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Purps the Penguin: Walking Again with a 3D Printed Boot

See how middle school students teamed up with Mystic Aquarium and ACT Group to use 3D Systems’ technology to make a custom-fit boot for an injured endangered Penguin.


Local organizations banded together to support STEM education in Conn. while making a positive difference in the community. The ACT Group, Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Middle School, with assistance from 3D Systems, designed and produced an orthopedic boot for a life-long resident of the Aquarium, Purps, an African Penguin.


In 2011, Purps was left with a nonfunctional flexor tendon following an altercation with another penguin on exhibit. Since then, Purps has been wearing a traditional hand-casted boot to support her injury. While the traditional boot adequately immobilized, supported and protected her injury, it posed some concerns for the veterinarian staff at the aquarium. The moldable plastic material it was made of deteriorated quickly forcing the veterinarian staff to reproduce the boot frequently, a very time intensive process.


The collaboration between local organizations began when Sue Prince, library media specialist, started an innovation lab at Mystic Middle School with the goal of introducing students to 3D technology. She applied and won a grant from the Stonington Education Fund and used the funds to purchase a 3D printer for the lab.


Prince worked in conjunction with by Kelly Matis, a member of Stonington Education Fund’s community board and Director of Education and Conservation at Mystic Aquarium. Matis, aware of the diverse applications of 3D technology, shared the need for a new orthopedic boot for Purps with Prince. Eager to help and put the 3D printer to use for a great cause, Prince contacted the ACT Group to inquire about assistance with computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D scanning.


ACT Group’s Director of Additive Manufacturing, Nick Gondek led his team in demonstrating state-of-the-art 3D technology to Prince and her students. These demonstrations gave the students of Mystic Middle School invaluable hands-on experience using 3D technology and allowed the ACT Group to provide technical expertise through the course of the project. The ACT Group’s assistance was a crucial part of the successful design of Purp’s boot, ultimately completed by the students of Mystic Middle School. “It was so rewarding to teach the students how end-to-end manufacturing solutions by 3D Systems work,” noted Gondek. “Helping to stimulate creative thinking through the use of 3D technology is a way for us to pay it forward at the ACT Group,” he concluded.


Matis summed up the success of the project by stating “It’s been truly amazing to be able to work with the [Mystic] middle school students, the ACT Group and their 3D technology, as well as veterinarian staff here at the aquarium and to use this 3D technology to benefit the health of one of our endangered species.”


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