Organic Primitives: Synthesis and Design of pH-Reactive Materials

Viirj Kan, Emma Vargo, Noa Machover, Hiroshi Ishii, Serena Pan, Weixuan Chen, and Yasuaki Kakehi. 2017. Organic Primitives: Synthesis and Design of pH-Reactive Materials using Molecular I/O for Sensing, Actuation, and Interaction. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 989-1000. DOI:


In this paper we present Organic Primitives, an enabling toolbox that expands upon the library of input-output devices in HCI and facilitates the design of interactions with organic, fluid-based systems. We formulated color-, odor-, and shape-changing material primitives which act as sensor-actuators that convert pH signals into human-readable outputs. Food-grade organic molecules anthocyanin, vanillin, and chitosan were employed as dopants to synthesize materials which output a spectrum of colors, degrees of shape deformation, and switch between odorous and non-odorous states. We evaluated the individual output properties of our sensor-actuators to assess the rate, range, and reversibility of the changes as a function of pH 2-10. We present a design space with techniques for enhancing the functionality of the material primitives, and offer passive and computational methods for controlling the material interfaces. Finally, we explore applications enabled by Organic Primitives under four contexts: environmental, cosmetic, edible, and interspecies.

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