Pop Rocks and Soda

If you swallow Pop Rocks and soda, will you die?

Way back, when dirt was invented, that is, when I was in 7th grade, a new kind of candy came out.  It was called Pop Rocks and everyone wanted to try it.  It was really “wicked”, as we said then, which meant “cool beans”.  Oh, no, I guess no one says that now, either.  Anyway, everybody wanted to try Pop Rocks, because they did something no other candy did.  You would sprinkle the candy on your tongue, and they would pop and crackle.  The local news station did a story about it, and even the science teacher explained that just like soda pop was a carbonated liquid, Pop Rocks were a carbonated solid.  The concept basically made my head explode, but we all enjoyed the fruit-flavored candies.

There was just one thing that made it all the more thrilling:  Everyone said you should never, NEVER swallow Pop Rocks.  And if you did, you definitely must NOT drink a cola product or you would surely DIE!!!  After all, your stomach was sealed off, so the carbonation couldn’t go anywhere.  And if you added the carbonation from a soda – Ka-BLOUIE!!

Fast forward to the present, and I was at the grocery store and chance upon Pop Rocks in the novelty candy section.  I couldn’t resist telling my ten-year old daughter this story that my friends and I told as kids.  She looks up and me and says, “Well, is it true?”  And I replied, “You know, this is a good opportunity for a science experiment to find out.”

  • To repeat the experiment that we did you will need the following things:
  • a rubber balloon
  • one or two small-neck funnels (if you use one, you will need to dry it out between steps)
  • A chopstick or something that will fit into the neck of the funnel
  • two or more packets of Pop Rocks (You will use only one, but the other is as a spare the first one somehow gets ruined)
  • cola, either regular or diet

My daughter and I used a regular shaped balloon, but you could try a long, tube-shaped balloon if you like. Read through all the steps before beginning for best results. It’s best to do this with two people.

1) To begin, stretch out your balloon a bit, as if you are preparing to blow it up.  Get your two funnels ready, or if you are only using one, get a paper towel out to dry it off before the second step.  Tear open the packet of Pop Rocks, but leave in packet.  Pour about ½ cup of cola in a liquid measuring cup to make it easier to pour.

2) Have one person insert the funnel into the balloon.  Holding the balloon tight against the funnel, have the other person carefully pour in some soda.  You don’t need to use the entire ½ cup if it won’t fit.  That same person should either put in the second (dry) funnel, or dry off the soda that is on the first funnel.

3) The first person is still holding up the balloon with the cola in it with the dry funnel on top.  Now, the second person, quickly pours the contents of the Pop Rocks packet into the funnel.  Use a chopstick, or other tool, if necessary, to push the Pop Rocks through the funnel into the balloon so they all go in as quickly as possible.  Be careful not to poke the balloon with the chopstick.  You do not want to pop the balloon.

4) One person will now want to remove the funnel and tie off the end of the balloon to seal it off.  Now  observe what happens.  You should be able to hear popping and clicking and may see the balloon enlarge a bit.

What do you think?  Do you think a person would die if they ingested Pop Rocks and cola?  Remember that the stomach wall is made of three layers of muscle laying in three opposing directions and is much stronger than a balloon.

I’ve included the picture we took of the balloon after two minutes of observation.  To us, it appeared quite unlikely that the combination of Pop Rocks and cola would be lethal.  My daughter made another observation, and that is that we tied off the end of the balloon.  In your body, the sphincter muscle to your esophagus tightens and closes off.  However, if there is sufficient pressure, it will open and release, so if the gas pressure is sufficient, the sphincter in your esophagus will release and a person will expel the excess gas in the form of… you guessed it, a burp!  Embarrassing, maybe, but hardly deadly.

Have fun with your experiment.  You can try it with other sodas, too, and see if you have different results with a different kind of soda.

C. Wallis Davenport grew up in New Jersey in an environment full of passion for science and art.  Her family spent weekends at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, the Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities, and fossil-hunting in creek beds.  Wallis and her brother kept several unusual pets, including a three-foot king snake, several tadpoles, a painter turtle, and a rabbit.  After completing her Bachelors in Arts in Biology at Ithaca College, Wallis worked for a few years at Cornell University doing research on the Barley Genome, assisting Dr. Manfred Heun with creating the first genomic map of barley.  Nowadays, Wallis is a SAHM (stay at home mom) to her ten year old daughter, and spends her time volunteering at her daughter’s school, and doing some free-lance writing.  Weekends, Wallis, her husband and daughter can be found going for nature walks, or trying scientific experiments in their kitchen.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr:  gigglebox1091;)

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