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MIT student blogger Jamie C. '19

The Semester I Played With Chocolate and Ants for a Technical Class by Jamie C. '19

Inflatable Chocolate Balloons + Ants as Architects

There is a class here at MIT called How to Design (Almost) Anything- 4.141, where you apply the iterative design process throughout the semester to create an object and then turn the object into a vessel.

For a tl;dr, here’s the document I used to present my final project (edited for context)

For the first half of this class, we had to take a creative process like weaving, knitting, or making chains, change the process to create a 3D object, and discover something new about the process. Some examples are here (slides 20-28).

I was inspired by these chocolate balloon bowls, where you dip a balloon in melted chocolate and pop the balloon when the chocolate is set, but I wanted to somehow constrain the balloons to be amorphous or irregular



I had to first figure out how I would constrain the balloon. I tried thin strips of duct tape, but the irregularities weren’t pronounced enough.

I followed this tutorial for making stress balls using slime and fishnets. The amount of slime I needed was way too much, and removing the slime after the chocolate step was going to be difficult.

I tried fishnets- I needed to cut portions of the netting because the holes were too small for the balloon to squeeze through.

I made a net using string, which gave me more control over the size of the holes, but the net-making process took way too long

Here’s some failed attempts with chocolate. The warm chocolate had slightly melted the balloon so the chocolate and the balloon got stuck together.

I found this video on how to make balloon bowls using sugar syrup, which is way hotter than melted chocolate. The trick to keeping the balloon from melting was to fill the balloon with water to absorb the heat (higher specific heat). I also coated the balloon and fishnets with cooking spray to help it release and I dipped the balloons multiple times to get a thicker shell.

My friend Pete got the idea to put multiple inflated water balloons inside of a normal balloon, and then use a metal straw to suck the air out of the normal balloon to make the normal balloon contour to the shape of the water balloons

The two methods made very different shapes and I made a few of each type:

I love that the shells looked kind of grotesque, evoking ideas of insect larvae or aliens, but were made of something so delicious.

The second half of this class had us turn our object and into a vessel tailored specifically to hold a medium (like water or sand). My object was already kind of a vessel, but I still needed to choose a medium and change the bowl to fit the medium’s needs. Of course, I chose insects. My friend Anna has pet bearded dragons so she keeps live worms in her room. I really wanted to see them burrow through chocolate, but because of health/animal rights reasons I was only allowed to use the ants living in East Campus.

The worms looked really cool when I put them in the chocolate just for photos

(warning for worm imagery)

If ants could do the labor of making complex structures for me, I would provide shelter or food for them, resulting in a symbiotic relationship. In order to make these structures more interesting, I wanted multiple separate layers for the ants to explore. I tried making concentric bowls by cutting them in half using a hot knife and sealing the bowls back up inside each other with melted chocolate.

This wasn’t very elegant because of the visible seam after gluing the halves back together.

I decided to use alternating layers of chocolate and plaster, where the plaster layers would only cover half of the balloon, and I would rotate the balloon so the location of the plaster-half would be different each time.


So by the time I figured all of this out, the weather had gotten warm and the ants stopped coming inside. I needed a way to simulate the disintegration of the chocolate

I used a pipette and hot water to melt patches of the chocolate, imagining how the ants would create paths and patches in the chocolate while being unable to eat through the plaster.