Student and pancake printer

Ames High School freshman Cole Malone points out features of a pancake design he programed for a 3-D printer.

Cole Malone has a passion for figuring out how things work. The Ames High School ninth grader typically applies his grit and creativity—and engineering and design skills—to science, math and art classes. In his spare time, he’s likely pondering animation design or gaming software. But when he had the opportunity to try out the Ames High School’s new  3-D pancake printer, Malone couldn’t resist the challenge.

Yes, there is such a thing as a 3-D pancake printer. Carol Van Waardhuizen, who teaches Family and Consumer Science classes at Ames High School, arranged to purchase the pancake ‘bot with a Perkins grant (provided under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006) as a way to introduce her students to technology in food preparation.

“I was researching food trends for 2017,” Van Waardhuizen said. “I learned that even Barilla has a 3-D printer to make pasta. I wanted my students to have a chance to learn how computers interface with food and design.”

Malone, who’s part of Van Waardhuizen’s Housing and Interior Design class, said accomplishing the learning goals between computer interface and food and design required solving problems in physics, thermodynamics, software programming and common logic.

To print his pancake designs, in the shape of houses with intricate features, he had to find drawing software to add to the pancake ‘bot’s menu. He  had to make sure the air pressure in the feed hose was set to deliver the batter at the correct speed and volume, that the viscosity of the batter was compatible with the design, and that the darker colored batter printed first so the lighter colors wouldn’t burn on the griddle.

“I think it’s most important for people my age to learn how to solve problems quickly, to figure out what works and discard what doesn’t work,” he said. “In engineering and science and design, you need to know the basics and then keep working to solve things.”

Despite the high tech process, Malone remembered, in the end, the art of pancake making depends on at least one basic principle.

“No matter how fancy the design, when a pancake bubbles, it’s ready to flip, he said.”