C'mon Get Happy: A Professor 3-D Printed a HAND!

Mienie Roberts. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University, Central Texas
Prosthetic hand. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University, Central Texas

In all likelihood, the phrase “give me a hand” will never mean the same thing as it used to Dr. Mienie Roberts, A&M-Central Texas Associate Professor in Mathematics. This summer, when most faculty took time off to prepare for the beginning of a new academic year, Roberts passed the hours collaborating with a local student, Lee Horton, 17, to design, manufacture, and complete a prosthetic hand made on a 3D printer in her office at the university.

Using 3D modeling, mathematical analysis and a touch of geometry to affect dimensional analysis of the hand while it was in development, Roberts could have enlisted the help of any mathematician in the scholarly community throughout the state or, for that matter, across the country. But she didn’t.

Roberts used the opportunity to teach mathematical application to a student, Lee Horton, a Harker Heights senior, math major, and community college student, enrolled at the Texas Bioscience Institute Middle College in Temple, Texas.

Roberts and Horton worked in tandem with e-Nable, a non-profit community using open-source programs and designs and described by their website as “teachers, students, engineers, scientists, medical professionals, tinkerers, designers, parents, children, scout troops, artists, philanthropists, dreamers, coders, and makers of everyday people who just want to make a difference.”

Mission accomplished, according to Roberts who, without fanfare, put the mechanical hand in the mail last week. She didn’t do the project for the notoriety, she explained. She just wanted to celebrate the practical applications of mathematics to help someone.

And, it looks like she got her wish – and then some.

Tony Ruiz, 19, of San Diego, the beneficiary of the project, has been disabled since birth and unable to afford the cost of a traditional prosthetic. This version, however, more than meets his needs and is completely free, the time and materials donated by volunteers like Roberts and Horton in collaboration with the non-profit.

Assembling the robotic elements of the hand took weeks of patient construction and revision. The actual 3D printing lasted 25 hours. 

“It was an exciting opportunity for me because of the opportunity to so impact someone’s life in such an amazing way,” Horton explained. “We had our moments of trial and error, but looked at it as a learning process.”

Horton’s mother, Carol Bloodsaw, is rightfully proud of her son, adding that he was never a child who did traditional things.

Perhaps not. But he is surrounded by her other children – three sons and three daughters – each of whom have earned their undergraduate degree. Now, it’s his turn.

“He’s been a little scientist since the day he was born, and he’s been that way all his life,” she laughed.

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