One-handed teenage violinist receives customized 3D-printed prosthetic hand

Let’s be honest: A lot of us are geeks who love the latest technology for technology’s sake. But there’s something extra special when you hear about a use case for cutting-edge tech that isn’t just exciting on its own terms, but proves to be genuinely transformative to someone’s life.

That’s the case with a recent project carried out at Northern Illinois University: Sarah Valentiner, a one-handed, 14-year-old violin player, became the recipient of a 3D-printed hand prosthesis that allows her to play the violin with a greatly increased range of motion.

“It was an amazing, collaborative project, which potentially opens up the possibility of helping someone become the next great musician,” Federico Sciammarella, an NIU associate professor of mechanical engineering, told Digital Trends.

Constructed out of lightweight nylon and plastic, the 3D-printed prosthesis is far superior to the more traditional prosthesis Valentiner used previously, which didn’t give her full control over her violin bow.

The new prosthesis was created by one of Sciammarella’s students, 21-year-old Oluseun Taiwo, who spent this past summer working with Valentiner to create a prosthesis that met all her requirements.

Taiwo adapted designs created by e-Nable, a network comprised of volunteer designers who share designs for 3D-printed prosthetic hands. Valentiner’s family originally approached e-Nable, which put them in touch with NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“We looked at some of the designs that e-Nable had created, with regards to bow holders and things of that sort,” Sciammarella continued. “We tried a couple, and they were good, but there were a few challenges, like the fact that you had to disconnect and reconnect the bow each time. We wanted something that wouldn’t have to be disassembled every time, so … Taiwo worked on a modification. What he came up with looked a little sleeker, and was also more lightweight and comfortable.”

Sciammarella said 3D printing was transformative in this case, not just because it meant Valentiner’s prosthesis could be easily customized, but because this process can continue into the future.

“What’s great about 3D printing in this case is that we were able to make something that was uniquely fitted to her,” he said. “Even if we have to make modifications as Sarah grows older, these are things that can be simply done, which you wouldn’t be able to do with other technologies. 3D printing was also great because it meant we could do multiple iterations and variations over a 4 to 5 month period. That just wouldn’t be possible using other manufacturing methods.”

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