Interview: Nicole Grimwood on Electronics (and Cake)

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Interview: Nicole Grimwood on Electronics (and Cake)
Grimwood modeling one of her homemade scarves.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Nicole Grimwood for a summer at Instructables. She was hired as a content developer intern, specifically to make projects using parts from Radio Shack. The creativity and diversity of her projects amazed me, as well as her mastery of Arduino. Thus, when I was tasked with interviewing a fellow maker, she was an obvious choice!

Thanks for taking the time to do this Nicole. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

No problem! I am currently working toward a dual degree in engineering from Columbia University and liberal arts from Scripps College. My interdisciplinary education is nicely reflected in the diversity of my projects.

Speaking of these projects, what kinds of things do you like to make and why do you make them?

I’m just as comfortable in an electronics lab as in a test kitchen. My latest project involved creating a game for a hardware hackathon, but my next aspiration is to create the perfectly balanced cocktail. What’s most important to me is pushing myself to be creative and sharing what I make with the people I love.

What specific media do you like working with?

I work with electronics, wood, acrylic, textiles, food, and drink — though not all at once, of course! I enjoy making tools for myself and my family out of electronics, which takes up a good amount of my time, but I’ve applied the discipline I’ve learned from those fields to my baking, mixology, and knitting. Making something that I use every day is fulfilling and a lot of fun, so I like the practicality of knitting and electronics projects. That being said, nothing quite beats being able to eat or drink a wonderful new recipe that you’ve created!

Can you tell us more about some of your favorite projects?

Sure! The project I’m most proud of is my Arduino guitar tuner. I’m interested in audio and music in general, and wanted some practice with circuit design and signal processing. My first step was building the circuit on a breadboard, which I think everyone should do. After verifying my prototype’s signal was correct using my oscilloscope, I moved forward with the rest of the project. Countless headaches are avoided every day by careful prototyping!

Grimwood’s Arduino-based guitar tuner.
A peak inside the tuner.

The project I use the most in my own life is the phone controlled mood lighting. I always wanted something fun and unique to put in my dorm room. I also thought it should be phone controlled so it would be easy to control wirelessly. It was a great opportunity to work with some interesting tools — creating the android app and incorporating bluetooth was quite a challenge!

LED strips shine different colors of light through an abstract facade.
LED strips shine different colors of light through an abstract facade.
A laser cut box holds the LED strips and arduino
A laser cut box holds the LED strips, Arduino, and Bluetooth module.

I like to extend making to all parts of my life. Beyond my electronics projects, I have made quilts, scarves, mint cocktail ice cubes, and I have perfected the chocolate cake.

Nicole's talents extend to baking as well, as seen by her delicious triple chocolate cake
Grimwood’s talents extend to baking as well, as demonstrated by her delicious triple chocolate cake.

Great projects! What is your favorite tool?

Thanks! My favorite tool is the oscilloscope. Oscilloscopes are used for observing electrical signals, and are useful for my work in electrical engineering. They are my key item for debugging! I got my first oscilloscope from my cousin Paul last year. I’ve always had access to an oscilloscope at labs in work or school, but having my own is awesome.

What do you enjoy most about making?

My favorite part of making is overcoming the obstacles that inevitably arise during the execution of a project. When you set out to make something, you always plan as best you can so that you have the resources and tools you need to get the job done, but part of being a maker is knowing when and how to improvise and change your plans. During the construction of my Bluetooth LED mood light, I ran into a race condition controlling the LEDs over the Bluetooth interface. After some troubleshooting, I identified and resolved the issue. Problems like that test my abilities and are an intrinsic part of making. There are a lot of things in life that you take on auto-pilot, where you zone out or do something that’s completely rote. Making pulls me out of that funk and lets me express myself.

What’s next? 

I recently finished a course in mixology, and plan to use my newfound skills to make new kinds of mixed beverages, hard and soft. Learning to put a new skill to use making things will be exciting and give me a chance to branch out into new areas. I also plan to pursue my interest in electronics and lighting with a unique light fixture for my house. I was thinking of something colorful, with some sort of twist on how It’s controlled. We’ll see what I come up with.

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Sam DeRose is an intern at Maker Media Lab, and a senior engineering major at Harvey Mudd College. He grew up as a maker, building things in his garage with his family, and he gets excited about basically anything that involves making. When he's not making stuff he enjoys being outside, rock climbing, running, and cooking.

View more articles by Sam DeRose


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