A reception on campus one evening this past January featured an unusual cooking demo. Or at least, it would be unusual if this weren’t MIT, where technologically enhancing a glob of mozzarella or puffing up bright, sugary balloons seems an almost natural outcome of the Institute’s idiosyncratic Independent Activities Period.

The eight-session class, Inflated Appetite, was billed as “an exploration of food as pneumatic shape-changing interfaces.” Crackers, ice cream, and chocolate were also on the menu for experimentation. The instructors included Lining Yao and Jifei Ou, PhD students in the MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media group; Wen Wang, a chemical and biological engineer in the Department of Chemical Engineering; and Chin-Yi Cheng, a computational architect from the Department of Architecture.

The course investigated two main approaches to smart material invention with a culinary twist. The engineering approach introduced students to a food printer and an electronic pneumatic control toolkit, including an Arduinobased programming board students used to manipulate inflation of the edible objects. With the biological approach, the instructors focused on how the culturing and fermentation process of yeast applied to the control of bread growth.

Afterward, Yao and Ou blogged about the project: “If we think about the process of cooking, it is all about utilizing the right energy stimuli to create the desired shape-changing, or transformation… To material hackers and designers like us, the kitchen becomes a playground.”

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