Re-Engineering Food into Smart Materials
In order to make this technology accessible, we ensured Organic Primitives could be synthesized through the use of compounds commonly found in food. Much of what we think of as food is also made up of organisms—with a collection of molecules that have evolved to respond to a number of stimuli. Currently, the material primitives are driven by pH signals in a fluid. pH is utilized as a model to demonstrate how molecular-scale phenomena can be brought from materials into applications for interaction with a range of organic systems. Our future work will seek to expand upon the library of primitives for sensing.
The color, odor, and form-changing material primitives were synthesized by doping food-grade biopolymers with organic compounds of anthocyanin, vanillin, and chitosan. The material primitives can be combined and are able to output a spectrum of colors and different degrees of shape deformation, and they can switch from odorous to non-odorous states. Through a design methodology, we call Molecular Design Interactions, this research demonstrates how molecular-scale phenomena can be brought to application and user interaction with chemical and biological systems for environmental sensing, food interaction, and sustainable design. By elucidating the chemical world around us through these subtle, overlooked everyday interactions with our food, environment, and bodies, we aspire to instill a sense of wonder and agency in the protection of these organic systems.
These implementations were a result of a three-year research investigation beginning in 2014 on food materials for sensing and display. We are currently seeking for support to open source, as well as commercialize portions of this research. This work is patent pending and was published in Association for Computing Machinery SIGCHI. It was granted a Best Paper Award at the CHI 2017 conference. CHI is considered to be the most prestigious publication venue in the field of Human-Computer Interaction and is among the top-ranked in computer science, with an acceptance rate of 23 percent. Our best paper award signifies that it was ranked in the top one percent of all submissions in the SIGCHI 2017 conference, where 24 were chosen out of more than 2400 submissions.