Video: Mechanical Engineering students design a prosthetic hand

9-year-old Reese Armstrong proudly scoffs at the notion that her two missing left-hand fingers and slightly misshaped thumb, pointer and pinkie stop her from doing anything she wants.

“It just makes things a little harder,” explains Reese, who lives in Everett with her parents, Brian and Kristi, and her 5-year-old sister, Macy. “Some ways I’ve adapted is like with monkey bars. I don’t have all my fingers to put onto them, so I use my wrist to grab the bar. But I keep dropping when I get to the middle of them. I want to get to the end.”

Reese’s dad learned about UW Bothell’s success in developing prostheses and contacted the mechanical engineering program to share his daughter’s story. student Michael Meier is one of the students who leapt at the chance to gain direct experience in prosthetics by participating in what has been a complex, two-year process of testing, designing, printing and ultimately fitting the device onto a growing child.


“It’s challenging to try to take a 3D-printed plastic device and make it as strong as any other prosthetic out there. We’re jumping hurdles we’ve never faced before,” says Michael, who graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2019. “It’s gratifying to immediately take what I’m learning and help somebody with it.”

Assistant Professor Cassandra Wright, who says she came to UW Bothell because of the University’s commitment to undergraduate research, has guided Michael and other student colleagues as they creatively solve problems, take risks and fail, then learn from their mistakes.

Brian Armstrong says his family is overwhelmed with gratitude, especially for the UW Bothell alumni and friends who contribute money to support this kind of undergraduate research.

“One of the great things about this partnership between our family and UW Bothell is that it’s not only a great time for Reese, but we’re also helping students to learn new and innovative ways to do things, apply what they’re learning by putting it into actual practice, and take it into their careers and futures,” he says. “We’re making sure that the next generation of educators, scientists and technologists are getting everything they need at UW Bothell.”

For Reese, traversing the monkey bars isn’t the only benefit of getting a cool mechanical hand.

“This has inspired me to look into more science experiments that could help other people,” she says, adding, “I want my new hand to be purple because it’s my favorite color — and I like the Huskies, too.”