By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Students try their hand at prosthetics

It was an exercise Geneva Goldwood said she had experienced herself in classes at George Washington University. Teams of students started with a sheet of light cardboard, string and tape. They had to design a hand-like device that could grasp and lift a piece of candy.

One team cut out the shape of a hand at the end of an arm, then affixed string to each paper finger. By pulling the strings, they could close the fingers around the sweet.

Another team made a sort of claw at the end of a tubular arm. Pulling string attached to each side of the claw caused it to enclose the candy.

Yet another group built a large scoop, which they dragged across a table, snagging the candy. It worked, the students discovered, but it didn’t really mimic a hand.

Building a device that both looks and works like a hand is not easy, Goldwood told the eighth-graders. She showed a photo of a robotic hand holding an egg. A real human hand is far more complex and delicate than its mechanical counterpart, she said.

Her dream, though, is to one day design a prosthetic hand that will allow its user to play the piano. A piano student herself, she envisioned the idea years ago when she realized what a disadvantage musicians would have if they lost a limb.

Goldwood came to Patton Tuesday at the invitation of her aunt, school librarian Dorian Herrick. The librarian, in turn, was inspired to invite her after listening to a student describe his career interests.

Eighth-grader Max Hadfield wants to become a biomedical engineer. He said he figures the career will combine his interests in building things, mechanics and medicine.

It turned out to be serendipitous: Goldwood is on a brief break between her college studies and an internship at a biomedical facility, K2M Complex Spine Innovations.

She told Max and his classmates what it’s been like to study engineering, some of what they could expect if they pursued that major in college, and careers such as teaching, doing research or creating things.

“Anything you see at a hospital was done by a biomedical engineer,” she said, mentioning medical robots that perform less invasive surgery, as well as prosthetics.

In her quest to become a biomedical engineer, Goldwood said she has taken college classes in chemistry, circuit theory, computer programming, statics and dynamics, solids and fluids, mechanical drawing, anatomy and physiology, ethics and lots and lots of math. She spent a term studying in Ireland, as well, and said she believes studying abroad is valuable to anyone, no matter what they’re studying.

Goldwood said writing classes also have been helpful for her major. “Being able to communicate is so important,” she said. “You have to be able to explain what you’ve designed so other people understand it.”

Learning to work as part of a team also is critical, she said. Engineers don’t work in isolation, she said; designing something to solve a problem is almost always a team effort.

“Maybe that’s why there aren’t that many famous engineers,” she said.

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