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Ottawa’s little Iron Man

Photo: Remi Yuan

With the help of University of Ottawa students, six-year-old Sebastian Chavarria has become a real-life superhero.

Due to a partially deformed left hand, Sebastian hasn’t been able to join his friends in most games and sports.

Three months ago, the Faculty of Engineering challenged the U of O community to build him a prosthetic hand using only 3D-printed materials at the university’s Makerspace.

The faculty held a presentation where Sebastian showed off the Iron Man-inspired prosthetic he chose from a set of finalists on March 20.

Sebastian’s mother Lety Chavarria spoke of the challenges children in need of prosthetics face in a previous edition of the Fulcrum.

“Children grow so much every year, no one would be able to afford that many prosthetic limbs if they all cost $20,000,” she said. “With these printers, we can allow him to have (the) use of the hand now, so he can play sports, and do other things all children should be able to do.”

The goal was to create something that was functional but also low-cost to supplement the expensive alternatives sold in the medical market.

Second-year biomedical mechanical engineering students Shannon Lee and Robert Rayson designed the winning hand, winning them a $1,000 prize.

“It’s actually really inspiring to be able to use your engineering knowledge—it’s much more engaging to do this than calculus,” said Rayson. “I can actually apply what I’ve learned to physically see the mechanical principles I’ve studied in action. It has been a lot of tough work but it has been very rewarding.”

Members of the Makerspace and the faculty said they’re “extremely proud” of the response to their first project, and are excited to continue giving back to the community.

“It makes us extremely proud that the Faculty of Engineering, seeing this kind of initiative happen,” said Frank Bouchard, manager of outreach programs for the faculty.

“Having a facility like Makerspace where we run competitions and provide a resource to a client in need makes the university experience more relevant to the students,” he said.

The faculty also announced future plans for the Makerspace.

In the coming months, the faculty will be fundraising for the Makermobile, a truck that will travel to schools and libraries around Ottawa to teach youth about 3D-printing technology.

“We’re using the model of a lot of top universities in the United States, like MIT and Stanford, where they have made Makerspace-type facilities at their faculties,” said Bouchard.

“They’ve gone in the direction of getting a truck and going into the community and showing that these technologies are becoming more and more commonplace. If we introduce these technologies at a very early age, later on when they are very mainstream they will have that edge above everybody else.”

The Faculty of Engineering will soon launch the fundraiser to finance the vehicole in hopes of having it on the road this September.