Madhav Tankha – Final Project

For my final project I wanted to make a total of five (5) bioplastic masks and then hook them up to LEDs and arduinos and then to max/msp to create some synchronized light/sound blips, algorithmically generating patterns every x seconds. I made a mold out of clay and cast the bioplastic in it.  Sadly only 3 masks came out in a semi-usable state, and even they were not too great. (Since then, on Aisen’s suggestions, I’ve begun making more masks using multiple thin layers of bioplastic, and the results seem encouraging. Using more vegetable oil / vinegar seems to reduce shrinking and cracking.) I tried a bunch of tests with coloured bioplastics (using acrylic paint) but they all cracked and disintegrated very easily. I also made some stuff with wheat paste in case the bioplastic ones didn’t work out. They’re sturdier but don’t have the nice translucent texture)

The final recipe:

2 tablespoon corn starch

8-12 tablespoons water (12 seems to work nicely with the mould…you don’t want it to be too thick)

1/2 tablespoon gelatin

1/2 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

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The bioplastic texture, especially when lit, does indeed look very nice. But perhaps stronger LEDs are required,


The video isn’t too great, but basically I wanted the masks to form patterns out of sounds and light. I intend to continue working on this project throughout the summer. My aims are:

1. To create 5 (five) sturdy, wall-mountable masks

2. to acquire stronger LEDs

3. To re-record the audio and do some research on syllables and language,  so that the combination of sounds suggests some sort of song-speech.

4. Finally, to perhaps hook everything up to a raspberry pi with speakers instead of running it off my computer.


With the encouragement of my instructors, I am confident that I will overcome all obstacles.

Update: Final Project

*For original photos please refer to my first post:*

So I was asked to post some updates on how my material was drying/evolving/changing/etc. Over the following days/week, the bio-plastics I made were drying from the outside in, and splitting apart from the still wet core, creating plastic chasms along the surface.

These photos were taken 3 days after our last class:MatSpec_Update_AMatSpec_Update_BMatSpec_Update_B2 You can also see that bacteria was beginning to grow. I’m guessing that was due to the moisture still present.

These photos were taken a week after our last class:MatSpec_Update2_AMatSpec_Update2_A2MatSpec_Update2_B3MatSpec_Update2_B2MatSpec_Update2_B4Based on these results, at the moment bioplastic is not a viable option for creating more skull replicas. I am still interested in how to combine the different materials but I have some questions to consider:
1. How do I dry the plastic completely and efficiently as to not allow mold to grow and the cracking to occur, and to make sure there is no trapped moisture? Baking? Then what issue might occur during baking?
2. The plastic that I had created that I thought was too soft and just poured back out of the mold ended up drying hard as a rock–is there a way to utilize that mixture and maintain it in the mold while it dries?

Thanks for reading, Melanie I know you had asked for an update specifically so I hope this helps/interests you!




My final project is called DIY BioBot. I’ve been really excited to experiment with bioplastics. On the other hand, I’m very curious about what else Kinect and Arduino can do to involve in this process. So I decide to use bioplastics as a way to make a robot out of household ingredients, and use Kinect and Arduino to vitalize it.


All ingredients I used to make bioplastics includes corn starch, water, corn oil, glycerin, food colors, wax paper, and vinegar. After mixing all ingredients in each batch, I put it into microwave for about 1 minute.


I tried different recipes based on the basic ingredients:
1 tsp corn starch
4 tsp water
1 tsp glycerin

Batch 1
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
1/4 tsp corn oil(probably more than 1/4)

Before: milk white, sticky, moldable, stick together even after breaking them apart


After: flexible, rice yellow, more like a spring roll, looks delicious


Batch 2
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
1/4 corn oil(probably less than 1/4)
1/4 vinegar

Before: chocolate vinegar color&smell, same as batch 1


After: less flexible than batch 1, dryer, probably because of the amount of oil


Batch 3
1 tsp corn starch
2 tsp water
1/4 glycerin
4 drops blue
1 drop green

Before: aztec blue, more water like


After: glycerin hasn’t made much difference yet, but the interesting part is this after cooking, there are two dry layers and the inside layer is more sticky


Batch 4
1 tsp corn starch
4 tsp water
1 tsp glycerin
2 drops red
3 drops yellow

Before: orange, water like


After: jelly like, seems like corn oil makes it more flexible, glycerin makes it more gelatinous


Batch 5
1 tsp sweet potato starch
4 tsp water
1 tsp glycerin(less than 1)
1/2 tsp corn oil
3 drops yellow
1 drop green

Before: lime green, water like


After: wax paper helps to keep the water, corn oil keeps it from drying when exposed to air and more important makes it more flexible, glycerin makes it jelly like, closer to the ideal material I want to use for my Biobot


Batch 6
1 tsp corn starch
4 tsp water
1/2 glycerin
1/2 corn oil
5 drops red(not mix)
1 drop blue(not mix)

Before: deep blue, water like


After: the wax paper box molds the liquid into a square shape and not keep the water from going away and more important easy to take out bioplastic, the texture is almost what I want, but the color is not satisfactory


Best Batch 7
1 tsp corn starch
4 tsp water
1/4 glycerin
1/4 corn oil
4 drops yellow

Before: corn yellow, water like


After: smells like corn, shrinks a little, all of these experiment didn’t shrink much


After trying all these recipes, I found that corn oil keeps it from drying when exposed to air and more important makes it more flexible, while glycerin makes it more gelatinous, and the proportion of corn starch and water decides the solidness of this material. This is the final look of all my experiments.

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After knowing the recipe to my Biobot, I started to make a fake body to detect the bottom line of what kind of human shape Kinect can detect. Firstly, I cut the typical square human shape and used wires to tie different parts but failed.

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Then I polished this shape a little and surprisingly it worked! Although Kinect can only detect certain parts of this body shape, it can be used as the basis of my Biobot.


According to the proportion of human body, I started to cook all main body parts of my Biobot and assembly into an actual human body. Unfortunately the torso was broken in the middle, so I have to cook it again. But the good thing is the texture of this broken torso can be used in other ways owning to its brittleness and solidness.

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Kinect is what I always want to experiment in different projects, but what Kinect does is mainly detecting human body and body movements. So the first thought was to use bioplastic to make a human shape robot. But later I found even if I can detect this human shape with Kinect, there was nothing else I can do with it. So I have to use Arduino to make it move. I originally want to make a Biobot that can play computer games, particularly to wear this Biobot a Kinect that can detect shape and color and also wear this Biobot servos to have it play matching games. Now I realized maybe just using bioplastic and Arduino is a good way to try. Also I want to make it a product that people with instructions can try themselves. So LittleBits can be a good replacement other than Arduino. Anyway, the experiment result is in the following video. The material turns out to be too thin and flexible to be put on servo so I can only put it on the ground and let it control the paper board which my Biobot has to be put on.


I can’t call this experiment a success. But this can be a start for my future improvements, particularly in regards to making this piece a real product that family members can create and play together, which involves from using household ingredients to make a eco-friendly robot, to using existing products like Arduino or LittleBits to control the movements of this robot.



I want to model a chair that embodies traditional Chinese culture. In ancient China, this particular chair is called “Jiaozi”, the same pronunciation with dumplings. There have to be four people underneath to support each tip of two bamboo poles on each side of this chair. Also, there is an umbrella above this person’s head to protect him/her from exposure to the sun. This chair was for people with powers and rights!

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After modeling the chair, I’m not satisfactory with the umbrella I made to protect from the sun. So I decided to make a real umbrella this time.

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Artificial sausage casing and natural sausage casing


For final, I tried to explore the difference between artificial sausage casing and natural casing.

In the beginning I didn’t notice the differences between these two. The first time I bought only one box of sausage home and took the casing off, and thought that was nature casing. But the second time, I bought two different brand sausage back. When I took the casing off, and suddenly noticed that actually they are two different types of sausage casing. The one I used in the first trial, was the artificial casing. The new one I got, is the natural one. In the photo, the pinkish ones are the natural casing, and white ones are the artificial casing.

I did some research about the artificial casing, and found out actually some of the artificial casing are made by plastic as well.  It also could be made by collagen and cellulose. It’s pretty amazing for me to know that what we eat everyday actually are artificially food. I hope to research more about the advantage and disadvantage about them.




So I made two lamps with these two different materials. First two photos are the artificial casing. It’s very smooth, but not very strong. Very fragile when it dried up.

IMG_0350  IMG_0353




The next lamp was made by the natural casing. Compare with the artificial casing, the natural  casing is much more strong and  elastic.  After it dried up,  it’s still hard to break.IMG_0361IMG_0362IMG_0363IMG_0364  IMG_0366


For the next step, I want to explore more about the artificial casing. It’s very interesting to do some research about food safety. It’s also interesting to see how people make artificial food that taste exactly tastes like the natural food.


The wearable piece that we worked together ( me and Enrica )to foster equal access to public space and to use the technology to augment the potential of women bodies. Natural weapons are physically a part of a creature. Plants use different systems to defend themselves from insects or other herbivores consumers, different systems. Some are mechanical systems: they have parts that they use as a weapon to defend themselves. Taking inspiration from nature and from the self defense technique that animals and plants have, can we build a fashionable protective shield for women? Can we use technology to improve women’s life and limit the idea that women should rely on men to defend themselves? Can we make the women body appear more powerful?

This wearable inspired by nature. Hedgehogs have natural defense mechanisms. If a hedgehog feels threatened, it uses own spines to protect itself from any threats. We develop our mechanism inspired by this animal’s defense system and apply onto our wearable for women to protect themselves when they feel threatened during their nighttime walks. Mechanism has electronics that includes microcontroller, servo motors and distance sensor. If the distance sensor detects a stranger gets closer more than 1 meter, 3d printed spikes start to move up and down to protect the wearer.

The defense system serves as a metaphor which highlights a method of appropriation where the human body is enhanced through the process of bio-mimicry.



Objective: To make//find an aesthetically pleasing, translucent material – both hard, “glass-like” and flexible – latex-like in its properties. Can be used decoratively, like lacquered onto sculpture or poured into moulds as a potential resin replacement, or used as sheets for projection – projecting on or projecting through. Again, the filter of the filter. Also experimenting with colour – natural versus unnatural, stained glass hues. Most importantly, the bio-material must be durable, strong and inexpensive.


materialfinal10Some of my initial tests above ended up cracking – very brittle (like my life, haha jokes). So I decided to crush them into rock-like fragments that I thought could live life as interesting crystal fragments or re-constituted as another material. The flat colourless sheets were super wrinkled but were quite durable and translucent.


With the help of the Green Plastics book, I decided to attempt to make bio-glass and bio-latex. Let’s just say that the first was a failure in the sense that I never made anything hard enough to be constituted as glass. The main issue is that it is so hot and humid and it takes so long for the plastic to dry that it begins to mould, so I have to throw it away before it gets to the final stages. However, with these experiments there was little shrinking and with the flat sheets, no cracking at all. In fact, I managed to create a series of different sheets of bio-latex like material that could be used interestingly in a variety of artistic applications.


My first “bio-glass” recipe that created, in fact, flexible thin plastic:


Pure Gelatin

  • 4 tsp gelatine (Knox)
  • 1 cup of 1% glycerin solution (that means 1% glycerin to 99% water)
  • 3 drops of blue food colouring

For this recipe i mixed all the ingredients thoroughly before turning on the heat and cooking the plastic on the stove until simmering, then poured (like liquid) into containers or spread on foil. After 3 hours, it was jelly like and hardening.


I also baked a quarter of the same batch with no food coloring at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. After 3 hours there was little to no change except a slight jellification (is that an actual word).



  • 1 tsp potato starch
  • 1 tsp gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cup 1% glycerin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 drops red food colouring

I cooked this again on the stove (it turned pink). After 3 hours there was absolutely no reaction… still completely liquid-like.

So I decided to add more potato starch.


  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 4 tbspoon water
  • 1/2 tsp glycerin
  • 1 tsp gelatin
  • 1/2 cup 1% glycerol solution
  • 2 drops red food colouring

After 3 hours, it was jelly-like, moist, translucent and rather pliable. Definitely turned out more like my initial experiments than the liquid batches above.

I decided to try one more batch that was a bit more creative though. I read online that the inside translucent film of egg shells have been used – their extracted protein at least – to make bioplastic. Obviously I didn’t have the resources to do that so I decided to just try… dumping in little bits of film from the inside of an egg.


  • 2 tbspoon potato starch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp water
  • 1/2 tsp glycerin
  • 1 tsp gelatin
  • 1/2 cup 1% glycerol solution
  • Film bits from an egg
  • Mica powder


I added salt because in the Green Plastics book it said if you worked purely with starch the salt would help (somehow… I stopped paying attention when the scientific explanations started getting diagram-y). I added mica powder towards the end after simmering the solution on the stove because I thought – why not? I use a lot of mica powder to make a pearl-like finish on my polymer clay and I thought this would give the material an interesting sheen as well. Which it did.


As you can see, after about four days the thin bits of film were totally dry but a lot of my plastic was still very moist. This led to mould appearing instantly around the fourth day and I had to keep picking it off (blargh). So bio-glass remains a future option to experiment with, possibly with a faster drying option like an alcohol bath or maybe even experimenting with tapioca starch/arrowroot/coffee as Karen was doing – as some of her experiments were pretty dry in a few hours.


I managed to make actual fully transparent bits of pliable, flexible plastic, which is incredible. Also latex-like material of different colours. Adding green and blue food colouring together made a black piece of plastic which is super interesting.


The most interesting pieces of plastic was the one I could peel perfectly from the aluminum foil (don’t use baking wrap unless you have some kind of release) and it imprinted words onto the plastic – so definite potential resin/imprinting abilities. And also the mica-powder experiment I did last because of the shimmer the mica powder gave it.


Overall, I can say my experiments were definitely successful to an extent and I have every expectation and intention of incorporating bioplastic fully into my artistic practice in the future as a bio-material to support my projection and video work and as an artistic medium of its own right. I will perfect my technique – towards the bio-future, as our computer overlords might say.

Follow me on:

Bioplastics Journey

I personally did not like the idea of bioplastics because they didn’t seem sturdy or very flexible. I would never go through the effort of making my own plastic if it was significantly worse in every way (and to add not water resistant). But as I heard my classmate’s experiments and tried some of my own, I was surprised to see that with the right mix of ingredients, a sturdy plastic was possible. At first I didn’t have the right amount of ingredients, so I had to improvise. Instead of using glycerin, I tried to use Crisco. My first recipe was:


1 Tbsp Corn Starch

4 Tbsp Water

1 tsp Vinegar

1 tsp Crisco

mixplastic mixplastic2

This led to a somewhat hard plastic that had either cracked right away or had an oily sheen and looked in danger of cracking. It also reeked of vinegar. So overall this recipe was no good.


Next I decided to try a recipe with slightly less vinegar and with tapioca starch instead of corn starch. I also added in glycerin. I tried this a few times, varying in length of cooking time and drying the batches in the oven at a steady temperature or on the counter. For these recipes I tried:


7 Tbsp water

1 tsp Vinegar

1/2 tsp glycerin

1.5 Tbsp Tapioca Starch

Some Blue food coloring

blueplastic blueplastic2

I made a couple batches with this recipe. Each time I tried to spread them as thin as possible with the spatula. The result was a thin and flexible plastic that doesn’t easily tear. I considered this recipe pretty successful because I got both features I had been after. It also created a really cool effect that allowed you to easily see through it until it was placed closer to your eye. This could be used to make some interesting visual in a project and with the added food coloring it makes it even more interesting.


Another couple of batches I tried were the eggshell batches. These were my favorite. I used crushed eggshells (although I wish I had gotten them to a more fine grain) and also some cotton. I wanted to try both separately but felt some strange impulse to try them both in the same batch. I was hoping to have some sort of granite type feel to it where instead of having a fine mix, it’s more of a gritty mix molded smoothly together.


The first recipe I tried was:


4 Tbsp water

1.5 Tbsp Tapioca Starch

a drop of vinegar

1-2 drops of glycerin

crushed egg shell (towards the end)

cotton (on the drying paper)


I hate the smell of vinegar and will do what it takes to make sure I have as little of it as possible. and I think the glycerin takes away a bit from the hardness.




eggplastic eggplastic2

I warned you. It turned out fabulously though. It actually took effort to crack it and where the cotton was, was a bit more flexible and still pretty difficult to break. I feel like this would make nice building blocks (literally) in a project that may need it.


I tried the recipe once more without the cotton and finer eggshell bits. It was a similar outcome.


Overall it was great experiencing this bioplastic journey. If I were to continue (which I should because I still have a lot of ingredients) I would keep trying with different ingredients like wood shavings or sand or crushed shell. Who knows. I just like the idea of a useful bioplastic.


Final – Bioplastics

I continued my experimentation with bioplastics, aiming to find something that imitated the material properties of kelp, creating a thin translucent sheet material, that I could use with light.

My most successful initial piece had used Trader Joe’s all purpose gluten-free flour, which is an unknown proportion of rice flour and tapioca and potato starches:

trader joe

From the initial pieces I had created, I could see that the brown color in this piece probably came from the rice flour, and they were not as durable nor interesting visually. After a few weeks they were brown and cracking.

I did a little research about these starches and the different roles of the vinegar, water and glycerin in the plastic-making process. I found that tapioca and arrowroot had higher starch contents than many of the other starches I had tried or seen used and decided to choose these to experiment with.  I also decided to try guar gum, as it’s a substance used in a lot of gluten-free cooking to create pliability and binding.

The vinegar helps in breaking down starch chains, so making them more usable and the glycerin helps the starch chains slip over each other, giving more pliability. Water helps to mix it all up and make the ingredients workable.

In this further stage of experimentation, I created plastics using only one starch, cooking the following recipe on the stove until it thickened, like gravy:

2 tablespoons starch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons glycerin


Arrowroot was very pliable and smooth to work with, and spread out readily, but it wasn’t very strong:


Tapioca was quite strong and “gummy”, but did not spread as easily into a sheet:


Guar gum was very hard to work with at all stages of the process, and made a very thick stiff ball of plastic:

guar gum

During this stage I was also experimenting with different ways to work with and dry the material. I found that air drying was not much different to drying in an oven at low heat (165 degrees Fahrenheit) for an hour or so. I also found a reliable way of making a sheet material was to place the hot cooked plastic between two sheets of baking paper on which I had spread a release agent (liquid castile soap), and then rolled it out immediately.






I decided to combine pliability and strength of the arrowroot and tapioca and the proportion (by volume) I found that worked best was one of 5:1 arrowroot:tapioca, with proportions of 8:4:2 of water, vinegar, glycerin:

5 teaspoons arrowroot starch
1 teaspoon tapioca starch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 teaspoons glycerin

I tried some white vinegar in place of apple cider vinegar, and it seemed to only alter the appearance:


I also tried using little amounts of the guar gum together with the tapioca and arrowroot, and this wasn’t particularly successful, as it tends not to mix well.   



It does seem to add some extra strength to the material though so I was interested in finding a way that guar gum might work better. I tried combining it with vinegar before water, but this wasn’t successful once I added the water. I did finally manage to combine it successfully with a larger amount of water (1 cup to 1/4 tsp guar gum) and then mix that with the other ingredients, although this recipe didn’t seem to work out well in the oven, which wouldn’t be promising for working with light that emits any heat:



It is a very interesting texture however.

I also tried embedding other objects in the plastics to see if I could create some hybrid materials. This was somewhat successful, but it needed to be done before rolling the material out or applying any release agent – otherwise the material didn’t bind at all, and some materials still had no affinity – a fruit bag mesh just popped out of the plastic.


My most successful pieces of plastic came from the addition of black tea and coffee in place of some or all of the water.

With 2 tbsp black tea instead of water:


With 2 tbsp black coffee:


With coffee grounds and 1 tbsp water / 1 tbsp coffee:


The tea and coffee seemed to add some ingredient which made the plastic feel more substantial and pliable, even when working with them hot, and yet they didn’t shrink. My guess is that this has something to do with either oils or tannins.

I was able to laser cut a piece with tea, and it took a surprising amount of power to cut. The material had varying thickness, and at its weakest it didn’t stand up to being transported but it was generally quite resilient.


I tested the tea plastic with a 5W LED bulb which doesn’t emit much heat (it’s cool enough to touch after an hour), and the plastic was fine:


The coffee pieces were even more resilient, and the piece to which I added grounds was definitely the most successful piece in many respects, and was very interesting visually.

coffee grounds2

Many of the pieces I made had a lingering smell (even apart from the coffee which is very strong initially) and after seeing some other presentations, I wonder if my recipe could use less vinegar.

I would also like to continue further experiments with agar. Even though I was not initially trying to achieve a fully waterproof plastic, I feel it would be more useful to have a product which is a little more resistant to moisture. I soaked some of my tea plastics in boiling and cold water for a day, and while they weren’t completely destroyed, they did become very brittle once they dried out again. This however could be a useful property where the plastic life needs to be very short because it would break down much more readily.