At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, students not only have the opportunity to learn from faculty who are experts in their field, but in many cases also have the opportunity to make truly impressive contributions of their own.
This is certainly the case for two students in the Department of Biomechanics: Keaton Young, a UNK graduate who is earning his Master of Science in Biomechanics at UNO, and James Pierce, who is pursuing a doctorate in Exercise Science with a concentration in biomechanics. Both Young and Pierce are graduate assistants in the department working with Jorge Zuniga, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomechanics, whose work focuses on making low-cost, customizable 3D-printed prosthetics for children who suffer from upper limb deficiencies due to accidents or complications from birth.
As part of their work with Zuniga, stemming from a 2017 NU system grant bringing UNO together with UNMC, UNK, and UNL, Young and Pierce have actually developed their own 3D prostheses design to help create task-specific attachments for everything from a swimming fin to a clamp used to play musical instruments.
"The potential for this prosthetic device is quite significant as it demonstrates the functional capability that 3D printed prosthetics pose," Young explains. "In the future, task-specific prosthetics such as this should have the ability for multiple activity usage to ensure that the individual using the device receives the greatest amount of function that a prosthetic limb can offer."
In fact, the work being done by Young and Pierce is already making an impact in the lives of children like Peyton Tiernan, 9, a Lincoln boy who was born without a left hand but is able to play the cello thanks to the two UNO students' invention.
“You want your kids to have every opportunity,” Jamie Tiernan, Peyton's mother, told the Omaha World-Herald in a recent feature highlighting the device, “and succeed at whatever they do.”
"Getting to use my expertise in engineering and 3D printing to help people directly - especially children - has proven to be far more rewarding than any other work I've done, and I couldn't be happier to have found that human element in what I do," Pierce explains. "With the experience and knowledge gained at UNO, my hope is to continue improving and innovating in the field of upper-limb prosthetic devices."
The next step for Young and Pierce? Working with UNeMed, a tech-transfer and commercialization office that helps UNO and UNMC discoveries go from concept to reality and become widely available for others to utilize. Currently, a provisional patent is underway with a full application coming soon.
"UNO’s atmosphere encourages innovative thinking and drives you to chase those ideas to not only challenge yourself but improve upon your failures, which is the most contributing factor to my success in the biomechanics program," Young says.
Young's sentiment is also echoed by Pierce.
"Groundbreaking research is happening right in their backyard. Omaha is becoming a major hub for research like we've done with Peyton's arm, and opportunities to become a part of it have never been more abundant."
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.