Building a fully functional prosthetic arm under $40 is no easy feat. But after weeks of preparation, Christopher Hutchinson, Luis Ceja, and Michael Hutchinson managed to do just that and more.
On Saturday, February 23rd, they placed 2nd at their MESA Preliminary Competition at Chapman University and will attend MESA Regionals at San Diego State University on April 13th, where they will compete against other prosthetic arms all across Southern California.
MESA, which stands for Math Engineering Science Achievement, is a program designed to "support the national science and mathematics educational agenda by ensuring that MESA students develop a high level of literacy in mathematics and science so that they can play a leading role within an increasingly technology based world," according to the class syllabus. Both a class and a club run by Mr. Poveda and Ms. Ras, the MESA members compete in various competitions at their prelims, which can give some projects the opportunity to continue to Regionals, State, and even Nationals.
"There are different projects, all the same throughout the country. Each MESA center [Chapman for CMHS] has different schools, and each school brings in teams of students. First, second, and third places in each category in Prelims go on to MESA Day [Regionals]," says Ms. Ras, who has been the MESA adviser for about 5 years.
These projects include a mousetrap powered car, a model of the brain, a glider, an egg drop, a balsa wood bridge, and various individual math and science competitions, such as Solo Math, Speak Easy, and Team Math Quest. Each project has its own set of rules that needs to be followed to the letter. If a project deviates from these rules, they are immediately disqualified.
"I watched them do their prosthetic arm, and their design was original. There were a couple of others that had a really cool design. Theirs was very simple, it didn't look too complicated. They just followed the rules one by one, so they didn't get disqualified," said junior MESA member Jocelyn Gutierrez when asked about the prosthetic arm team. "I was excited for them to win."
The team, composed of sophomore Michael Hutchinson and freshmen Luis Ceja and Christopher Hutchinson built the arm using normal household materials.
"The process was kind of complicated, we went through trial and error and we ended up creating one design that worked for all three challenges," said Luis.
"We built it out of materials that were under our $40 budget, and we used the anatomy of a real hand to build the prosthetic arm," Michael said. "The way we constructed the hand, it should be able to do multiple tasks such as throwing a ball, picking up objects, and screwing in a bolt. We designed our hand to be stationary so it won't move, but it will be able to complete each task individually."
"What we did was we wanted to make something that could kind of move on its own, without our body or any of our other parts moving," Chris added. "So we made our fingers flexible by using rubber tubing, and enforcing it with pipe cleaners, and then we enforced our fingers on the outside with binder rings, and so we basically made a kind of mold that can do everything."
At the competition, the prosthetic arm team had to complete three tasks successfully. These tasks included picking up three different sized balls and throwing them into buckets marked certain distances, picking up and carrying different objects, and screwing in a bolt into a hole.
"The first one, everybody got a mistrial. The second one we did amazing, we got first in that challenge. For the third one, we couldn't because we were confused by the rules," said freshman team member Christopher Hutchinson.
Several rules changed last-minute for the team. They didn't have to complete an information board, and the hand was allowed to move, which wasn't clearly stated in the rules before. However, the team prevailed and placed second in their category.
"I was pretty excited. I personally thought we would get third or fourth, but the results surprised me and I was pretty glad," Chris said of his team's win.
"[The other teams] had really good designs, but it took them a while to get them on. Our design was pretty handy, and we put it on pretty quickly. We had more time to try and complete the challenges while the other teams didn't," Luis responded.
The team is now preparing for Regionals on April 13th at San Diego State, and they hope to improve their design.
"We have to do the same tasks, except this time we have to have our academic display and we have to give an oral presentation about our arm," Chris said when asked about what Regionals involves.
"[We are] reconstructing the arm the way we want to, cause now it can move and we can add a lever to move fingers. We think it's going to be a lot easier that way," said Michael.
"We're going to practice a lot more with our arm, and we're redoing the whole thing, so hopefully we can make it a lot better and get first," added Chris.
"We're going to attach strings to our fingers so that they could open and close," responded Luis. "I'm looking forward to having some fun while we're competing, and hopefully we could win again."