Copied from Article by Kevin Ma/St. Albert Gazette
HANDS UP - Paul Kane Students Aidan Block and Michelle Koekemoer brandish the prosthetic hands they helped create on the school's 3D printer. The school's 3D Science Club is one of two school groups in St. Albert currently creating free prosthetic hands for the e-NABLE project for donation to persons in need.
Two groups of St. Albert students are using 3D-printers to give amputees a literal helping hand.
In an unusual coincidence, chemistry teacher Michael Ng of Paul Kane and fabrication studies teacher Clint Ludtke of Richard S. Fowler Junior High independently started student groups last month that aim to print cheap, functional prosthetic limbs for the less fortunate.
The student groups showed off some of their initial prototypes at open houses held in the last two weeks.
3D printers are computer-controlled devices that can print out virtually any object given the right materials.
Ng says he got the idea to start printing prosthetic limbs about 11 months ago while undergoing physiotherapy for knee surgery. Seeing many amputees struggle to adapt to their new lives, he started researching how he could help them out.
That led him to a group called e-NABLE and Calgary’s Colin Pischke.
e-NABLE is a non-profit that promotes the use of 3D printers to produce free prosthetic limbs for those who need them. Prosthetic limbs typically cost thousands of dollars, say industry experts.
Pischke is the owner of Print Your Mind 3D and is working with Calgary and Edmonton schools to print hands for that group.
There are many people in places like rural Vietnam that will never have the money for a prosthetic limb, Pischke says.
“I can make a new prosthetic in less than a day for less than $100,” using a 3D printer, Pischke says. That makes it easy to upgrade those limbs to fit fast-growing kids.
Ng says he felt e-NABLE was a worthy cause and jumped on board. He applied for and received a $2,500 grant from Dow Canada last summer and crowd-funded $1,100 through My Class Needs (a charitable website similar to Kickstarter). That cash covered the cost of a 3D printer plus the printing materials.
He introduced the idea to some of his students whom have now formed a 3D science club. The club has spent the last few weeks printing and building hands for e-NABLE.
Meanwhile, over at Richard Fowler, Ludtke had been showing his fabrication studies students how to work with 3D printers for the last two years. He learned about e-NABLE through a recent teachers’ conference and saw the hand project as a way to teach kids about design work and how to give back to their community.
“There’s more to 3D printing than just printing a cellphone case,” he says.
“There is a possibility with 3D printing to help other people.”
Fowler students started printing hands about three weeks ago, he says.
Pischke says the e-NABLE hands can have a huge impact on a child’s life.
“For the first time they can pick up a ball, they can hold a pen, they can swing a baseball bat. They can do these things they never otherwise could thanks to this very affordable prosthetic.”
While most of the e-NABLE designs require a functioning wrist (using strings and a wrist mount to let the wearer flex all the fingers at once), new ones are constantly being designed, Pischke says – he’s working with the University of Lethbridge on a motorized one.
Ng notes how these hands can be customized to resemble those from popular superhero and science fiction shows or made from colour-changing plastic – a huge morale boost for a young kid.
“They’re now the superhero. They’re not at a disadvantage. They’re the coolest kid in class now.”
The hands offer students a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity where they can use math and engineering to help someone, Pischke continues.
“I wish I was able to do this when I was in high school.”
The Paul Kane and Fowler teams have both printed prototype hands they plan to send to e-NABLE for evaluation. If the hands are good enough, they’ll then be linked up with people who can use them.
This project is all about helping people, says Paul Kane Grade 11 student Aidan Block, a member of the Paul Kane club.
“If we work on one hand for the entire rest of the year and it helps somebody live their lives easier, that would be all worth it.”
http://enablingthefuture.org/ has more information on the e-NABLE project.