Warren ISD Students Print Prosthetic Hand

Warren ISD Tech Team display 3D printed items—Shown, from left, are  Samantha Rothenberger, Morgan Clancy, Courtnie Wheeler, Lilla Jackson. (Not pictured: Colton Haynes, Brice Moore, Cole Stanley, Jeremy Chessher.) (Hale Hughes Photo)Warren ISD Tech Team display 3D printed items—Shown, from left, are Samantha Rothenberger, Morgan Clancy, Courtnie Wheeler, Lilla Jackson. (Not pictured: Colton Haynes, Brice Moore, Cole Stanley, Jeremy Chessher.) (Hale Hughes Photo)

by Hale Hughes

Warren ISD purchased a 3D printer during the summer of 2016. Few could have realized the immediate impact the machine would have on the students at Warren, and other school campuses. Teacher Daisy Morino has the printer in her office and students come in and typically pick up where the last student left off when working on projects.

Some of the first things they printed were a frog and a Yoda head that were pre-existing designs. While it was neat to seeing basic things being created in front of their eyes, they had bigger projects in mind.

Their printer only has a surface of approximately 6"x6"x9". It sits on a table and is fed by spools of plastic called 'filament'. Filament is available in multiple colors. Several items can be seen around Morino's office that were printed with the 3-D printer. A very realistic dinosaur skull, as well as an Apple phone stand and a duck call are a few of the sample items around her office.

"Duck calls have been particularly popular, especially for the boys here at Warren," said Morino. And then I see it. A robotic hand and it looks every bit as cool as something straight out of one of the Terminator movies. It's smaller than I thought it would be, but larger than the printer dimensions.

"We had to print each item separately," Morino said. There are over 30 pieces total. Every piece, knuckle, hinge and even the attaching screws had to be printed separately."

"I didn't realize what we'd be able to print with it," Courtnie Wheeler said when she first saw the printer at the beginning of the school year. "We all just thought it would just print basic, random things," she said. "We never thought printing something like a hand was even possible at the beginning." It's a small world, and when Morino saw on the internet that prosthetic limbs were being printed with 3-D printers, she thought of her high school friend, Brittany Walter, who has a daughter, Blake, with just such a need.

When Morino told the students that they were going to construct a hand, all the students said their jaws hit the floor. "I remember a former teacher who printed a prosthetic hand," added Wheeler. Then Morino's students started looking online at the possibilites and that sparked their imagination for printing something of this magnitude.

"Before we even thought about a recipient, we had to show we could build a practice hand and that is what this one is, and why it's smaller than the one we printed for Blake," Morino explained. "It's wrist powered. There are tension lines that run through the prosthetic limb that allow the fingers to grab and hold when Blake flexes her wrist." It's a stunning sight to see in person. The prosthetic hand is designed to attach to Blake's arm and wrist by various sections of Velcro.

We had to take pictures and fit the dimensions to Blake's hand," said Samantha Rothenberger, who explained that the students had several meetings with Blake and her family while everyone worked to get it right.

Lilla Jackson said there was a bond built between the team and the Walter family. "They are just really nice happy people. They've always been so positive, and meeting them makes it a lot more personal to help such sweet people," she said.

Morino added that Region 5 personnel are working to get a co-op together of Hardin Jefferson, Warren, Sabine Pass, Westbrook and area schools together to share success stories and spark brainstorm sessions, but this is all so new that the whole thing is still in development. Morino said much can be learned from others who have had longer exposure with the 3-D printers.

This experience has opened a world of possibilities for the Warren students, many who see themselves going into the medical field in large part due to this project.

"There is a great deal of fulfillment involved, and I think we've all felt that," Jackson added. Wheeler said that she aspires to become a trauma surgeon. Morgan Clancy said she sees herself going into the physical therapy field and working with athletes, and the information she has learned from this experience has helped her solidify her decision.

"This experience makes your class work really mean something," Jackson said. "This work we do is for something that far transcends just a classroom grade."

It's immediately and abundantly clear that these students are deeply passionate about what they are doing in Morino's class.