When I was nine years old, I was obsessed with “Cloud Bread,” a Korean TV show about a family of cats who capture clouds from the sky to make bread, letting them fly and go on enchanting adventures. I was hopelessly addicted.
My nine-year-old self believed in the idea that anything was possible and that there was always an answer. I excitedly prodded my mother with a flurry of questions:
“How can you catch a cloud?”
“Why can’t people fly?”
“Can I make bread that lets me fly?”
She told me it wasn’t possible, but I wouldn’t give up that easily. I raided the kitchen, seizing aluminum pots and pans from our dusty oven. Flinging open the pantry and fridge, I collected flour, water, eggs, and sugar—ingredients I had seen in “Cloud Bread”—but one was missing. I needed a cloud. Cotton candy was airy, light, and looked pretty close to one, which was good enough for me. I mixed cotton candy into a colorful dough, and as I punched the stretchy concoction, adding air until it resembled a fluffy cloud, I suddenly remembered I had never used an oven before.
Gazing at the shiny metal dials, I propped myself up onto a kitchen chair and reached toward them. I casually fiddled with the oven knobs, but my mother suddenly looked at me in terror, her face paler than any bread dough. She yanked me from them, and yelled, “DANIEL, DO NOT TOUCH THE OVEN!” I felt like I had committed a crime, but she was simply happy that I didn’t burn myself or the house down.
Since then, I have grown both physically (I no longer need to stand on furniture to reach the oven dials) and intellectually. My cloud bread experience didn’t make me shy away from the kitchen, but rather, it motivated me to experiment even further. I spent hours picking spiky soursop fruits from the tree outside our apartment and whipping egg whites for flavored meringues, testing exotic flavor combinations like passionfruit and rhubarb. Though my first experiments were with food, my kitchen quickly became my lab, where I could nurture my passion for creating and experimenting, even with non-edible ingredients.
Five years after the cloud bread incident, I frantically scoured the internet for a showstopping science fair idea. I was allured by Youtube tutorials on creating turbojet engines and gliders. With the same cloud-bread optimism I researched the methodology, but as an eighth-grader living in a tiny village, I lacked the scientific resources to launch full-scale engineering prototypes and instead turned to a more innovative approach. I asked myself What can I test in my kitchen?
I turned to the internet again for inspiration, stumbling on a video about a Turkish girl who derived plastic from banana peels. Intrigued by the idea of concocting my own recipes, I whipped up a formula of my own—baked cornstarch, water, and fruit peels—that ultimately turned into colorful plastics. The simplicity of being able to create impactful prototypes with such mundane materials inspired several of my ideas to come, but banana peels weren’t always sufficient. Ideas filled my mind, such as what if I used potato starch instead of cornstarch? or what if I add coconut fibers to the mix?
Seeking more than kitchen chemistry, I moved my experiments out of my parent’s two-bedroom apartment and into the University of Guam chemistry lab, working feverishly on everything from airplane plastics to converting tubs of artists’ paint into vats of paintable wires.
Although now I know bread won’t let me fly, a part of that childlike imagination still lingers inside me. Whether I’m pursuing research into nanotechnology, talking with my international peers at Intel ISEF, or simply baking bread, I bring the same childlike imagination that—when combined with the realistic ambitions of an adult—enables me to always be on the lookout for my next cloud bread adventure.