Derek Wachter hopes to build an entire prosthetic hand by the end of the semester.
The 17-year-old senior at Eaglecrest High School knows he’s probably setting his sights a bit too high with the project. So far, he’s only completed a single finger of the larger hand. Rendered precisely out of grooved plastic, the movable digit bends and stretches with all the dexterity of a flesh-and-bone finger. Still, it’s only one part of a much more daunting whole; Welcher will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to complete the full synthetic body part before the kickoff of second semester.
If there is a delay, it will be due to the sheer complexity of the project, and not due to any lack of resources. In designing and building the plastic hand, Wachter has a whole wealth of tools at his disposal. Thanks to cutting-edge tools, labs and workspaces made possible in part by bond funds approved by voters in 2012, Wachter and his fellow Eaglecrest students enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) classes have access to the most current kind of tools.
That includes the 3-D printers, design software and other resources that Wachter used to construct the first finger of a larger prosthetic hand. It includes the brand new fabrication lab that will allow Eaglecrest students to design and build their own engineering feats, projects that can range from racecars to robots.
All of these resources will have an impact that’s bound to last long after the students complete their STEM classes and pick up their diplomas. According to Ross Ericson, a vocational education teacher who’s been at Eaglecrest for more than 20 years, the new fabrication lab and associated technology will give these students a significant edge as they head to college and, ultimately, careers in engineering fields.
“These machines allow us to stay very current,” Ericson said as he toured the new materials lab. The final touches on the overhaul were still in progress as Ericson showed off laser cutting systems and other high-tech engineering tools. Old-school shop staples like table saws also had places in the lab slated to fully open within the next few months. “Our graduates will walk into engineering schools and be a success right from the start. We hear good feedback from places like the Colorado School of Mines; they want more of our kids to come there, simply because they come in very well prepared.”
The improvements were funded through the $125 million in bonds approved by voters in 2012. Along with the new fabrication lab, Eaglecrest kicked off the year with new media resources including a high-tech green room, an updated technology lab and a long list of improvements ranging from library expansions to the replacement of old stretches of carpet.
For students like Wachter, such improvements will help make an intricate project like a prosthetic human hand become a reality.
“This fabrication lab rivals anything that any of our kids will experience at a college campus,” said Eaglecrest Assistant Principal Shane Snyder. “They’re going to be able to have the tools to develop technology using 3-D printers, lasers and other great equipment.”
For Wachter, it’s just a matter of finding the time to build that artificial hand before the semester ends.
-- Posted Sept. 26, 2014