How Binghamton Engineering Students Built a Prosthetic Hand for a Campus Employee

Posted by Melissa Wickes on May 23, 2017

Just when you thought Binghamton students couldn’t get any more impressive, this happened. A group of biomedical engineering students launched a collaboration to create a functional biomedical hand using 3D printing technology about a year ago. Yup, you read that right. A functioning HAND.

Susan Reigel: a deserving client

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Susan Reigel, a Binghamton University Dining Services employee, has always welcomed her customers with a smiling face and bubbly attitude, which did not go unnoticed by the biomedical engineering team of Adam Adler, Jacob Praga, Jacob Volgel, Trey McIntyre, Victoria D’ambrosio and Nico Summa.

An opportunity to help

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37 years ago, Reigel lost her right hand in an industrial accident. It didn’t take long for the team of students to think of her when they made this hand, in hopes that they could improve her quality of life. “The students already knew her and found her very approachable, so two of them agreed to talk with her about the prosthetic project opportunity, and she was very receptive to the idea,” said George Catalano, professor of biomedical engineering, who oversaw the student-driven project.

Student pioneers

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According to Catalano, this is the biomedical engineering department’s first prosthetic project, so these six undergrad students are pioneers. The funding for this project came from the $100 each student was given for their senior project. Believe it or not, the team was under budget. Wow.

An improved quality of life

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“The primary goal of this project was to utilize our team’s various skill sets to collectively design a custom prosthetic for our client -- Sue -- that would improve her quality of life," explained McIntyre.

Affordable and functional

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“A second goal was to create a device that could pioneer the way for a new generation of prosthetics that offer moderate complexity at an affordable price,” added Vogel.

Reigel’s new hand was completed in April. The hand will allow Reigel to hold up to 10 pounds while maintaining full mechanical and electrical functionality.

A grateful client

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Sue’s quality of life will be forever changed by the six-member student team that chose to help her out.

“I am honored that the team chose me as the person to make a hand for -- because they could have easily chosen someone else among the people [who live] in this area,” said Reigel. “For the team to try and make a few things possible for me to do again, with another hand, after all these years, means the world to me.”

Helping Hands

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As a result of the development of Sue's new hand, a new student group formed on campus, called Helping Hands. The goal of the group of students is to "print prosthetic hands from an online 3D-printing database called 'E-nable' and give them to people who need them," according to Nico Summa.

“It’s especially important for children, because kids and grow out of prosthetics so quickly,” said Summa. “When our team has left Binghamton, we also hope they will also be able to work with Sue in the long-term future to assist her with any prosthetic-related questions or concerns.”

Melissa Wickes is a recent graduate from East Williston, N.Y., who majored in English--creative writing. She was a member of the a cappella group The Vibes, Alpha Epsilon Phi and enjoys exploring new cheeses in her spare time.

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