The Social And Digital Systems (SANDS) Group is a transdisciplinary research collective within the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering at Arizona State University. Our materially-oriented work draws on approaches from computer science, interaction design, humanities, and philosophy of technology. Our current research examines bottom-up participation in science, DIY (Do It Yourself) methods, and the mechanisms by which expertise and knowledge is scaffolded amongst communities of practice.

Summer-long solar cooking study

Phoenix is one of the hottest cities on earth, with highs regularly reaching over 110F in the summer months. Climate projections suggest that many other parts of the world are also heating up, and Phoenix presents a testbed for understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by extreme heat. One of our projects looks at creatively using heat for sustainable outcomes through solar cooking.

We focus on solar cooking as a hybrid approach that supports both adaptation—by utilizing natural heat and alleviating economic impact (indoor cooking increases AC bills); and mitigation—reducing energy consumption. Also, by relying on a natural source of energy, solar cooking offers new insights into alternative modes of food production and sustainable food systems.

As a first step, we conducted a summer-long study whereby participants built DIY solar cookers and prepared foods ranging from slow-cooked pork and chicken to bread, kale chips, brownies, beef jerky, and fruit rollups. The project culminated in a solar cooking potluck where we prepared solar cooked foods as a group. Our findings show that solar cooking is indeed feasible and often fun. However, the process is also challenging. Solar cooking currently requires time-intensive monitoring of the food temperature and re-positioning the oven towards the sun. It also requires highly-specialized knowledge, both in terms of recipe palatability and food safety.

Moving forward, we are designing an easier-to use solar oven and knowledge-sharing platform to support solar cooking as a mainstream practice. On a practical level, these new tools can alleviate the real economic difficulties posed by extreme heat as well as improve local nutrition, food knowledge, and human health. The project is also interesting from a cultural perspective as we are creating the first ever community knowledgeable around “solar cooking cuisine”. We also hope to share the work more broadly through public cookouts and exhibits to engage the public in dialogues around extreme heat, sustainable energy, and climate change.


DIY Panorama Distortion

Even as 3D printing technology continues to advance, there are still limitations as to the availability of detailed color 3D prints. The best commercially available 3D printers use binder-jetting (where colored ink is used in the construction process of the object), which results in a fuzzy, diluted image on the object’s surface.

As an alternative, it may be possible to create 3D prints with detailed surface color by pasting 2D printed images onto the surface of mono-color objects. In order to turn flat, 2D images into shapes that can fit onto uneven 3D forms, I created a program that would alter the proportions of the image so that it can be printed, cut, and pasted in such a way that the image will be evenly displayed over the 3D object.

right: original image;  left: image morphed to fit orb


below: test pasting image onto orb

print test_paper107

below: 3D printing tests, using symmetrical shapes

bendy cylinder bare

below: 3D prints – symmetrical shapes and Russian nesting doll prototypes after paper images are glued onto them



In order to get outside perspective on whether this approach would be feasible for an average user, we held a small workshop in order to gather feedback. For this case, the workshop attendees would be evaluating the process of cutting out images and pasting them onto the prints. The actual 3D printed models were printed ahead of time (since the 3D printing process can take too long for the span of a workshop). All workshop participants were presented with a set of 3 Russian nesting dolls, and were requested to bring in their own image files to be pasted onto the objects.

below: example set of 3D printed Russian nesting dolls and printed paper images before images are cut and applied to dolls


below: workshop pictures


On Cutting Out Paper Shapes – workshop attendees could choose between using scissors or exacto-blade. While all the attendees were able to cut out the shapes, some found the process tedious. Based on this feedback, future endeavors will focus on using laser cutters or similar tools to cut out paper and avoid unnecessary human labor.

On Pasting Paper onto 3D Forms – participants varied how they applied the paper onto the 3D prints. Some brushed the paper with gel medium before applying it to the 3D form, while others lathered the 3D form with gel medium before applying the paper. Both approaches were successful, though it seems applying the gel medium directly to the 3D form was faster.

below: if an extra layer of gel medium is not put on top of the paper, it does not have a glossy finish. While some attendees preferred the matte finish, it does leave the exposed paper at greater risk of abrasion or damage. By using an alternative gel with a matte finish, it may be possible to provide protection to the paper while not giving the object a glossy finish.


The results of applying the paper to the 3D prints were mostly successful. However, in some cases the paper ended up crinkled or not correctly matched up. For participants who completed multiple Russian Nesting Dolls, the results appeared smoother after their first attempt.



Certain types of printed images hid the cuts in the paper better than others. Generally, large areas of a single color (especially white) clearly displayed where the paper had been cut. In contrast, designs with bold and complex patterns mask the location of the paper cuts.

below: large white area clearly shows where cuts in the paper occurred


below: bold and complex patterns make the paper cuts much less visible


The most consistent problem was applying the paper in such as way that the “head” was completely covered. For many, this resulted in the black 3D print being visible between the strips of paper.

As a potential alternative, we used a different algorithm that would allow the paper to be cut into rectangular strips, as opposed to the curving triangles in the previous models. While this did allow the paper to completely cover the form, the extra overlapping pieces of paper made gluing more difficult. In addition, a fault in the algorithm caused additional warping of the image. Overall, the curving-triangle method appears more successful, although an extra buffer of paper should be added to the design so that the paper will completely cover the form.

left: Paper cut into strips. Overlapping pieces of paper bunch up slightly. No underlying part of the underlying object is exposed.

right: Paper cut into curved triangle shapes. Near the head, part of the underlying object is exposed.


Participants in the study suggested many possible uses for this technique, including fine art pieces (such as vases), figurines & game pieces, and biological medical models.

Going forward, we are looking to expand the capabilities of the program, so that it will be capable of morphing images to more complicated 3D models. Ideally, this would allow a user to design a complex form in the program and then map a 2D image onto it.

Bio workshop at HeatSync

Hi folks, as we are continuing our work in DIY biology with general public and non-professional biology hobbyists, last week Cass, Stacey and Me conducted a DIY bio workshop at HeatSync Labs in Meza, Az. HeatSync is a community driven maker-space, one of the coolest places I’ve ever been in Arizona. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t make it this time, even though he immensely contributed in organising and planning the workshop.DSC_0414.JPG

The first part of the workshop was about yoghurt fermentation. Cass explained the steps of yoghurt fermentation process and worked closely with the participants in the process. Here are some images.

Then we moved to the second part of the workshop – Gram staining. In this activity participants were asked to follow instructions printed on the card given by us, as well as Cass’ guidance. Everyone was so excited to see the microscopic images of the slides they have created, actually results were awesome!


While everyone was partying with bacterias in the downstairs, I was busy connecting the camera of our DIY incubator to the HeatSync WIFI network. Yes, now we have a WIFI camera inside our incubator as we promised in one of our earlier posts!

We left our incubator and some basic materials at heat syncs lab, so that they can play with them in the summer. Hopefully we will get some useful feeds from the camera too!DSC_0411

I’m Piyum, signing off and running to catch the flight to CHI 16 to present our Bio work there. More on that later! Thanks for reading.


Here we were at CHI 16 poster session.




Are you interested in experimenting with solar cooking?

Join our paid ASU research study about using extreme heat! Our initial workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18 at 5.30pm on the ASU Tempe Campus.


We are researchers in the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering at Arizona State University, looking at how heat can be utilized for sustainable outcomes. We are recruiting study participants who want to experiment with solar cooking over the summer.

We invite you to a solar cooker making workshop at the beginning of the summer. During the workshop, your will make low-cost solar cooker prototypes and brainstorm solar cooking recipes.

Over the summer, you will be asked to experiment with solar cooking recipes and share your solar cooking attempts (failed and successful). At the end of the summer, there may be a solar cooking potluck off campus.

Upon the completion of the study period (mid-August), select participants might also be invited for a semi-structured individual interview to go over their summer cooking experiences.

Study compensation:

  • $10 for each hour of your time during the workshop and interviews
  • $15 for each solar meal, including failed attempts you share (10 maximum)
  • $30 for attending the solar cooking potluck if one is organized, and bringing a solar-cooked dish to it
  • up to $50 reimbursement for any materials you purchased to make a solar cooker if you provide receipts

No prior solar cooking experience is necessary, but you must be 18 years or older to participate.

The workshop, potluck, and interviews will be audio-recorded and photographed, and all data will be anonymized. If you are interested in participating, please contact Stacey Kuznetsov (

Screen Printing with Thermal Inks

DSC01130Hello! I am Emily E. Ritter, one of the member of SANDS as well as a current MFA student in printmaking at the ASU Herberger School of Art. My research is to explore thermal, conductive, and solar screen printing inks. I will be explaining the print I made with thermal ink.

Screen printing is a printmaking process in which a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a surface, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. This stencil can be cut vinyl or contact paper, drawing fluid and screen filler, or photosensitive emulsion (the most common type). A squeegee is then moved across the screen to fill the open mesh with ink, while pressure is applied so that the ink can be transferred to the material that is being printed on. This is a basic explanation of the process.

I have created an ink that reacts to heat by either changing to clear or another color. This thermal ink was created by adding SolarDust’s thermochromatic dust to a screen printing transparent base. Thermal screen printing ink allows for the creation of many different interactive works of art that are responsive to heat. This thermal ink can also be utilized as a basic outdoor temperature monitor. An example would be a sticker that changes from a cool color to a warmer color when a metal handle or a public slide becomes hot.

I am interested in the interactive quality of this ink and creating works of art that engage the viewer. I have produced a piece that will create a conversation about how humans affect the environment. More specifically, how our synthesized plastics affect the environment. The top layer of the print is a flat of the thermal ink, which the viewer is invited to touch to see the affects of human activity and question their involvement in the issue. When the thermal ink comes into contact with body heat from the viewer, it goes clear revealing the images underneath. The image revealed in my piece is of a marine habitat that is affected by the presence of plastic. In addition to the body heat from the viewer, muscle wire connected to electronics heat up periodically creating lines that hint to the image that is hidden. My hope is that this will create a conversation about the implications of human consumption and waste. I also look forward to experimenting more with these interactive inks.

Art/ Science of cooking and sustainability.

Hey’all, this is Sunny and I am a new member in the growing family of the SANDS. I am an industrial design student at the Herberger’s and I potentially help in coming up with concepts and aesthetic models for the sustainable solar cooking research project. I assist in designing and finding new ways of using rich solar energy to our advantage and help community find new ways to use this energy for their cooking needs.

The first set of concepts looks into how we could take the french cooking technique “Sous-vide” and figure concepts that could help us in this regard.

So, what is sous-vide? well, Sous-vide is a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times—96 hours or more, in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 to 60 °C (131 to 140 °F) for meat and higher for vegetables – our friends at Wikipedia.

I started off by sketching different concepts and making a 3D model on SolidWorks and rendered them on KeyShot. From there we moved on to 3D printing the design for testing. The prints and the forms have come out well and it is on to testing and validating.

Stay tuned for the results!