Senior design teams display creativity, ingenuity in competition

Author: Dan Howell
"We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering." - Thomas Friedman

Innovation AwardsAt Purdue, mechanical engineering students have long been taking Friedman’s words to heart. In a late spring competition, a team that created a unique, working prosthetic leg—and showed off a very mobile 12-year-old boy to prove it—captured the school’s top 2009 Innovation Award.

A seven-judge panel of experts chose Leg Up Design after eight teams made presentations in May. Teams advancing to the Innovation Awards were selected by mechanical engineering faculty from a field of 31 teams in “ME 463,” the senior design class. Winning teams received cash prizes funded by the Thomas J. and Sandra H. Malott Fund for Innovation in Mechanical Engineering.

“I am proud of how the projects showed our students’ ability to develop innovative solutions, which is a critical attribute for mechanical engineers of the 21st century,” says Dan Hirleman, the William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of the school.

The winning team consisted of Brian Schoolcraft, Christie DeWert, Tommy Thigpen, David Armbrust, and Dan Gorsky. “It was totally worth it,” says Schoolcraft, the team leader. “We put in a ton of time. The vision of seeing him wear it gave us extra motivation.”

The boy’s right leg, which was deformed at birth, led to amputation of his foot. By age 12, his right knee was four inches higher than the left, creating a hindrance to a typical prosthetic solution. Leg Up created an innovative solution to resolve the problem. Kevin Hagemeier, a professional prothetist from Indianapolis, worked with the team in evaluation and casting, plus guidance in design and alignment. ”The excitement came when the students started understanding the equipment and product,” Hagemeier says. ”That allowed them to work on the project with minimal assistance.”

The team’s task and solution are documented under “News” on our Web site:

”From doing the project, I learned more about manufacturing, carbon fiber, and 3-D design,” DeWert says.

The team is donating its $1,500 prize to help cover the future expenses for the boy’s next prosthetic device in a couple of years. The other top prize-winning projects and teams were: Second place ($1,200) – A wheelchair attachment that turns a standard chair into a powered one. It is relatively easy to attach and remove and is far less expensive than powered chairs currently on the market. Third place ($800) – Go Water, a barrel for use in developing countries that lies on its side and is pulled while devices being activated by each rotation filter the water inside. Fourth place ($400) – Windworks kite-board power generator flies a kite to generate electricity competing with today’s wind turbines.