Mentoring Middle School Students to Design Prostheses

Achievement date: 

Guided by college students, more than 60 Boston-area middle school students wielded plungers, bubble wrap, and duct tape in a November 2013 design challenge to construct a functional prosthetic leg. The event was supported by the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), an Engineering Research Center (ERC) funded by the National Science Foundation, with its headquarters at the University of Washington.


The program was one of the outreach efforts by researchers at CSNE, and was hosted by one of its partner institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through outreach programs such as the prosthesis design challenge, CSNE researchers and students introduce K-12 students to concepts central to the Center’s development of neural-inspired sensorimotor devices.


The design challenge began with an introduction to common biomedical engineering terms and an overview of the engineering design process. Mentors and middle school students then broke off into small groups and began sketching and building prosthesis prototypes from a limited supply of household items. In the end, the teams were judged on their prostheses’ comfort, durability, and usability.