Life's Little Mysteries

Why Does Jell-O Jiggle?

jello wiggle, jell-o, collagen, gelatin, science tools
The jiggly stuff was created through much experimentation. (Image credit: Irochka |

Peter Cooper is known for inventing the steam locomotive. By 1945, with cars taking over the world, he experimented in cooking with gelatin.

This gelling agent is a processed version of collagen, the elastic in our skin and tendons. It's made by grinding up the bones and tissues of cows and pigs, which weakens collagen protein bonds. Pouring gelatin powder in boiling water breaks the weak bonds. As the concoction slowly cools in the fridge, some bonds don't reconnect. These gaps are filled with water and give the dessert its wiggle.

The picnic favorite didn't take hold until Pearle Wait, a carpenter in Upstate New York, added a dose of sugar, artificial fruit flavoring and color. His wife, May, named the concoction Jell-O.

Got a question? Email it to Life's Little Mysteries and we'll try to answer it. Due to the volume of questions, we unfortunately can’t reply individually, but we will publish answers to the most intriguing questions, so check back soon.

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science,, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.