Milking Ideas

Milk is a staple in my kitchen and I take its benefits and uses for granted. For this project I have maintained a focus on milk by making cottage cheese and clarified butter at home.

Cottage cheese

I have been making cheese at home for many years now. The milk was fresh from the farm and had very high fat and protein content. I decided to try it with grocery store bought milk and note any differences  in the cheese making process as well as taste. The steps are described through photographs.

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Once milk came to a boil I added about two tablespoons of vinegar to it. Ideally, I would use two litres of milk in a heavy pan and heat it over a very low flame. Milk would reach boiling point in an hour. The surface would have a very thick layer of fats which I would separate and refrigerate for making clarified butter. The cheese was strained through a very soft muslin and refrigerated. The cheese I made was less creamy but tasted quite good. I would give it six out of ten for flavour and texture.

Clarified Butter

As I said, the thick top layer of milk fat is used for making clarified butter. It is a lengthy and messy process but the flavour makes the effort worthwhile. For the project I used unsalted butter. My argument was that it is called clarified butter and so, there has to be a way to make it from regular butter. The following are the steps.

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A small cube of butter was added to a heavy vessel and heated on very low flame. Once the butter came to a boil, light brown froth could be seen at the surface. The brown froth also had some milk solids in it and had to be strained. The resulting clarified butter was dark golden colored and smelled different from the butter I made at home. It tastes and smells good, but in a different way. This could be because of the used butter, and the small portion used.

This is a good way to visualize the number of components in milk – proteins, SNP (Solids Not Protein) and fat.

Collective Final Project?

How do you guys feel about doing a collective final project, centered around a solar-cooked banquet? There are so many processes we could think about, not just solar cooking/baking but also sun-drying, sun-brewing, hot composting, etc.

What I’m envisioning is each person prototypes a functional artifact around this theme (e.g., a solar cooker, a sun-drying box, a composter, etc.) developing a few recipes and then hosting a banquet using only sun cooked foods as our final showcase.

Regardless of how the class goes, I am setting up this work as a submission to

If you are interested in making this into your final project and co-authoring a submission with me that would be great. If you would rather work on something else, that’s great too. Let me know what you think.

Bio indicators

Since I’m still new to Phoenix, I have interviewed one of my friends, a resident in Phoenix since birth to get an idea about local bio indicators. She mentioned about the activities of mosquitoes as an indication of rain. According to her, mosquitoes come out noticeably in numbers few hours before a rain. Personally I have neither experienced this in last two months here in Phoenix nor in places I lived before.

But I have a similar experience in Sri Lanka with a bird species called Hirundo rustica. In singhalese we call it “wahi-lihiniya” which means rain bird. They started to fly as groups indicating a rain is coming soon. According to my experience this is kind of a reliable indication.

Further, I have gone through a scholarly article on using  Ant groups as bioindicators of Forest Health in Northern Arizona Ponderosa Pine Forests. According to them the size, kind and the activities of the ant groups can be used as indicators to measure the severity of the disturbances happened to the forest eco system as results of wildfires.

Unfortunately I was unable to experience any bio indicators specific to the Phoenix area by my self yet.

Food science field trip

This week, for our food science unit, we took a field trip to Doc’s Artisan Ice Creams. DSC_0774

A big part of my research examines food as a platform for both everyday science and habitual sustainability. Last semester, working with Tina Santana and Elenore Long, I conducted extensive fieldwork and workshops with practitioners who routinely experiment with preserving, fermenting, brewing, pickling, foraging for, and healing with food. The practices we studied include making homemade beer, fermenting vegetables and fruit, foraging for local edibles, brewing kombucha and kefir, farming livestock, and encapsulating human placenta (as a dietary supplement), to name a few.

With this work, I am interested in alternatives to top-down production of both food and knowledge. Food is a widely-adopted platform for amateur science, whereby people learn about and perform a host of scientifically-oriented experiments at home. At the same time, these projects also engage with many critical sustainability issues: food preservation and security, human health and nutrition, and everyday scientific literacy. How is quotidian expertise scaffolded, and how are at-home food science practices positioned as a deliberate alternative to mainstream systems?

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Framing my interests in food science within the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), my research contributes to 1) citizen science, by examining how social, digital, and physical materials shape scientific literacy; and 2) sustainable interaction design, by engaging with practices that counter mass-consumption and work around top-down systems.

Sharing my research with my class and involving students as collaborators in DIY science (or as NSF would put it, “integrating research and education”) has been productive and fascinating. Being able to integrate all this with my passion for dessert is of course even better!


Our site visit today served as an introduction to basic in-situ interview and fieldwork methods, as well as a foray into the study of everyday food science.

Doc’s is a unique place, not only because it boasts truly bold and experimental flavors (e.g., habanero-mango, grape-peanut butter, or lemongrass-coconut-lime sorbet), but also because making these products is seen as both an art and a science. Today’s discussion deeply engaged with how experimental practices of food preparation, selection, and storage draw upon art practice and scientific knowledge. This raises interesting questions about whether approaching this area as a science devalues the art of food and touches on complex intersections between science and art more generally.


Coming from the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering at ASU, which spans the spectrum of creative practice, research, and computer science, these insights resonated with our own work and experiences.

Thank you Doc’s for your invaluable time, insights, and of course… the gelato and sorbet. Can’t wait to go back!


Before you do anything watch this video.

UPDATE: If you are interested in doing a collective final project, read this first. If you want to work on ‘using heat for good’ as a class project, you can center your brainstorming around that.

If you’d rather work on something different, you can think of ideas across a range of citizen science topics (environment, food, biology, politics, education, etc.).

Either way, your task is to come up with 30 ideas for your final project. Go for breadth! Do not worry about what’s realistic or possible, and don’t think about implementation!

Write or sketch/draw each idea on a separate post-it note. Each note can be just a few words, but be specific. For example:

  • a plant that cleans up soil pollutants
  • a story book that narrates fermentation

Do not get stuck on one specific idea (do not submit 25 ideas that all sound like this):

  • air quality sensing on a bike
  • air quality sensing on a watch
  • air quality sensing on a shirt

Lay out your 30 post-its on a table, take a picture and upload it to the class blog under the “brainstorming” category. Bring all of your post-its to class on Thursday!

This assignment is worth 4 points
3 points for posting a picture of your 30 ideas on the class blog
1 point for brining all your post-its to class

Everyday food science

Broadly speaking, food science studies the preservation, selection, storage, and distribution of foods. Everyday food science practices include fermenting, brewing, or pickling edible materials, foraging, bartering, or dumpster diving for food. Through its long tradition of experimenting and tinkering, at-home food science engages with many critical sustainability issues: food preservation and security, human health and nutrition, and everyday scientific literacy.

In this assignment, you will conduct and document a food science experiment. Your project can focus on creating a new flavor (e.g., apple-flavored sour kraut); trying a new method (e.g., cold-brewing); or simply creating something you have not made before (e.g., sour dough starter). Most importantly, you should try something that is informed by prior knowledge but where the outcome is uncertain.

Clearly document what your goals were, how you designed your ‘experiment’, and what you achieved (include pictures and a description of flavors, smells, appearance, etc). If this project developed over the course of several days, document the transition! To receive full credit, you must also relate your work to the broader themes in everyday food science:

  • Materially-oriented practice (how did materials inform and shape your work?)
  • Sustainability (how is your project positioned in relationship to mainstream production?)
  • Scientific literacy (what scientific knowledge did your project draw upon? how can this knowledge be shared?)

Post your project under the ‘foodscience‘ category.

This assignment is worth 5 points
2 point for conducting a food science experiment and documenting the results
1 point for describing how materials influenced your work
1 point for contextualizing your project within sustainability issues
1 point for discussing how your project relates to scientific literacy

Affluence and Irrigation Biomarkers in the Desert

When doing research into local biomarkers, I couldn’t help but notice the obvious amount of non-native plants populating the area. For example, my own apartment complex is populated by palm trees, flowering bushes, and thick, green grass that is clearly not native to a desert environment. Since humans are clearly having such a large influence on the biology of the local area, I thought it might be interesting to attempt to use local bio-indicators to determine information about the people (both the actual residents of an area and the results of personal presence, such as irrigation and infrastructure).

While this was just a preliminary review, I have found that the amount and type of “greenery” in certain parts of the city can be a direct bio-indicator of the wealth of that community and/or the history/irrigation system of that area.

Below: median square foot price for Phoenix homes, circa 2008 (


As we can see (assuming relative home prices have stayed close to what they were in 2008), it appears that homes are most expensive in northeast Phoenix (Scottsdale), cheapest in southwest Phoenix, and mixed in other areas. If my premise that “greater wealth = more greenery” is correct, we will find residential areas of Scottsdale to be the most green, while southwest Phoenix will have notably less plant life.

(Note: because I am trying to get data from around the city, I am using Google images in order to get larger and better amounts of data, as opposed to riding my bike around and photographing random houses, which is more likely to produce skewed and questionable results).

Within Scottsdale there is green diversity:

Arcadia, Scottsdale

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Paradise Valley, Scottsdale

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Paradise Hills, Scottsdale

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Notably, the region of Arcadia appears to have lots of houses with grass or green lawns, whereas in Paradise Valley only some of the houses have lawns, but most have a large number of trees or shade. Paradise Hills appears to have even more sparse greenery, though they apparently are willing to put in the effort to keep maintaining a GOLFCOURSE in the middle of the desert.

A brief history of the region reveals the fact that Arcadia was originally developed as orchards, and thus has an effective irrigation system in place. This likely explains why the Arcadia area of Scottsdale is much greener than the similarly priced Paradise Valley and Paradise Hills area of Scottsdale.

In contrast, other areas of the city have much less greenery. This is likely the result of areas that were not initially irrigated, less willingness to invest in the care and upkeep of plants, and smaller lot sizes which lead to less space to plant trees, bushes, etc.

Mesa, Arizona


Southwest Phoenix

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Notably, these neighborhoods in southwest Phoenix likely are not suffering from a lack of available irrigation, as many of the neighborhoods are located right next to farmland, and the communities were likely built on top of what once was irrigated land.

This raises the question, how does one access water to keep a yard green? Phoenix’s Salt River Project (SRP), is in charge of distributing and regulating the use of water in Phoenix, and provides a nifty guide to getting yourself irrigated. For obvious reasons (so that each household isn’t in charge of picking up it’s own water), they suggest working through neighborhood associations when ordering/paying for water. ( Since these decisions are made neighborhood by neighborhood, it explains some presence of greenery like in this snapshot from southwest Phoenix:

other southeast phoenix

Of course, acquiring water won’t help if an irrigation system isn’t already in place, so for many neighborhoods it is unclear if they do not want to purchase water, or were built in areas that had not been properly irrigated previously (presumably because the area had not previously been used for agriculture). For a close to home example, there is a notable decrease in greenery in the neighborhoods west of campus after the first couple of blocks. I have been told this is because of lack of irrigation:


Overall, while the presence of grass and trees does not always point to a specific cause, it does seem that we can find clues towards previous agricultural endeavors and the wealth of the current inhabitants by studying the amount of greenery that has been able to flourish in this desert environment.

Grand Canyon Hike UV Exposure

The hike into the tribal land of Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon is an intense 12 mile hike through various rugged terrains. Descending over 2000 feet, the climate changes drastically from the top to the bottom. The one consistent heat related aspect of the hike is the intensity of the sun. The sun intensity drastically effects the experience of heat throughout the hike. Beginning at 5800ft elevation, the trailhead is often scorching hot as their is no shade throughout the first 2 hours of the hike. Once you have completely descended into the canyon, the walls begin to provide sporadic shade. However, hikers are still exposed to the sunshine more than the little shade available. As such, the experience of descending into the canyon is very intense(even more so on return as you are progressing uphill).


As I prepared to descend the Canyon with my friends, I finalized a DIY UV sensor to measure the amount of UV, Infrared and visible light intensity. I embedded the system into the top of my hat. Hats are critical for protecting your face, neck, shoulders, eyes and body. As such, I collected a sampling of the intensity of these variables throughout the descent from the Supai Hilltop to the Havasupai Village, some 8 miles and 2000 feet in elevation. I recorded the start time as we took our first steps from the hillside.

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Using a 9V battery afforded the compact installation of the full system into the inside top of my shade hat.

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I chose to ditch the breadboard because I had plenty of power and ground sources as well as ports to wire my peripherals into. I borrowed an OpenLog SD card reader/writer to the solution to enable portable capture of the incoming data.

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Soldering the cables assured the smallest system possible for portable and hassle free data recording. I also used ziplock baggies to enclose the equipment to ensure they remain dry and free of dirt and dust(and especially catepillars who were in huge quantities)


Although I used my handkerchief as the barrier between my skull and 9V of streaming data electrons, I prototyped the solution using a shopping bag.

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I also made sure to log my on/off times so as to compare my narrative from human experience to help identify data anomalies or variations. Of course, shaded parts of the canyon will reduce the UV index and likely other data points. Most of the shade should have been in the end of the data stream for example(as we arrived in the village, we experienced more tree and canyon shade.

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Although the data is now being reviewed, I can see in the data where some of my experience is analogous with the recorded information.


Additionally, I think this is a pretty cool solution to data capture in a Do It Yourself approach to creative science exploration. I look forward to further analyzing the data. First off, is creating some temporal markers for inference,