Taking advantage of 3-D printing technology, a group of students, including new alum Rana Ozdeslik PhD '17, is creating fanciful but functional custom-made arms for local children with upper-arm anomalies. From the moment he closed the last of the four Velcro straps on his new blue and yellow right arm, 12-year-old Ryan Dean eagerly began exploring what it could do.
Seated at the kitchen table of his Warwick, R.I., home while his mother, Allison Dean, looked on, Ryan grabbed each of the accessories on hand — a small bottle of glue and rolls of extra Velcro and cottony padding — in case any last-minute adjustments to his new arm were required. Not satisfied with merely picking each object up, Ryan quickly moved on to precisely stacking and balancing them in towers to demonstrate his dexterity and his arm’s ability to realize it.
With a steady grip on a block, Ryan balanced the glue atop.
“I think it’s cool,” he said as he played. The arm was, after all, made not only in the colors he requested, but also featured a removable set of claws inspired by the X-men comic character Wolverine.
“You know what you are going to be doing now: dusting, vacuuming,” his mom teased with an intonation that implied a longer list could be forthcoming.
But on that late May afternoon, Ryan seemed more dedicated to playing with his new Wolverine arm than spontaneously leaping to any chores. The custom-fitted, 3-D-printed arm came courtesy of a team of Brown University students, led by Ozdeslik, who visited the Deans’ home that day with engineering undergraduate Abigail Kohler.
Watching Ryan experiment with the Wolverine arm, Ozdeslik said that fun is the point. The arm isn’t a full-fledged medical prosthetic, after all.
“It’s just for them to play,” she said. “It’s kind a toy for them to have fun.”
As Ryan kept picking things up and stacking them, his mother vouched that the arm certainly added something in terms of functionality: “He can do extra things now that he couldn’t do, or couldn’t do easily. For somebody who doesn’t have a hand, that would be amazing.”