I don’t know much about food or cooking, so I am doubtful that I could create anything new or interesting in regards to a food experiment. Instead, I will be documenting my attempt to give up sugar (which I love), in the form of all desserts, sweets, and items containing processed sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Tuesday 10-13
Doing pretty good, might have over snacked on salty stuff since I can’t have sugar. Went to the convenience store at Memorial Union, very saddened by all the delicious things I couldn’t have (and what a large percentage of the store’s content they made up).
Had a slight stomach ache later in the day.

Wednesday 10-14
In my dream last night I ate some chocolate chip cookies. I felt bad about it when I woke up.
I feel hungrier than normal. Which is weird, since sugar is supposed to make you hungry, right? Slight stomach ache mid-morning, felt sort of like hunger and an overly-full stomach at the same time. Energy level seems about normal, though I feel like I might be a little more on edge than usual.
Facebook says that today is national dessert day. Humpf.
evening: slight stomach ache seems to pop up whenever I eat. I also have a slight headache, though that might be from staring at computer screens all day.

Thursday 10-15
packaged candy in dream last night. Did not eat any.
Woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble getting back to sleep.
Also, it seems like I’m having a minor acne breakout.
headache through morning, slight sore stomach after breakfast. No stomach problems after lunch (I had a banana as part of lunch, and that does have some sugar (I have decided include fruit in my new diet)).
I think I might be getting dehydrated… or sick… I’m having trouble concentrating when I’m staring at my computer screen.

Friday 10-16
I’ve been getting more tired in the evening, so I’ve been going to bed earlier. Also been waking up earlier, so that’s good. No sugary stuff in my dream. Also, it’s worth noting that I’ve been having dreams for the past 3 days, since usually I do not remember my dreams.
I ate some peanut butter spread on sliced banana. Does that count as sugar? I saw peanut butter on a list of low-sugar alternatives, but it still has some sugar in it… hmm…
I was hoping one side effect of this would be some weight loss, but I’m pretty sure my increased fat-intake is going to undo any weight I would have lost.
Went to a birthday party, didn’t eat cake.

Saturday 10-17
Doing well physically, though morale is low. I probably would have started snacking on something if I hadn’t already cleared all the sugary stuff out of my apartment. Not sure if I have a stomach ache or am hungry.
went to the grocery store, stared at sugary baked goods, had a deep sense at both craving and revulsion and disappointment in myself for craving. Halloween = chocolate displays everywhere. Bought some dried apricots and figs (no sugar added).

Sunday 10-18
Feeling better. Overall not hungry and not craving.
Wasn’t too hungry. Ate a few dried apricots. Became more hungry. Ugh.
I think the hardest thing isn’t that I can’t have sweets RIGHT NOW, but that I know for the foreseeable future this is what my life is going to be like, as long as I stick to this diet. I guess it’s easier to just take it a day at a time.
Had my first non-sugar-related craving this evening (for salmon, cream cheese, and avocado sushi rolls). Might get that for lunch tomorrow.

Monday 10-19
Got a little sad this morning thinking about all the delicious sugary stuff I’m not eating. Oh well.

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.

Internal Heat – Hand Measurements

People’s hands were imaged using a Seek Thermal camera on iPad. Hands were held out flat, palm up, against a flat surface. The intended population to research would be a random control population compared to a population of health “energy” practitioners such as meditation, qigong/chi-kung, reiki and other practices.

The assignment was supposed to be done using Arduino but the Seek Thermal camera’s capabilities really shine in this application. By providing a high and low temperature, hands can be evaluated for location of hot spots, actual temperature and temperature in relation to surroundings.











Hands photographed using deep infrared camera.

Some data:

average maximum: 92.6° F

median maximum: 93° F

average minimum: 78° F (mostly background)

highest hand temp: 96° F

lowest hand temp: 87° F

The chart below shows the high and low temperatures of the dataset. No particular relationship becomes apparent.

This is the full dataset. The main conclusion is the area around the base of the thumb, the proximal-center palm and thumb root, are the most common centers of heat in the hand. One participant’s wrist was the warmest area. Cold drinks and jewelry effect temperature.

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?

DSC_0770 DSC_0772

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!

Queen of the Equinox

Cereus hildmannianus is one of several similar species of organ pipe cactus that found in South America, California and Arizona. These medium-sized cacti are nearly spineless and bloom selectively for only a few nights a year. The flowers unfold from a pod and bloom one evening, then shrivel into a fruit the next day. Used as a natural sensor they could guide desert  farmers in planting crops such as corn, squash and beans for a spring harvest or for planting melons at the spring equinox. Analog methods of detection could include planting as hedges (it can grow prolifically) and using the Mk. 1 eyeball for approximating the equinox. This could have worked for Hohokam farmers without access to astronomer-priests. A digital system might use a low-resolution camera and use a prior distribution or frame referencing image processing technique to trigger scripted remote events.

While it’s cousin species only flower synchronously one night a year, it flowers over several nights. It has less fragrant blossoms and they shrink into a dragonfruit-like fruit. These cacti seem to display a biological light switch using a technique known as photomorphogenesis that is triggered by the plant’s photochrome system.

According to Devlin, Christie & Terry (2007) “timing of flowering in many species is governed by light. In this case, duration of light is the important factor. Lengthening days (or more strictly shortening nights) signal the approach of spring while shortening days (lengthening nights) signal the approach of winter. This regulation of flowering by light is mediated through interaction with an internal 24 h timekeeper known as the circadian clock to ensure that the flowering process is receptive to light during the evening.” This is dramatically expressed in C. hildmannianus.

Equipment: Canon T3, tripod, Polaroid timer, miscellaneous cameras.

Music is Ghosts I, 6 by NIN, Open Content License.


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

A Bacterial Biomarker of pH

Fermented food items are a staple in many cultures. They are popular for great taste and health benefits. The only disappointment is that fermentation is a complex cellular process and replicating it in a kitchen requires expertise. Keeping our recent enthusiasm in food science, I will discuss biomarkers in the fermentation of milk.

Fermentation of milk is the process in which Lactobacillus species convert lactose into lactic acid. This causes the pH of the milk to decrease. Casein, the protein component of milk coagulates in low pH environments. This seems easy and simple, except when things go wrong. Yogurt, for example is best made from a fresh culture of Lactobacillus not more than two days old. Once the culture gets older than that, the resulting yogurt tastes excessively sour and later, even bitter. When acid begins to accumulating in the yogurt, bacteria sense it as a sign of stress. Stress metabolism triggers a complex process that leads to sporulation – the bacterial equivalent of hibernation. Normal growth in such bacteria can be revived only when the conditions are favorable – plenty of sugar to feed on.

Sporulation can be identified with a microscope. Sporulating bacteria take up less stain and show encapsulated spores inside them.

lacto spores
Gram stained sporulating Lactobacillus
Gram stained Lactobacillus