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Second Year Chem/Bio R&D: What’s in that Popcorn?

June 16, 2014

Each year the Chemical and Biosciences Technology second year students perform an independent research project. A fascinating array of different projects are presented, and this year was no exception. The topics ranged from the environmentally-friendly extraction of pharmaceuticals from water solutions to a search for antibiotic-resistance bacteria. The most fragrant project, though, was performed by Kaarina, Hazel and Amanuel (shown here in the lab.)

Our popcorn team!

Our popcorn team!

This project was looking at an ingredient in microwave popcorn. Specifically, they were searching for diacetyl, a chemical ingredient that occurs in butter and other foods and is sometimes added to give popcorn an artificial “buttery” smell and taste. Unfortunately, there have been concerns that inhaling diacetyl vapours during heating of microwave popcorn can be hazardous to your health. The RRC team wanted to see if buttery popcorn still contained this chemical. A number of sophisticated analytical methods were applied to look for diacetyl, including mass spectrometry but, perhaps fortunately, none was found in any of the store-bought popcorn samples. The clean bill of health was a welcome result, since the team had a number of left over bags of popcorn which are still being enjoyed in the department!