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Southridge High School engineering students use 3-D printers to give prosthetic hands to people in need.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Victoria Brager, center, does some fine-tuning on a prosthetic hand she and fellow engineering students in Jacob Small's class printed at Southridge High School.
Tariq Abu-Hamdeh and his classmates at Southridge High School can’t quite remember whether 5-year-old Robert lives in Illinois or Pennsylvania, or maybe somewhere else on the far side of the Mississippi River.

But they all know that young Robert wants his brand new hand to be red and blue like Spider-Man, and they really know how to configure one of Southridge’s new 3-D printers to make it happen.

While putting the final touches on the functional plastic hand in Monday morning’s Engineering and Design class, the teenagers also glued a Spider-Man logo on to the top.

The Southridge class will ship out the prosthetic device late this week, and pretty soon, Robert will be able to pick up his kindergarten backpack like a super hero.

“To give a child a hand,” said Mukiza France, another senior engineering student, “what could be better than that?”

The class split into three teams and worked on the project through e-NABLE, a community of tech whizzes that encourages people with 3-D printers to make free prosthetic hands for those in need. While these hands aren’t as nimble as some of the prosthetic devices on the market, they also don’t come with the price tag that accompanies them, sometimes approaching a quarter million dollars, teacher Jacob Small said.

Some of the recipients — the class calls them clients — are children who will use the 3-D-printed devices to help keep their wrist muscles active while they are still growing. Some might eventually transition into a more advanced prosthetic when they are adults, Small said.

“With this project, we can literally be paired with any kid across the globe,” said senior Victor Kojenov. “It feels nice. Definitely.”

Kojenov, one of the class's team leaders and president of the school’s Engineering Club, has become the resident student expert on 3-D printing and helped Small set up the new equipment.

In layman’s terms, Kojenov describes a 3-D printer as a “hot glue gun mounted to a robot.”

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The hands that Southridge students are making with 3-D printers will be used by children in need around the world.
Students obtained hand measurements from their clients and then used a computer-aided design program called Autodesk Inventor to work on the three-dimensional modeling, Kojenov explained. Next, they employed another program called Cura to tell the printer where to lay down the tiny streams of molten plastic in 0.2-millimeter layers.

Even though the printer head dances quickly, the plastic is deposited in such thin and precise amounts that it can take hours to print a single part. The hands the students are finishing this week — they’ve been printing them since March — have 30 to 40 printed parts, as well as hardware such as stretchy bands and screws to complete the muscle-activated mechanism.

The 3-D printers are helping interest a wider group of Southridge students in engineering, Small said.

One of them is sophomore Cyan Perry, who is new to engineering this semester but is already hooked.

“This is my first big (engineering) experience and I like it a lot so I think I’m going to pursue it as a career,” she said.

Class volunteer Richard Turnock, who worked as an engineer and in other capacities at Portland General Electric for 32 years before retiring to tinker with 3-D printers, said the Southridge students are learning “design thinking” as they work through the projects. That ability will help the students as they progress through college and into their careers.

Besides the prosthetic hands, class members also are printing plastic bridges for rudimentary guitars that physics classes will use to study sound and electricity.

The class also has been printing smaller items it will give away to fellow Southridge students at 3-D printing demonstrations to expose them to elective engineering classes. They call one of the freebies a “Carabeaker,” a plastic carabiner with a Skyhawk design. Another is a “Fidget Widget,” a loose plastic ball in a box with circular portals that senior Victoria Brager devised with help from classmates.

“I got a lot of different input,” she said. “Everything that we do in here relies on not just a single person, but a team."

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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