Using the technical and design skills fostered in the rigorous science program of Innovation Lab @Ross, senior Elsa Diaw has built a 3D-printed prosthetic arm controlled by electrical signals that travel from the brain to the muscles. Her Senior Project, titled Reach, was inspired by a summer spent volunteering at the Beth Abraham Health Services Center with patients in the physical and occupational therapy units. There, she was afforded a chance to work one on one with patients, an experience that helped her cement her proposal for the project. Under the guidance of mentor Dr. David Morgan, Elsa embarked on creating a device that explored how 3D-printing technology can be used to improve the people’s lives.
Innovation Lab @Ross, an academy within Ross School, focuses on entrepreneurship in science, mathematics, engineering, media, and technology. Elsa entered Innovation Lab as a sophomore and has shown considerable maturity as a young scientist over the past three years. Elsa reflects: “Without Innovation Lab, I wouldn’t have known about any of these technologies. I was interested in the biology aspect of the science but didn’t know much about the technological opportunities in science.” Elsa studied process and arduino coding and combined this with her knowledge of forearm anatomy to build the prosthetic arm. The arm uses a surface electromyography device to record electrical signals produced by the movement of muscles, which are in turn translated into code, and the prosthetic hand is then able to reproduce the movement of the user’s hand.
There was no shortage of awe and fascination surrounding Elsa’s display at Senior Project Exhibition Night. Apprehensive at first, Elsa grew more comfortable as she was able to explain her scientific process to onlookers, one of the biggest challenges of the undertaking project. However, she overcame her concerns by inviting guests to sit and try out her prosthetic and experience the future of medical technology firsthand. Elsa plans to enter college as a pre-med student at either Boston University or Johns Hopkins, and she credits her Senior Project exploration as a major catalyst for her medical ambitions. Her ultimate goal is to become a general surgeon and continue her medical research.