Breckenridge sophomore Austin Brittain is no stranger to going above and beyond – as a Centralis scholar and honors student at CMU, he frequently works with faculty outside the classroom on research and hands-on projects.
But last spring, he faced his biggest challenge yet – creating a prosthetic hand for a young boy in Muskegon Heights using only a 3D printer.
The boy, Michael Bell, has Moebius Syndrome and was born without a left hand. When Austin learned of the boy’s story from art and design faculty members Greg Stahly and Michael Volker, he was eager to step up and help.
The distance was a challenging factor as well, because Michael couldn’t try on the arm as it was being created. Eventually, the team was able to create a plaster cast of Michael’s hand to assist with fitting and troubleshooting during the process.
“There was a lot of pressure to get it right on the first try, because I definitely didn’t want to disappoint Michael,” said Brittain.
In the end, the red, white and blue Captain America hand was a success.
“Seeing the self-confidence boost that the hand gave Michael was the most rewarding part. The first thing he did after he put it on was raise his arm up in the air, and say ‘I’m a superhero! I’m Captain America!’ and for that hand to make him feel that way and for me to have a part in that felt really cool.”
In the future, Austin said he would like to explore more practical uses for 3D printing methods, such as widespread use of inexpensive prosthetics.
The Makerbot 3D printers at CMU function like a hot glue gun, heating spools of thin plastic and stacking them on top of one another to form the finished product.
The prosthetic hand was made for less than $100 and contained only $10 worth of 3D printed plastic.
Austin worked with a group called e-Nable, which designed the prosthetic hand. He is working on starting a student chapter of e-Nable at CMU.