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Enhancing mobility of injured penguin using 3D printing

25 July 2016

Mystic Aquarium partnered with students at Mystic Middle School, local experts from ACT Group and 3D Systems to aid an endangered animal in need.

The lightweight and flexible orthotic boot was printed in the ProJet® MJP 5500X multi-material 3D printer as a single piece (Credit: 3D Systems)

Several years ago, following a regular exam, it was discovered that one of the Aquarium’s penguins, Yellow/Purple, had sustained an injury to the flexor tendon in her ankle, making it difficult for her to walk or swim normally. Throughout the years, in an effort to provide additional support to the injured tendon, Aquarium staff crafted a boot for Yellow/Purple from a mouldable plastic material.

Interested in utilising a more modern and customisable solution, Mystic Aquarium reached out to its long-standing partner, Mystic Middle School, who had recently acquired a 3D printer for their own studies.

“We initiated this program primarily to engage children in a STEM learning opportunity,” said Kelly Matis, Vice President of Education and Conservation at Mystic Aquarium. “I don’t think any of us envisioned this type of end result.”

Students were able to design, create and print a new boot with support from ACT Group, a Connecticut-based 3D Systems partner.

Purps the penguin’s new 3D printed orthotic boot delivers both support and flexibility to help her walk more easily (Credit: 3D Systems)

Mystic Middle School students learned how to use 3D Systems’ technologies including a scanner, design software and multi-material 3D printer through a workshop conducted by ACT Group. Students used a 3D scanner to scan an existing cast of Yellow/Purple’s foot then used that data to create a more efficient boot with sculpting software. The final boot design was printed on a 3D printer that was able to use multiple materials, allowing the boot to be flexible for comfortable movement and rigid to support the injured tendon.

“Our goal is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education and research,” continued Matis. “In this project, we achieved each of these desired outcomes while benefiting the health and well-being of one of our endangered species.”

The project provided students with a challenging goal that encouraged teamwork, applied knowledge and the ultimate satisfaction of knowing their dedication and intelligence enhanced the mobility and being of an animal at risk of extinction.

“This project not only helped a member of an endangered species, but it gave our students a hands-on understanding of the 3D printing process and how to carry an idea through from a concept to a design to a usable object,” said Sue Prince, Library Media Specialist at Mystic Middle School.

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