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Mason Headrick holds a prosthetic arm he helped make using a 3D printer at Calavera Hills Middle School in Carlsbad. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
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Calavera students receive award for 3D prosthetics


CARLSBAD — A group of Calavera Middle School students are making a difference in the world.

Using 3D printing, students in Aaron Sottile’s design and modeling class, part of the Makerspace Program, are creating prosthetic hands for kids around the world. And on May 23, the school received the Impact Award from San Diego-based Classroom of the Future and a $5,000 grant from Balfour Beatty Construction at SeaWorld.

Danny Foote demonstrates how a prosthetic arm works on Tuesday in Carlsbad. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram

In addition, the school also partnered with Robo3D and will receive four new 3D printers, giving the school eight printers in total.

“This is our second full year of the class,” Principal Mike Ecker said. “We’ve always known that relevant and meaningful is what we are after.”

He said the idea for the prosthetics grew organically from the program, which is in its fourth semester. The program requires students to take bio-med and modeling and design before printing the hands.

After completing the classes, students can return as a teacher’s assistant to work with Sottile and the prosthetics. The hands are given free of charge to those in need and the school has partnered with Enabling The Future, an East Coast-based nonprofit using open source methods to create the hands and also providing distribution.

A prosthetic hand made by students at Calavera Hills Middle School in Carlsbad. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram

Ecker and Sottile said Stephanie San Pedro, now a freshman at Sage Creek High School, came up with the idea as part of her required genius project. From there, the kids took it and began using the open source material to create a basic model.

“We focus on the design process and solving problems,” Sottile said. “We got some pretty cool technology that we are getting the kids involved with. They learn these core skills and assembling these hands. Our goal is 10 hands.”

The hands created are not like more advanced prosthetics, which can capture nerve function to provide more movement and range of function. Sottile said their prostheses work around functional wrists and elbows, which allow a person to use the hand to close and grab items. They also do not include feet, as the weight and force is too great and can lead to parts breaking, thus leaving someone in a vulnerable situation.

One challenge for the class, though, is time. If a hand were printed in full it would take between 16 and 20 hours. So, the printing is broken into four segments, which take between four and seven hours and the students can perform during school hours.

Once all the items are printed, they are assembled and shipped to Enabling The Future for stress testing. If accepted, the hands are sent to someone in need. If not, they are used as demonstration devices.

Mason Headrick and Danny Foote, both eighth-grade teacher assistants for Sottile, said the program is a lot of work, but the reward is worth the effort. The two run the printers, among other duties, to build their experience.

“It’s worth helping kids that need them,” Mason said.

“It’s kind of crazy because we’re getting a lot of money for small things we are doing,” Danny added. “That makes me feel good that I could change somebody’s life.”