Overview of the course

In this course, we will explore engineering through the lens of food and kitchen gadgets. Although humans have been cooking for millennia, we now have countless electrified gadgets to measure, mash, melt, mix, and microwave our food. During the semester, we will disassemble every kitchen gadget we can get our hands on, learn how they work, and use our newfound skills to build a few of our own. Along the way, you’ll analyze and design basic electrical circuits, program microcontrollers to take measurements and respond to them, and connect the Things you build to the Internet. We’ll also explore some of the complex social and ethical issues at the intersection of technology and food: at what level is it appropriate to “engineer” our food? Does a cloud-connected refrigerator make us more efficient, or more lazy, or does it just result in more e-waste? And what responsibility do engineers have when working with something so deeply human as food?

Topics and projects

  • Project 1: appliance teardown
    • You will work with a team to disassemble a kitchen appliance which gets hot (a toaster, waffle iron, etc.). You’ll learn to draw an electrical schematic, analyze the circuitry inside, and document the disassembly process as an iFixit guide.
    • Topics: voltage, current, and power, safety with electricity, AC and DC, resistance
    • Skills: dissassembling stuff, using a multimeter, drawing electrical schematics, taking good photos for documentation, writing clear and concise technical content
  • Project 2: microwave control panel
    • You will design a control panel for a microwave oven, and use it with a real microwave to cook food in class.
    • Topics: Introduction to programming with Python, how to connect a computer to a circuit so that software can make stuff happen in the real world, switches and capacitive touch sensors, LEDs and displays
    • Skills: Writing code, debugging circuits and code, explaining with diagrams
  • Project 3: interactive pumpkins
    • Use what you know about circuits and microcontrollers to make an interactive pumpkin for Halloween.
  • Project 4: investigating your refrigerator (or oven, or whatever)
    • You will use multiple sensors of your choice to investigate the long-term behavior of something food or kitchen-related. You could examine the temperature and power draw of a refrigerator, the performance of an oven with and without a pizza stone, or the efficacy of a solar cooker.
    • Topics: Sending and receiving data over the internet with MQTT, how to interface with more kinds of sensors
    • Skills: Analyzing data, creating useful graphs, documenting an experiment
  • Final project: Build a kitchen gadget of your own
    • The sky is the limit here. Past teams have built internet-enabled automated tea-brewing machines, pasta pots that don’t boil over, mugs that keep your drink warm, and more.