In what is sure to be the most bizarre presentation at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America today in Washington, DC, two researchers will be presenting results from experiments on whether exploding hard-boiled eggs can cause hearing damage.
Led by Anthony Nash, the vice president of the research firm Charles M Salter and Associates, the exploding eggs experiment was conducted as expert testimony for a court case in which the plaintiff was suing a restaurant for allegedly suffering severe burns and hearing damage after a microwaved hard-boiled egg exploded in his mouth.
Blowing up microwaved hard-boiled eggs is a popular subject on YouTube, and with good reason. The resulting explosion after microwaved eggs are pierced with an object is far larger than one would expect.
Understandably, not much scientific research has been done on using microwaves to blow up eggs, so Nash had to start by watching YouTube videos. According to Nash, these videos weren’t much help since the “experiments had been done by non-scientists who were casually detonating eggs in a microwave.”
To add more scientific rigor to blowing up eggs, Nash placed hard boiled eggs in a water bath and measured the temperature. The egg and water bath were then heated in a microwave for three minutes and the water temperature was measured again. Nash then used the thermometer to pierce the egg and get a temperature reading on the yolk as it was exploding.
Only about 30 percent of the eggs exploded when pierced, but, according to Nash, in every case the yolk’s temperature was significantly higher than the temperature of the water bath.
This suggests that the egg yolk—which is about 50 percent water—is more receptive to microwave radiation than regular water. Nash’s working hypothesis is that a protein matrix in the yolk traps small pockets of water, which get superheated above water’s boiling point. When these water pockets are then then pierced with a foreign object, it causes the water to abruptly boil, setting off a chain reaction that results in the egg exploding.
As for the hearing, Nash measured sounds between 86 and 133 decibels from the exploding egg from about a foot away. At the lower level, this is comparable to the sound of a garbage disposal. At the upper level, this is similar to a chain saw or thunderclap. In other words, Nash said it’s pretty unlikely that the egg explosion caused any hearing damage, but not impossible.
“On a statistical basis, the likelihood of an egg exploding and damaging someone's hearing is quite remote,” Nash said in a statement. “It's a little bit like playing egg roulette.”