NIU Engineering Student 3D Prints e-NABLE Prosthetic for Young Violinist Born Without Her Right Hand

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niu-logo-mainIf you are familiar with the incredibly beautiful sounds a violin can produce, from melancholy strains to bright and powerful bravado, then you will agree no one should be denied the right to make their attempt at creating such loveliness, and those of us able to listen should be quite grateful for the experience to do so. While you may take for granted the ease you possess in being able to grab an instrument and begin playing, that’s not always so for everyone, especially in the rare case of Sarah Valentiner, a 12-year-old who was born without her right hand.

While we’ve actually written about a host of extraordinary 3D printed violins from electric to open source, it’s rare that we see a case where a 3D printed prosthetic was created so that one could enjoy playing. And it’s incredibly inspiring all around, as the maker of the prosthetic is an engineering student who was engaged in the learning process of not only creating something via 3D technology, but also in seeing how it can apply to a very real world situation. As many of us are aware, both playing and listening to music are very fulfilling and the experience is definitely something that to appeals to the emotional and spiritual side. To see someone being aided further in that endeavor is extremely uplifting, and it would seem that all involved in the project at hand were duly inspired.


[Photo: NIU]

While young Valentiner has the talent for playing the violin, it was Oleseun Taiwo, a 20-year-old engineering student at Northern Illinois University, who took on the challenge of creating a new prosthetic so that Valentiner would be able to handle her stringed instrument more easily and with greater proficiency. The eighth grader had previously been using a prosthetic given to her by the Shriners Club. It had served as a much needed utilitarian tool, but obviously for something like playing the violin fluidly (and performing other tasks as well) it was limiting her.

As they wanted to see their daughter to continue growing, and especially in her music, Valentiner’s parents, David Valentiner and Nina Mount (both psychology professors at NIU) began exploring e-NABLE, a network of designers and volunteers we have the deep pleasure of following as they continually offer innovative 3D printed prosthetics to kids around the world, whether it’s the first parametric design that adjusts as children grow or a Spiderman design being presented to a four-year-old in a developing country.

As Valenriner’s parents began exploring e-NABLE together, they found that people all around the world not only design 3D printed hands and arms, but also freely share them. With this in mind, they began speaking with NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology to if just perhaps someone might help with 3D printing an e-NABLE prosthetic for their daughter. Soon, they were in contact with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Federico Sciammarella, who not only helped Valentiner’s parents in their mission, but handed an extremely valuable learning experience to one of his students. Sciammarella himself is known around the world for his expertise in 3D printing, and in handing down his knowledge, he chose a student who was a self-starter.

“I gave Oleseun the opportunity and the guidance, but this is his design,” said Sciammarella. “I wanted him to be the owner of this project … that’s the only way they learn.”

The student engineer went into great detail as he explored what would be the best fit and material for Valentiner, especially in consideration to her passion for violin.

“I wanted to go deeper and be able to use design to solve major problems that would have a quick impact,” said Taiwo in a recent interview.

This went from a university project to a very strong interest in the use of 3D technology for both Taiwo and Valentiner. Taiwo met with Valentiner many times as they worked on not only the fit, but also how she would need to move her hand, along with numerous other details. The goal was to make her the perfect hand. This took six different versions, with the last being made of a lightweight nylon/plastic material.

As they worked on creating the prosthetic, all of the benefits of 3D printing began to emerge. Customization, while perhaps not easy, was a huge factor in the success of the prosthetic, along with being able to make continual changes as needed. The e-NABLE designs are also considerably more affordable, weigh much less than traditional prosthetics, and can be produced and assembled quickly. With this new design, it made a big difference in playing violin as well because Valentiner does not have to dismantle the bow.

“It just made sense,” said Taiwo. “Taking the bow apart, and reassembling it with one hand, is no easy task.”

And even better, as Valentiner continues on with her violin, Taiwo will be sharing what he has learned so that others have the potential to benefit as well. They are sharing the story with e-NABLE, and it would seem that perhaps Taiwo has found a direction he would like to pursue as he completes his engineering degree.

“When I started in engineering I figured I’d just get my degree and get a job,” said the Naperville student, whose father Temitope Taiwo is deputy director of nuclear engineering at Argonne National Laboratory.

And even though he’s still all about finding solutions, he insisted, the project with Valentiner changed him.

Sarah plays the violin using the prosthetic designed by Oleseun Taiwo. (Photo: Denise Crosby)

Sarah Valentiner plays the violin using the prosthetic designed by Oleseun Taiwo. [Image: Denise Crosby]

The young future engineer not only has the bug to continue in 3D printing, but to help people in doing so. Both he and Valentiner were able to employ their independent spirits in reaching their goal with the 3D printed prosthetic, a point that Valentiner’s psychologist parents point out as being very important especially for children with disabilities, as they are able to actively ‘shape their destinies’ as well as seeing what’s possible. Now Valentiner, along with her proclivity for violin, has taken to the idea of being an engineer, too. She also gave us some insight as to what motivated her to also work so hard in seeing the prosthetic to fruition:


[Image: NIU]

“It wasn’t so much whether it would be a success,” she said, “but the thought behind it that made this so great. It makes me a much more confident player. It improves my tone and lets me use more of the bow.”

As two parents sought help for their musically inclined daughter, they certainly caused a trickle down effect with both Valentiner and Taiwo working together to solve a complex problem with a real world application that will be shared at the university with other students, and with e-NABLE as they and thousands of volunteers continue to bring great happiness to people around the world. Taiwo can be proud to know that he has already been part of that, and from engineering designs to Vivaldi, we look forward to seeing what both he and Valentiner do in the future. See the video below for more on this project, and discuss further in the 3D Printed Prosthetic forum at

[Source: NIUStandardTimes]


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