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Humans of Manufacturing

It’s Like Riding a Bike

High-School Engineering Class & Young Girl with Prosthetic Forearm Work Together to Make a Bike Adapter

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Remember when you learned how to ride a bike? Fear of the unknown warred with the thrill of adventure. Yes, there were falls, bumps, and bruises, but you were willing to pay that price.

What if you couldn’t enjoy riding that bike because it was uncomfortable, sometimes painful? Such was the case for 10-year-old Morgan Peterson; she had a prosthetic left forearm which made it difficult to ride her bike, causing her to opt out of family bike rides.

Enter Frank Xydias, engineering instructor at Milford High School & Applied Technology Center in Milford, NH, and his advanced engineering students. Milford High is a unique school in New Hampshire in that it integrates technical career courses—what used to be termed as “vocational education”—with the traditional school curriculum.

“Students can take one ‘career-focused’ class or they can take a sampling of the 13 programs we offer here at the high school,” Xydias explained. “They don't have to specialize in anything. So we're not a traditional vocational center or high school—the technical programs are fully integrated within the academic structure.”

Xydias met Morgan’s mother, Meg Peterson, at one of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) nights for girls the school holds twice a year. She mentioned that her daughter couldn’t enjoy riding a bike because of her limb deficiency; she had a bike adapter but it didn’t fit properly as it was made for adults, not children. Xydias knew this was the perfect project for his advanced engineering class, where he encourages his students to work on humanitarian or community-based projects.

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Since Morgan Peterson had attended a few STEAM nights, Xydias had her join the group when possible to help design her new bike adapter. “Morgan learned about the engineering process while working with the team,” he explained. “She would communicate what her needs were and then make adaptations based on what she was comfortable doing.”

Peterson brought in two old prosthetics that were too small for her, as well as the bike adapter that kept falling off. The engineering students conducted research and consulted with Peterson about fit and comfort. “They went through several iterations of the product through 3D printing and talked about how to attach the adapter to the prosthetic, should it break away and what are the safety issues Morgan will run into,” Xydias explained.

After several adjustments with Peterson on her new bike, the students decided on a metal three-part quick release mechanism—a socket style with a small ball that locks into place, then removed with a quick release. From there, they were able to retrofit the prosthetic cast. They made the product telescopic, so as she matured, she’d still be able to ride her bike. Or if she were to get a new prosthetic, it would be universal and go from one to the next, Xydias notes.

Today, Morgan Peterson can ride her bike in comfort.

“She has been using her bike so much more now than she did in past years,” said Meg Peterson. “We brought our bicycles down to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware for a vacation with extended family this summer. Morgan and her cousins were riding their bikes all around the neighborhood, and she was thrilled to show her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins how the adapter works and the process with which it was created and built.”

For Xydias and his students, it’s gratifying to see their design in action—and to make a young girl happy. And it was made possible because of STEM education.

“I believe STEM is at the top of the list in education when we think about all the academics involved with STEM education, all the inquiry-based or problem-solving types of activities you can generate,” Xydias explained. “A lot of the STEM types of problems are open-ended, so you can generate a lot of opportunities to do what we call project-based learning or problem-based learning. STEM education transfers into practical application.”

And those problem-solving skills can be transferred to all types of careers, including manufacturing, where they can be used to make products better, faster, and easier.

“I believe STEM is at the top of the list in education when we think about all the academics involved with STEM education, all the inquiry-based or problem-solving types of activities you can generate. A lot of the STEM types of problems are open-ended, so you can generate a lot of opportunities to do what we call project-based learning.”
Frank Xydias