All posts by lucyvernasco

Anatomy of a body of work at the surgical museum

By Lucy Vernasco

The International Museum of Surgical Science’s new Anatomy in the Gallery exhibit feels more like an immersion into the study of physiology than a walk through a classical art show. This is because the art displayed in Notes on Life: Visual Lectures from the Vitruvian Fine Art Studio, on view until Friday May 22nd, was created originally for classroom learning. Continue reading

3D printing just became more delicious

By: Lucy Vernasco

3D printing is more delicious than ever. With more than 1,000 Kickstarter backers, PancakeBot is the world’s first 3D pancake printer.

“It’s a project I did for my kids to get them inspired. It’s a family project,” Miguel Valenzuela said about his invention. Valenzuela is a civil engineer, inventor and father living in Norway.

PancakeBot was first prototyped as a LEGO model before Valenzuela made it into the current machine.

Launched in 2013, PancakeBot won’t hit stores until mid 2015, but Kickstarter backers can get their own for half the anticipated retail price by pledging $149 dollars.

“I’ve always wanted to dabble with 3D printing, especially since it was coming online with Makerbot,” Valenzuela said. “I learned how to program with LEGO code, pretty much spent six months making a pancake machine out of LEGOs. We posted the video on YouTube and then it went viral. It was all made out of LEGOs except for the ketchup bottle”

The idea originated with a question from Valenzuela’s daughter as he was reading an article in Make Magazine about prototyping with LEGO, Valenzuela said.

“My daughter Lily asked, ‘What are you doing, dad?’ and I said I was reading about a guy who made a pancake stamping machine out of LEGOs. Her eyes opened up really big, and she turned to Maya, her sister, and yelled, ‘Papa’s going to build a pancake machine out of LEGOs!’”

Valenzeula began bringing his PancakeBot LEGO prototype to Maker Faires including one at The White House. After partnering with StoreBound, he began a Kickstarter campaign in order to reach a wider audience and bring the project to stores later this year.  PancakeBot, which comes with pre-loaded designs and an SD card for custom designs, lets users create pancakes in any pattern they can dream of.

And, yes, then you pour syrup on it and eat it. Valenzeula reveals more secrets about his Bot.

How long does the process take?

It depends on the size of the pancake, of course. For a simple one it can trace something out in 45 seconds to a couple of minutes, the outline of it, and then it needs to come back to fill. You can do the fill by hand, or you can do the fill with PancakeBot. You’re looking at three to four minutes for a decent sized pancake with a custom design and logo on it.

How does PancakeBot work?

The way it works is that you import the image for the background into the software. Then you have a window where you trace over the background. You trace lines. There are no curves, just lines. If you want to draw a circle, you draw a bunch of small lines. Once you draw your dark lines, you go back and you click a [15 second delay] into it. That allows the brown stuff to cook and get browner. Then you come back and do the fill. The fill fills it in with a lighter batter. Then you give it a flip and you have your image revealed to you. Every time you flip the pancake you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, because you don’t know how long it’s cooked. The cool thing is the reveal. Like ‘ooh look at that, it came out perfect.’

PancakeBot printing a butterfly pancake
PancakeBot printing a butterfly pancake

You can print layers, but it’s very limited in the amount of layers it’ll print. The main thing is that pancake batter is in this liquid form, so it’s not like taking an apple and making it into liquid form and squirting it out. So there’s a natal progression of going from pancake batter to pancake. That’s what’s really cool about this. For stuff that has the same viscosity as pancake batter and you can cook it, the sky’s the limit on that. We use 3D printing technology and it uses the idea of food and cooking. It’s the only printer out there that actually cooks food while it’s being made. We went from LEGO to this.

How do you hope people use Pancake Bot?

Number one, I hope people will make pancakes out of it. I don’t want it to end there. I want people to look at what we’ve created here as a tool for learning, a tool for exploration and a tool for inspiring kids to look at technology in a different way. Now what we’re doing is we’re putting a computer system and machine into the kitchen and you can tell it what to do. You’re the artist now. We’re looking into allowing the user to hack it. They can upload their own programs to it, and draw out custom shapes. It would be nice to see it at places like Disney Land, resorts, hotels.

Completed PancakeBot pancake
Completed PancakeBot pancake

Do you ever get tired of pancakes?

The kids still love pancakes. They never get sick of them. I love pancakes too, so I think that shows a little bit. What the challenge is is challenging ourselves to come up with different designs and pushing ourselves to see what we can come up with and things like that.

Have your kids been inspired from you invention?

Totally! Now my kids are inventing stuff and making things. They’re playing with robotics and [are] interested in programming. The kids look at things differently now. They say, “Dad, can you build a robot for this?” They’re seeing now that technology can be used on a daily basis.

This project would not have been possible without the Maker community, because this is one of the reasons we decided to do it, is to inspire kids to get involved with technology. The Maker community has been very awesome in helping us out.

Photo at top: A butterfly pancake created by PancakeBot.

Wikipedians are Editing the Gender Gap

By Lucy Vernasco

If you walked by room 613 at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago’s Flaxman Library on Saturday, you heard the sounds of furious typing and laughter as a diverse group of students and Chicago residents discussed feminism and the internet. Continue reading

Social media creates solidarity for those affected by eating disorders

By Lucy Vernasco

Tweets lit up the emotional landscape for people affected by eating disorders. The messages surged through an hour session Sunday to kick off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Social media outlets have become conversation spaces for providing support and a community oasis for those who the know the toll disordered eating can take on people’s lives. So on Sunday night, Adios Barbie, a media outlet celebrating healthy body image, hosted a party – the third annual #AdiosED twitter party. Body-image activists served as  “panelists” participating from their laptops included Sharon Haywood, Melanie Klein, Melissa A. Fabello, Dagan VanDemark and Gloria Tepiliuelia.

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St. John’s wort gets mixed reviews for treating depression

By Lucy Vernasco

What if there was a flower that could make you happy – not just as a thing of beauty but an object of healing? Some claim one such bloom actually exists.

Stocked with the supplements and gummy vitamins is St. John’s wort, capsulized from the blooms of a yellow-flowered shrub used to remedy snake bites, depression and other ailments since the ancient Greeks first tried it. In the form of branded and generic pills and capsules, St. John’s wort is sold as a mood lifter.

There’s even a Yogi Blues Away tea that relies on St. John’s wort to ease tension, fix mild emotional imbalance and assist with seasonal affective disorder. Continue reading