the results because he won’t be able to ensure the bags are taped back together exactly the same for each

      Good Luck!

      • Louise

        The first bag of brand 1 we counted the popped ones and came up with 344, didn’t count before. The second and third we counted before popping, they had 410 kernels and 408 kernels. Brand 2 (that burnt) all were counted first. They had 269, 277, and 267 before popping. Brand 3 counted before had 371, and 365. Haven’t tested any more yet.

        • Dr. Maille Lyons

          Wow – I am surprised they are that inconsistent given they are probably filled automatically!

          So, I would still recommend counting everything after popping. Then he will be able to present the data in many ways: % popped and % unpopped and also total # of kernels. If you have prices for each brand you could also figure out your best overall value.

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