Pine Grove Area teacher and student team up to design prosthetic hands for aspiring musicians
When technology education teacher Brad Fessler applied for funds to put a 3-D printer in his classroom, he never imagined that it would lead to a student-led project to create prosthetic hands for two Pine Grove students.
Not long after setting up the 3-D printer, Fessler, a technology education teacher and president of Pine Grove EA, received an email from freshman Nick Brown, a standout student in one of his classes, pitching a big idea.
Brown knew two middle school students, Cassie Stewart and Andrew Mindy, who love to play music, but whose prosthetic hands weren't built to hold drumsticks or a guitar pick. Their music teacher, Rebecca Pugh, wondered if there was a way to design something to allow them to play instruments. When Brown heard about the idea, he asked if he could use the district's new 3-D printer to design new prosthetic hands to help them play their instruments.
Fessler researched the idea and quickly found that the project had merit.
"We wanted to make something that was universal, something that multiple students could use, and could potentially grow with them," Fessler said. "We wanted the design to be lightweight and modular so it could be used to play multiple instruments."
With Fessler's guidance and support, Brown used 3-D modeling software to develop his ideas. He created several prototypes, working with Stewart and Mindy to test them and make modifications. After a year of research and trial and error, Brown created the final product.
In a combined middle and high school assembly, Brown presented the new prosthetic hands to his classmates. After nearly a year of testing prototypes, the young musicians finally had the opportunity to see the final products.
Pictured: Brad Fessler presents and award to Nick Brown,
student designer of the prosthetic hands.
"I had to tape my old prosthetic to my drumsticks in order to play the drums," said Andrew Mindy. "Now, I can do anything that anyone else can do because of this instrument. The metallic color is a nice touch too; I'm like Iron Man!"
Cassie Stewart was elated to try on the new prosthetic hand.
"First thing I am going to do when I get home is play the drums!" she said.
Pictured: Students Cassie Stewart and Andrew Mindy try out their new prosthetic hands,
designed to help them play guitar, trumpet, and drums.
The Pennsylvania Dept. of Education issued a special certificate to honor Brown for taking on such a challenging project to help his classmates.
"I knew they enjoyed music and I just wanted to help them," Brown said. "That was when the idea for creating the hands came about. It was trial and error after that to make the perfect calculations so that the hands would fit." Brown hopes to continue this work, and go on to college to study robotic engineering.
In the meantime, Fessler and Brown plan to continue to collaborate and expand the success of their project. "We're making some contacts with a few research facilities to start integrating some robotics in a future generation of these process, to make a somewhat robotic prosthetic," Fessler said. "That's where we'd like to go over the next year or two."
"This was a huge learning process for me. I'd never worked on a project like this one," Fessler added. "It's so rewarding to be able to help a student develop an idea this big and see it through, and it was incredible to see the middle school students try on their new prosthetic hands. It justified every minute of hard work, to watch them try on the final product."