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This past weekend ASBME hosted their annual Make-a-thon. The competition happens over a weekend with a kickoff posing a medical need area to address. The competitors then work in their teams to ideate, fabricate, and present a medical device capable of ameliorating an issue in the need area. This year the need statement was to create a device that was a fixed solution for improving the position and life of pediatric cerebral palsy patients.

I’ve done this competition the last three years and it’s always so much fun. The stress of you and your team just sitting down for an entire weekend and working for the entire day while tiring is also incredibly invigorating. It also has been super helpful for just developing skills I wouldn’t use in normal class work, having to integrate Arduino and CAD models together really feels like a nice culmination of what I’ve learned throughout my classes. 

This year ended up being primarily mechanical, but after last year being online, it was really nice to be able to get back in the lab and actually do some fabrication work to prove the efficacy of our idea. The first morning of the competition my team took a full 6 hours just to come up with an idea that we could start to design and implement. It had started to feel a bit dark on actually having something useful to design, but we ended up going with a brace that provided constant external rotation on the thighs to combat scissoring gait which is a common issue with cerebral palsy patients where the hip adductors are spastic so it forces the thighs and knees together while they walk. Our device would hopefully combat the force from the adductors and help the patient walk more simply. 

During fabrication, I ended up having to learn how to sew at 11pm on a Saturday because every other method of attachment we tried couldn’t hold enough force on the bands to turn the hips out. It certainly wasn’t what I had expected, but it turned out to be a super useful skill for our purposes. Watching 5 college engineering students try to learn how to sew while rather sleep deprived I’m sure was quite the tableau. 

Finally, we managed to present and even though we were pretty delirious from the non-stop nature of the competition we managed to put together a lucid presentation and convinced the judges that we deserved second place in the competition which was exciting. The best part in my opinion though is that the teams are required to have both upper and lower classmen, so you rarely know everyone on your team. It makes strong bonds quickly to spend 36 out of 48 hours with other people. I’d definitely recommend the experience to anyone.

Timothy Harrington