Category Archives: heat

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).

Heat-sensing drone test flight

As part of our heat-themed research, we are planning to use a drone to get thermal data for parts of Arizona. Nambi has been working with the DJI Matrice series drone and a FLIR Vue Pro thermal camera. This week, we did our first test flight in Papago park. The drone is impressively stable and responsive!

We are really excited about a second upcoming test to get some preliminary thermal data in urban and suburban areas a few weeks from now. Our longer-term goal is to use this high resolution fly-over data to study the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI) in Phoenix—a phenomenon whereby cities tend to be hotter than surrounding suburbs. We are also interested in mapping microclimates in different socioeconomic neighborhoods across the city.

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.

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 (

Understanding how local communities view and experience heat

Over the past week, Althea and I started our summer heat study. This project aims to understand how local communities experience heat, and how heat-related issues are viewed and coped with during daily routines.

Being in the heart of the desert, heat vulnerability is a huge issue in Phoenix. Existing approaches have applied GIS modeling, climate data analysis, remote sensing, heat-related hospitalization rates to identify heat vulnerability regions and communities. This map of Phoenix is particularly interesting, as it defines heat vulnerability in terms of a number of complex factors: exposure, sensitivity, and community coping capacity.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 3.58.55 PMMap from Declet-Barreto, et al. 2013.

Complimentary to top-down data analysis, our study relies on qualitative, participatory methods, similar to other projects that identified social determinants of urban health disparities. Photovoice has been of particular inspiration for our work: this project asked urban youths in high-risk neighborhoods to photograph and document elements in their environment that influence their health.

Our work aims to understand and express the human experience of heat. Broadly, we want to know:

  • How are human lives and activities effected by heat?
  • How can the experience of living in extreme heat be communicated across different socio-economic regions and to broader audiences outside of Phoenix?
  • What are the material and social workarounds around heat-related challenges?

To answer these questions, we are running a longitudinal diary study that asks people to document their heat-related experiences over the course of the summer.

We are asking participants to keep a journal that documents their views, experiences, and workarounds with heat-related challenges several times a week. We are also collecting photographs of heat-related experiences and asking participants to send us weekly postcards that describe a heat-related experience that stood out each week. Finally, communities are also provided with thermal cameras to identify high-heat areas in their environments.

We are using the Flir and the Seek smart phone add-ons to capture thermal imagery. Gino Ceresia helped us test these cameras.  A few test images:

Althea is 86F!


20150514_230136563_iOSThis picture was taken from the back of our Stauffer B lab, and it shows the temperature difference between the sides of the building that are covered in glass and the sides that are covered in metal. The cool part is the metal.

We hope to share some of the photographs and diary entries from this work in a public exhibit. Drawing on the collected data, the project will express a more grounded account of heat vulnerability in Phoenix, giving a richer voice to those who experience it the most.