Category Archives: foodscience

This work examines food as a platform for quotidian science.

3D Print-Based Silicone Mold Culinary Study

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, and 3D-Designed Molds for Baking and Freezing, where we experiment with baking and freezing food using silicone molds.

Our focus is using 3D prints to fabricate molds for culinary exploration. To determine what types of 3D designs and recipes work well to create customized, detailed dishes, we held a workshop with culinary enthusiasts.

Participants were invited to attend a workshop, which introduced them to our software system and workflow for generating 3D food molds. Over the course of the following week, they submitted drawings and photographs to be converted into 3D prints by our system. The participants then experimented with different recipes in their own homes, and kept in touch with the group by sharing their designs and recipes through a private group on a social network. During this time, they also had the option to create additional designs, and those were 3D printed and made into silicone molds for them to experiment with.

Types of Molds and Designs

The most common participant requests were to make multiple silicone molds of each print, create interconnected designs, and fabricate additional silicone molds of household items.

Several of the participants requested the option to make multiple silicone models of each 3D design. While it takes 2-3 hours to create one of the 3D prints, each silicone mold can be made in about thirty minutes. As such, participants were able to make several silicone molds from a single 3D print. This is a clear benefit of using molds over directly 3D printing the food, since having multiple molds allowed the participants to have several copies of the food design made simultaneously, whereas a 3D printer can only create one copy at a time.

Participants also noted the usefulness of interconnected designs. Such designs are beneficial because they allow relatively simple designs to be multiplied into complex forms, and, by changing the number of molds used, allow meals to be scaled to the needs of the person cooking.

below: examples of interconnected designs

p1-1-cornbread1.jpg  fan-1-silicone.jpg  model3-PB&J popsickle.jpg

In addition to making molds from 3D prints, two participants also made silicone molds of household objects. The downside of deeper shapes is that they limit the types of food that can be molded. In order to remove the original reference object, the silicone mold had to be cut in half and then pressed together when the food mold is being set. While this works for thick batter or melted chocolate, participants found that materials like liquid gelatin or egg whites will leak out through any cuts in the silicone mold before they have time to harden.

below: example of molds made from household objects

p5-3-silicone  p5-4-silicone.JPG  p5-3-chocolate1.jpg

Recipes and Food Experiments

Most of the participants focused on single-ingredient foods that could easily transform from a liquid to a solid state, such as chocolate, egg yolk, gelatin, pancake, and flan. As our participants discovered from their experiments, other materials, such as wonton wraps, can also be shaped in the models, though they require the use of simpler molds composed of smooth surfaces.

below: example of wonton wraps

p2-1-silicone1.jpg  p2-1-wraps5.jpg  p2-1-wraps6.jpg

For designs, participants suggested using food appearance and shape to encourage diners to make healthy choice. In addition, they were interested in using the shape of the food  to confuse or intrigue the diner as to what taste they may encounter.


Overall, our participants’ experiments revealed that molds with smooth surfaces worked well universally, whereas molds with fine details worked best with frozen and gelatin based foods. Hot foods were the most problematic, as they are often soft and difficult to remove form the molds. Depending on the ingredients, it may be more effective to freeze the meal into the mold, remove it, and then re-heat the food.

Future Opportunities

In the future, 3D models can be tailored more specifically to the foods they are applied to. For instance, our software might be altered to preview several different 3D models from one 2D image to show variable levels of detail and depth. Each 3D model could then be customized to maximize detail based on the specific attributes and limitations of the different foods being worked with. That way, culinary enthusiasts could visualize and compare what the finished dish would look like depending on their design and choice of ingredients.

below: examples of same molds being used to make different foods. In the future, models could be generated to best serve different food materials

p6-1-shortbread cookie4.jpg  p6-1-egg2

fball-poached eggs2.jpg  fballs-agar2.jpg

Since our participants enjoyed and appreciated the social-sharing aspects of this study, it could be beneficial to create a broader social sharing platform to aggregate 3D designs and recipes, thereby scaffolding a broad base of knowledge to advance and expand what food enthusiasts can create.

In addition, our approach offers insights for developing future high fidelity food-based 3D printing technologies. For example, our study shows that there is a definite interest in providing healthier options, as well as a desire to create several portions simultaneously in order to facilitate a shared dining experience. This indicates that future food 3D printers could focus on offering expanded food options outside of sweets and treats, and explore ways of generating food that encourages a communal, rather than isolated, dining experience.

Since food 3D printing technology could potentially become ubiquitous in future years, it would be prudent to make sure the technology does not inhibit, and hopefully tacitly encourages healthy eating and social engagement.


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

antonio-canova-bust-of-venus-italica.jpg  Untitled.png  Untitled 2.PNG

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.

antonio-canova-bust-of-venus-italica copy.jpg  Untitled 3.PNG  Untitled 4.PNG

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.

model2-sugar cookie.jpg

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

model2-egg1-1.jpg  model2-egg1-2.jpg  model2-egg1-3

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.

model2-egg2-1.jpg    model2-egg2-2.jpg

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.

model2-ice.jpg    model2-popsickle-1

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.

DSC_0123 DSC_0130

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.

DSC_0115 DSC_0099

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!