Could an exploding egg damage your hearing? That’s what two engineers sought to find out in a series of experiments that involved heating hard-boiled eggs in a microwave.
Anthony Nash and Lauren von Blohn, sound engineers at Charles M Salter Associates, were enlisted to figure out the mechanism behind exploding eggs.
Their results are part of expert witness testimony in a case involving a customer who alleged he suffered severe burns and hearing damage after a microwaved hard-boiled egg exploded in his mouth at a restaurant.
Nash said: “We needed to quantify the peak sound pressures from an exploding egg so we could compare it to hearing damage risk criteria.”
Nash and von Blohn heated hard-boiled eggs in a microwave for three minutes.
The eggs were placed in a water bath and the temperature was taken twice – in the middle and at the end of the heating cycle.
Nash said: “For both the exploded eggs and eggs that didn’t explode, we would probe the inside of the yolk with the thermometer.
“We discovered that the yolk’s temperature was consistently higher than the surrounding water bath.”
In the experiments, only 30% of the eggs survived being heated. They exploded when pierced by a sharp object.
The pair believe the yolk’s higher temperature could be a result of it being more receptive to microwave radiation than the surrounding water.
Nash and von Blohn’s theory is that when heated in the microwave, the egg’s “protein matrix” causes small “pockets of water” to get trapped in the yolk.
This leads to the pockets superheating, increasing the temperature of the trapped water far beyond its normal boiling temperature.
When poked by a sharp object, these superheated pockets are disturbed, causing the trapped water vapour to burst out, resulting in an “explosion-like phenomenon”.
Nash and von Blohn believe a similar furious chain reaction would occur when someone attempts to bite into the egg yolk.
But would an exploding egg cause hearing damage? The team believe it’s unlikely.
Nash said: “At one foot away, the peak sound pressure levels from microwaved eggs covered a wide range from 86 up to 133 decibels.”
“On a statistical basis, the likelihood of an egg exploding and damaging someone’s hearing is quite remote.
“It’s a little bit like playing egg roulette.”
The findings were presented at the 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, in New Orleans, Louisiana.