Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering students turned to the kitchen to put design skills to the test during a final project that required them to cook up new devices to make everything from veggie pizza to chocolate fondue.
The course, called Robots Sensors and Actuators, taught by Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Noah Cowan, took on a creative flare as student teams reprogrammed common appliances such as toasters and water heating tools to maintain a steady air or water temperature for optimal cooking. Sean Bailey, a biomedical engineering major whose team cooked cinnamon apples, says, “We learned to make food for our final [exam]. That’s a good thing!”
A cooking enthusiast, Cowan consulted with local chef, Jerry Pellegrino, of Waterfront Kitchen in Baltimore, and had students travel to that restaurant to launch the project. Then the undergraduates spent weeks assembling and “tuning” sensors, actuators, and microprocessors to produce near-perfect cooking conditions. This knowledge, which fits into the Johns Hopkins hands-on, research approach to learning, will be applicable to many areas of engineering.
“I wanted to show the students that all of that math and all of that engineering they’ve been learning could be applied immediately,” says Cowan.