Joseph Huff is not your average teen when it comes to technology. Inspired by his local 4-H STEM club, an affinity for computer science, his mentor and classes he took on 3D printing, he has been lending a hand — literally — to those in need of prosthetics.
At age nine, Joseph took class on 3D printing at a local university, but it was through a class he took at his local 4-H office where he met Colby that everything came together. “He was a 3D printing guru,” said Joseph. “He sparked my passion for this and taught me so much.” Colby soon became Joseph’s mentor, helping him to learn and grow in the skills he needed to print 3D prosthetics.
In early 2017, at age 13, Joseph’s 3D printing skills and his passion for helping others came together. He was volunteering with the 3D printers in the 4-H STEM maker trailer at the Utah County fair. A little boy without a hand came in, and Joseph’s mentor Colby offered to print him a prosthetic hand. Joseph got to participate and has wanted to learn more ever since. Drawing on additional inspiration from his 4-H STEM club, where everyone learns basic computer skills and coding software, he knew he wanted to use software to create something real.
“I had to maximize the structural integrity of the hand,” Joseph said. The hands he printed at first did not use a lot of plastic and ended up brittle.
His first hand snapped in half!
Through trial and error and the passion to make it work, Joseph learned by doing. His knowledge of design and slicing software helped him to correct the positioning of the lines the printer uses to create the hand, printing a hand with greater density horizontally instead of vertically.
After printing about 25 hands, Joseph’s patience, persistence and confidence in his abilities paid off. The result of learning by doing? A hand that could hold its own, activated by the palm to open and close.
Joseph was also able to create smaller hands for children, who grow out of their prosthetics quickly, and was approached by a neighbor who lost a thumb through an accident with a saw. Branching out a bit, he even created and entered it into the Utah County Fair a 3D pen that made it to the Utah State Fair.
“Joseph is incredibly trustworthy and caring,” his mother Danielle states. “He has a calm about him that encourages those around him.”
People trusted Joseph’s work because they saw it at work. They saw the impact of his work in the lives of those he cared about, and how it helped them to live with greater ease and functionality.
“It’s amazing what kids can do when they feel believed in,” Joseph noted.
Joseph was able to share his new skills with others, teaching kids aged nine to 12 how to think and create in new ways through 3D modeling software and the assembling of hands. He thinks the 4-H STEM club is great, “because everyone shares the same goals to help people through STEM and teach others to love it as much as we do.”
Joseph also learned about patience. “When you teach people how to build something or do something complicated, they don’t always get it, and it may take a long time. That is sometimes very frustrating. You have to remember to be patient all the time.”
And his advice to younger kids? “Just keep going with whatever you want to do, because there will always be a way for you to do it; you just have to find it.”
These are wise words from a teen who has been inspired by the impact of his work on those he cares about. Perhaps the most meaningful printing was for his dad, whose stroke left him with a weak hand. Joseph printed a 3D tenodesis (exoskeleton), so that he can use his hand more effectively.
Joseph’s work is not yet done. “I always love to get others involved. I show them, I talk about it. They love a demonstration. That’s what really gets people hooked.”