Hand-in-Hand Collaboration to Create Prosthetic Hand for Young Classmate
When middle schoolers enrolled in Almaden Country Day School's 3D Modeling and 3D Printing elective class at the beginning of the school year, little did they know the profound impact they would have on one child's life. Amy DeSantis, a parent and ACDS teacher, approached Ms. Joanne Papini, the 3D Modeling class teacher, with a big idea. She asked if the class would be willing to create a prosthetic hand for her son, Trent, a third-grader at ACDS, who was born without a fully-formed right hand.
Initially, Ms. Papini wondered if such a complex project would be better suited for college or advanced high school students. Nevertheless, she decided to present it to her middle school class to gauge their interest. Led by 8th-grade students Sarah Vender and Lynx Chiang, the class embraced the challenge of enhancing the life of their schoolmate. Chiang expressed his enthusiasm, saying, "I was excited about the project because it sounded interesting to make a prosthetic hand, and I was glad I could do something to help someone at the school. I've always enjoyed helping out people and just fixing problems in general. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to do that."
The first step for the students was thorough research. They delved into online resources, searching for terms like "3D printed robotic hands" and "DIY 3D hand." During their investigation, they stumbled upon a YouTube video showcasing the work of an organization called eNable. Intrigued, they watched the video and explored the organization's website, ultimately deciding to attempt printing one of the eNable-designed hands. Sarah expressed her determination, saying, "I really wanted to make sure this was perfect because this was going to change his life if it went well."
From the initial stages to the finished product, it took the students approximately a month to complete the task. They encountered numerous challenges and a multitude of failed attempts, as evidenced by the classroom's "Fail Box" filled with discarded pieces and parts. The first print turned out to be too small for Trent, prompting the students to make an educated guess and increase the size accordingly.
Additionally, they encountered a printing error with the thumb, which they resolved by using a drill. Chiang proudly shared his contribution to this solution, stating, "I'm most proud about the space where the thumb connects to the palm of the hand because I helped fix the problem. The print didn't come out quite right and the spot where the thumb was supposed to attach to was a little bit out of shape, making the thumb hard to move. I examined the first prototype and tried to match that same shape. After making sure the shape matched I fixed the problem which allowed the thumb to move more effectively."
One of the most challenging aspects of the project was ensuring the hand would fit Trent correctly, given their initial design flaw. However, they persisted, and a functional prototype was eventually created. The moment Trent put it on and successfully used it to pick up a bottle of hand sanitizer, the room filled with applause, cheers, and even tears of joy. Trent expressed his happiness, saying, "I felt happy and was super excited to show my class."
This project has been a tremendous learning experience for the eighth-grade students involved and for Ms. Papini. Chiang shared his newfound realization, saying, "I learned from this project that if you work hard and know what you're doing you can be successful at anything. This project has really encouraged my interest in prosthetics because now I know that I can make a prosthetic hand and that it's not just high school and college students who can do this." Ms. Papini added, "I'm just so excited to help students create more than little toys with our 3D printers. I would love to be able to help others in the community who can't afford a prosthetic limb--not just a hand but other parts too. Finding the eNable organization of volunteers will bring us more meaningful 3D modeling projects for sure!"
The future is bright for upcoming ACDS 3D Modeling classes and students. Chiang expressed his desire to continue pursuing this field, emphasizing the fun and creativity it offers. He stated, "Yes, I would like to pursue making in the future because it is fun and very creative. You can design so many things that can help our community, society, and beyond. Just by making one small thing, you can change someone's life forever." Vender echoed similar sentiments. “My mom is a nurse and I have always wanted to help people. This project has inspired me to keep looking into how I can keep going.” Ms. Papini shared her enthusiasm, stating, "We get ideas and we go for it! Wait til you see what's next!"
With each new project, these young minds will continue to make a difference, demonstrating the power of compassion, collaboration, and innovation. Their unwavering dedication serves as an inspiration to their peers and educators alike. ACDS is proud to offer classes like 3D Modeling and 3D Printing as well as Makerspace Summer Camps throughout the year as we strive to discover the gifts in every child.