Category Archives: foodscience

This work examines food as a platform for quotidian science.

3D-Designed Molds for Baking and Freezing

This is a continuation of Melting Materials for Mold Making, where we describe some of our experiments to create molds of wax, chocolate, and jello using 3D printed models and silicone molds.

Here we are presenting new additions to the model making software and further experiments with different types of food.

3D Model Generator Additions

The program we have been using to generate our models works by taking a black and white 2D image and transforming it into a depth map, where the lighter parts of the image are raised up and the dark parts are lowered. In order to save on time and material costs for the 3D printing, we have also made the models hollow in the back.

Below-left: photograph of Antonio Canova’s Bust of Venus Italica. Center: bas-relief 3D model generated from that picture. Right: back of the 3D model

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In addition, we created a version of the program that uses a color signifier (in this case, red) to subtract part of the image from the finished model. This way, the resulting model will not be limited to the rectangular dimensions of the original 2D image.

Below: model generated using the version of the program that subtracts red space. Left: Antonio Canova’s Bust of Venus Italica with red background. Middle: generated model. Right: back of model.

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As in Melting Materials for Mold Making, silicone putty is used to create a negative of the 3D model. All food will then be cast using the silicone putty mold and will have no direct contact with the 3D print. This is because 1) the flexibility of silicone makes it significantly easier to remove molds after they have hardened, and 2) while we are using food safe 3D printed materials, the temperature limits of 3D printed material food safety is not entirely known. For the following food tests, we specifically chose to use Silicone Plastique putty, since it is food safe and can withstand temperatures up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Baking Tests

Before each baking test, the silicone mold was throughly washed and sprayed with cooking spray.

Sugar cookie – We found that Pillsbury sugar cookies (oven, 350 F, 12 minutes) did not closely stick to the mold, largely because of air pockets that formed in the cookie. Below-left: silicone mold. Right: sugar cookie.

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Pancake – While we could not get a complete result with the Aunt Jemima pancake mix, we were able to get some promising details in the pancakes, and further experiments with cooking time / temperature / pancake mix could likely result in a functional pancake mold.

Below-left: (oven, 375 F, 12 minutes) Pancake was still gooey

Below-center: (oven, 375 F, 17 minutes) Pancake was fluffy, though still slightly undercooked. Part with detail (hair) stuck to silicone mold

Below-right: (oven, 375 F, 12 minutes) Significantly less batter was poured into the mold with the hope that it would cook faster. This was successful, and the resulting pancake was fully cooked. Part of the pancake was stuck to the mold, but some nice detailing (bun and part of hair) was successfully preserved.

model2-pancake1.jpg  model2-pancake2.jpg  model2-pancake3.jpg


Eggs – The eggs cooked fairly evenly in the oven and were overall easy to remove from the mold without causing any damage. They were also successful in capturing details from the silicone mold.

Sunny side up (oven, 350 F, 12 minutes)

Below-left: sunny side up egg still in mold. Center: egg removed from mold with yoke still intact. Right: yoke broken open

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Whisked egg (oven, 350 F, 12 minutes)

Below-left: whisked egg still in mold. Right: egg taken out of mold. Part of the egg was still slightly gooey, which caused a chunk of the hair to become stuck to the silicone mold.

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Freezing Tests

Liquid was poured into the silicone mold and then placed in the freezer overnight. Overall, the frozen models were the most successful in capturing fine details from the silicone mold.

Below-left: ice (frozen tap water). Right: popsicle made from Bolthouse Farms breakfast smoothie.

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Designing for Extreme Heat

In the wake of global climate change, our world is projected to experience more extreme heat waves over the next few decades.

Phoenix, Arizona, where this research was conducted, is one of the hottest locations on the planet and presents a testbed for understanding and addressing heat-related challenges. This research focuses on adaptation as a design strategy that compliments existing approaches to mitigate human impact on the environment.

We held a summer-long diary study that helped us to understand how extreme heat impacts human lives and how participants cope with extreme heat.


Above: Data from our diary study of extreme heat: thermal camera image captured by a participant and participants’ journals

These findings motivated our critical making work themed around adaption, focusing on artifacts for visualizing, coping with, and utilizing extreme heat. In constructing these artifacts, we were able to critically reflect on both the benefits and drawbacks of designing for adaptation.


Above: Solar Cooker made from re-purposed materials


Above: A sensor-enabled hot composter deployed outside


Above: Solar-powered chiller


Above: “Phoenix, a survivor’s guide” is designed to provide local knowledge and resources to the uninitiated in surviving the extremes of the desert climate. The survival guide is intended as a low-cost, DIY style, self-printed zine to be distributed amongst vulnerable populations.


Above: Visualizing extreme heat: screenprinting with thermochromic ink and a paint-based heat visualization

To see the full paper, click here.

The paper will be presented at the International Symposium for Electronic Arts (ISEA 2017).

Melting Materials for Mold Making

While 3D printers have become more accessible, it is still relatively expensive and time consuming to generate 3D prints. In addition, the materials commonly available for 3D printing are limited to certain types of plastics. We wanted to explore the possibilities of broadening the affordability and material variety for making multiple models by using traditional mold-making with 3D printed sources. This way, by 3D printing a single model, users would be able to create multiple finished molds using a variety of materials.

Crayon – Solar Heating

As an early experiment in melting materials, we used solar heating to melt Crayola crayons into different shapes. Crayons have a relatively low melting temperature, becoming completely molten at between 120-150 degrees fahrenheit, which is an easy temperature to reach while sitting outside in Phoenix, Arizona during early Autumn.

left: fused crayons after heating; middle: cut up pieces of crayon before being heated; right: pieces of crayon fusing as they melt

Wax – 3D printing tests

Since we wanted to make these models useful for molding several different types of materials, including food, we wanted to insure that the 3D printed models would be food safe. The main ways to insure that a 3D print are food safe are to 1) use a food safe printing material (some types of PLA are food safe, but it is important to check with the manufacturer), 2) use a 3D printer that has a stainless steel extruder, 3) wash the 3D model with antibacterial soap, and 4) spray the model with a polyurethane spray to prevent the risk of bacteria growing in small cracks in the 3D print.

For testing the viability of the 3D models as molds, we used wax as a test molding material, since wax is solid at room temperature but can melt at between 110-150 degrees fahrenheit (depending on type of wax), and so is easy to melt using normal household items.

The first 3D print prototype used a raised image inside of a hollow cube, with the hopes that the wax could be poured in when hot and would be removed easily once hardened (a no-stick spray was applied to the 3D print before the wax was poured in). However, it appeared impossible to remove the wax from the model intact. By putting sheets of saran wrap between the wax and the 3D model, it was possible to remove the wax once dried. However, the resulting wax molds were unable to properly adhere to the shape of the 3D model because of the presence of the saran wrap.

left: first 3D printed model; right: the only way to remove the wax molds in one piece was to place a layer of saran wrap in between the plastic model and the wax as it melts. However, that resulted in the wax not adhering to the shape of the 3D model well.

After the first model proved ineffective for casting wax, we created a second model which had a hollow bottom, in the hope that the wax mold could be pushed out of the model once it had hardened. This did succeed, but it was still fairly difficult to remove the wax mold and there was some surface abrasions to the wax.

left: liquid wax cooling inside the second model. The model was placed on top of wax paper to prevent the liquid wax from leaking out from the bottom of the model. right: resulting wax model. While a marked improvement from the previous attempts, it was still difficult to remove from the 3D print and had sustained minor damage.

Wax – Silicone mold

Because the wax was proving difficult to remove from the inflexible plastic 3D prints, we chose to look for possible in-between methods of transferring a 3D print into a molded material. We decided to use silicone putty, a material that starts out with a texture resembling play-doh but will solidify into a permanent shape while still maintaining flexibility. To create the silicone mold, silicone putty was spread around a 3D print and left to dry. Afterwards, hot wax was poured into the silicone mold, whose flexible properties made it much easier to remove the wax after it hardened.

left: original 3D print; right: silicone mold that was created from dried silicone putty that was molded around the 3D print; bottom: resulting wax piece that was cast in and removed from the silicone model. Despite being much thinner (and therefore more fragile) than the previous wax molds, the wax piece was removed from the silicone with significantly less damage than the wax tests that were cast directly in the 3D prints.

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Given the success of molding with wax, we did some preliminary experiments with food materials using the same silicone mold, which was created from a type of silicone putty that has been designated and labeled as food-safe.


The chocolate tests were mostly successful, with the only notable problem being that the surface detail of the chocolate molds appear to have lumps or pockets in their surfaces. This may be caused by air pockets being stuck under the liquid chocolate as it is poured into the silicone mold, or the type of chocolate that was used (standard chocolate chips) is not designed to remain smooth after being melted and re-solidified.


The success of the gelatin molds varied based on the type of gelatin that was used.

below: When using Jello brand gelatin mix, the resulting gelatin did not maintain its shape when being removed from the silicone mold.


below: Alternatively, coffee agar mix (which is intended to be cut up into cubes or other shapes after hardening, and thus was designed with greater internal resilience than Jello) was easily removed from the silicone mold without any damage.

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 (

Hands-on Food Science Workshop at CHI’16

Our one-day, hands-on workshop, The Art of Everyday Food Science: Foraging for Design Opportunities, has been accepted to CHI’16. The workshop is co-authored with Christina Santana (ASU), Elenore Long (ASU), Rob Comber (Newcastle University), and Carl DiSalvo (Georgia Institute of Technology).


Building on our earlier fieldwork, the CHI workshop will envision socio-technical systems that serve as deliberate alternatives to top-down production of both food and knowledge. We hope to gather a diverse group of interaction designers, food practitioners, artists, and scientists. Our call supports several creative submission formats, including:

  • An example (photograph, video, etc.) of a prior food science project such as fermentation, foraging, or brewing, along with a brief description.
  • A creative proposal for a hands-on food science project to be conducted during our workshop at CHI

The workshop will include hands-on activities with food: we will actually brew, ferment, pickle, forage for, can, and preserve food items at CHI!  In addition to these experiments, the workshop will also include critical reflection and design exercise to examine new systems for food preservation and security, human health and nutrition, and everyday scientific literacy.


CHI is the top conference on Human Computer Interaction. In 2016, it will be held in San Jose May 7-12. Hope to see you all there!


Updates – Food Science Field Work and Workshops

By the end of the semester, Stacey and I completed thirteen interviews with fifteen food scientists whose projects included canning, fermenting, foraging, gardening, urban farming, placenta encapsulation, and others. After spending approximately 1-2 hours with each participant in their own homes, we invited everyone to two additional events hosted at the Digital Arts Ranch during the first and second week of May:

  •  food workshop This large group meeting was designed to encourage networking among participants who completed three hands-on projects (kombucha, sauerkraut, dairy kefir)
  • co-authoring workshop This smaller group meeting was designed to arrive at a shared vision and draft plan for a scholarly publication on food literacy.

Food Workshop Seven practitioners, and our research collaborative (Associate Professor Elenore Long of the English Department joined us) attended the 2 hour food workshop. Informal leaders were chosen beforehand to show others the basics according to the three major projects (kombucha, sauerkraut, dairy kefir). As the photos below demonstrate, a variety of materials were circulated which allowed participants to discuss preferences (flavorings) as well as compare processes and experiment a bit.

food workshop

food workshop2 food workshop3

Co- Authorship Workshop At the end of the food workshop, participants were given a copy of The Community Literacy Journal’s call for papers for a special issue on Food Literacy. Everyone was invited to return the following week to meet with our research collaborative, but on the day, only four participants opted to participate in the two hour long deliberative process aimed at considering our purposes as co-authors. The photos below show our efforts to arrive at insights that might prove valuable to a scholarly audience.

writingworkshop writingworkshop2

We did not meet with participants (face-to-face) after the two events we hosted at the Digital Arts Ranch. However,  we continued working on the draft for the academic journal asynchronously via Google Docs. After two major revisions, we met our June first deadline (we wrote feverishly for two solid weeks having begun May 14th), and sent our co-authored draft to the editor.

On July, 1 we received word from The Community Literacy Journal that our submission would be included in the Fall 2015 publication (10.1) focused on community food literacies. The title, list of co-authors and short abstract are include below:

  • Title – Mindful Persistence: Literacies for Taking up and Sustaining Fermented-Food Projects
  • Co-authors –  Christina Santana, Stacey Kuznetsov, Sheri Schmeckpeper, Linda Curry, Elenore Long, Lauren Davis, Heidi Koerner, and Kimberly McQuarrie
  • Abstract: Resisting the mainstream food supply requires persistence–especially for food projects requiring fermentation. A team of scholars and community members dramatizes a joint inquiry from which emerged a composite portrait of mindful persistence as the engine that drives their food literacies. Situated insights of individual writers indicate that while this team shares an interest in fermentation, this interest does not require or assume identical understandings of the science of fermentation or similar positions in the probiotic debate surrounding contemporary fermentation practices. Instead, what is shared is a mindful persistence that scaffolds reflective action in this dynamic problem space.

Initial food science fieldwork

This week, Tina and I did our first few food science field interviews. The people we’ve met, the practices we observed, and the things we learned are fascinating to say the least.

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In a broad sense, we are using at-home food experimentation as a lens to study citizen communities. We want to know how knowledge is scaffolded and transferred between these groups, what roles materials play in shaping and constraining quotidian science, and how these practices relate to bigger issues of local and global food security and sustainability.

Materials. We are interested in a wide range of quotidian food science practices, including fermenting cheese, brewing kombucha, culturing sourdough, foraging for wild edibles, pickling vegetables, or selecting for certain traits in domesticated plants. This type of work is inherently materially-oriented.

DSC_0093 DSC_0074A big part of our field research examines how materiality shapes quotidian science work, both in terms of access to the physical tools and food products, as well as the phenomenological qualities of the materials being worked with. How do practitioners acquire, appropriate, work with, and share their physical materials? How is food experimentation shaped by the human experiences of taste, smell, texture, sight, and sound of food materials?

Knowledge and expertise. Sure, some food science projects are relatively simple. But others rely on precise conditions (e.g., particular temperatures for yeasts or cheeses), complex care (e.g., “feeding” open air fermentation starters), longer-term engagements (e.g., brewing mead over the course of several weeks), or specialized local knowledge (e.g., identifying non-poisonous edibles while foraging). How are social, digital, and physical systems drawn upon to develop the expertise necessary for doing these projects? How are the unique qualities of working with foods (smell, appearance, taste, passage of time, etc.) communicated and used to troubleshoot projects?

Local issues. Even in our first few preliminary field interviews, we are finding that people do food science for a variety of complex reasons. These range from personal health and the social and cultural aspects of food making, to fulfilling human curiosity through experimentation, as well as the broader goals of finding alternatives to mass-produced, mass-packaged, standardized, processed, commercialized, and transported products. By focusing on food here in Phoenix, our project is directly engaging with the local and global issues surrounding nutrition, food culture, and food security.

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Socially-engaged research methods. I think this project is most similar to my earlier work with Nurturing Natural Sensors. That work presented an ethnographically-oriented account of how practitioners infer environmental conditions by observing living systems, as a form of quotidian environmental science. By focusing on a practice that we all participate in (preparing food), our fieldwork basically removes the distinction between “researchers” and “subjects”. We are quite literally part of the community we are studying, and I imagine we will become even more immersed in food experimentation as we learn new insights from fieldwork. This presents interesting methodological challenges. How should we, as researchers, partner with local groups to gain trust, generate knowledge, and empower the change they seek while holistically taking into account community members’ perspectives?


And yes, we have been extremely lucky to try so many new and delicious things over the past few days. Thank you!