First-Year Research Opportunities Kept Passion Project Going for USciences Student

Written by Jenna Pizzi
Published on December 6, 2016

Born without his left hand, a high school friend of Megan O’Briant DPT’22 never used prosthetics.

“The prosthetics weren’t easy to use. They were heavy. He was never interested in wearing one,” said O’Briant.

Megan O'Briant DPT'22 (left) shows a prosthetic hand she made at the First-Year Science and Interprofessional Health Fair

Megan O'Briant DPT'22 (left) shows a prosthetic hand she made at the First-Year Science and Interprofessional Health Fair to Cheyenne Fuhrmann PA'20 (right).

But her friend’s real-life problem posed an interesting engineering challenge for O’Briant. Combining the lessons learned from existing prosthetic designs, she set out to design the most ideal hand for her friend creating prototypes with her 3-D printer. She sought to create the most powerful, lightweight, and all-purpose machine that could also communicate the sense of touch to the wearer.

“I found that I couldn’t incorporate all of this into one hand so I devised a concept where a hand could be attached to the arm base like shoes – you pick the appropriate one for the occasion,” she said.

During her high school years, the designs won her several awards including at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair where her project won second place from the International Council on Systems Engineering. O’Briant also won a scholarship to attend USciences at the 2015 Intel ISEF for a prior project regarding ACL tears. As part of its sponsorship with the Delaware Valley Science Fairs, USciences has the opportunity to extend scholarship offers to select students who participate in the ISEF.

When she arrived at USciences in the fall, O’Briant chose to use the research that helped to build her prosthetic to pivot toward new research into amputations, which she and a group of other students presented at the First-Year Science and Interprofessional Health Fair in October.

The fair highlights posters and brochures on topics ranging across science, health/wellness promotion, disease states and more. It's a great opportunity for students to work in teams and present on topics of interest to them.

O’Briant’s group – which included Evelyn Ibarra PrePro’20, Celine Arabatlian PharmD’22, Cheyenne Fuhrmann PA’20, and Mina Awad PharmD’22 -- had a wide range of interests in healthcare including in pharmacy and as a physician’s assistant, so she said she was able to see different perspectives on the concept of amputations and prosthetics.

Megan O'Briant DPT'22 (right) shows a prosthetic hand she made at the First-Year Science and Interprofessional Health Fair to Cheyenne Fuhrmann PA'20 (left).

 Megan O'Briant DPT'22 (right) shows a prosthetic hand she made at the First-Year Science and Interprofessional Health Fair to Cheyenne Fuhrmann PA'20 (left).

“We were able to focus on things like, what would lead someone to get an amputation, what the main causes are, and the rehabilitation process,” she said. “The most interesting part I found was the procedure itself, how lengthy it is and the recovery including the use of prosthetics.”

In addition to their brochures and poster, the group presented O’Briant’s unique prosthetic designs to students, faculty, and staff.

O’Briant created a light weight hand for everyday use, a speed hand quick enough to catch a baseball, and a torque hand strong enough to carry weight. She incorporated the sense of touch to the prosthetic through a haptic feedback design which sends vibrations to the skin of the upper arm when there is pressure or “feeling” in the hand. Although still prototypes, O’Briant’s friend was able to test out each and give feedback.

“We were even able to pay a game of catch,” she said.

O’Briant said she is glad that USciences offers the ability to continue to conduct research even as a first-year. All of these experiences, she said, will help to make her a better physical therapist in the future.


Categories: Feature Story, Student Profile, Students, Research

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