Dec 28, 2014 | By Kira

Veterinarian Lesley Mailler attaches a prosthetic wheel to Stumpy, the three-legged turtle. Image: Brittney Lohmiller, Savannah Morning News

Stumpy the turtle has a new spring in her step—literally—thanks to a group of fifth graders and a 3D printer. The 12-year old female box turtle had had one of her front legs amputated in September due to an injury and infection. Lesley Mailler, a veterinarian at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center in Savannah, Georgia, carried out the operation successfully, but she wasn't ready to stop there.

Inspired by a photo of a box turtle with a Lego wheel prosthetic, Mailler realized that Stumpy could also benefit from a prosthetic rather than living the rest of her life with only three legs. It was then that she turned to her daughter's elementary school, May Howard, which had a willing team of students and teachers, and most importantly, a 3D printer.

Six fifth grade students, aged between 11 to 12 years old, were chosen based on their interest in animals, 3D printing, or both. The full team consists of Isabel Duke, Jake Gilluly, Mathew Brimblecom, David Richbroug, Emily Goldstein, and Mailler's daughter Kaylee. Teacher Reagan Dillon leads the pack.

In November, Mailler brought Stumpy into their classroom, and over the next six weeks, during lunches, specials, PE and even after-school, they set about to design and print her new leg.

In order to design the best possible prosthetic for Stumpy, the children considered several designs. To be fully functional, the new leg had to get to the bottom of her shell, known as the plastron, just the right height off the ground. It also had to give her mobility in all directions, and avoid interfering with her hinge, where the plastron pivots upwards when she retreats into her shell.

After looking at examples such as the wheels on rolling chairs and on luggage, the team chose a ball caster design, which would give Stumpy full mobility. In addition, they designed a holster, a permanent fixture where interchangeable ball casters could be fitted.

Students use a ruler to measure Stumpy and determine the wheel size

Using a 3D printer and 3DTin software, the students printed 15 different interations of the wheel, tweaking as they went. By mid-December, they were ready to see their work come to life.

Back at Oatland's veterinary clinic, Mailler removed Stumpy's existing stitches as the three boys and three girls watched. When it came to attaching the prosthetic, however, size was an issue. The 3D printed wheel was too tall, leaving Stumpy lopsided and unable to walk.

Mailler suggested losing the holster and attaching the ball caster directly to Stumpy. While this did solve the height problem, the flat surface of the caster did not fit against Stumpy's curved chest. In order to avoid 3D printing yet another iteration, Mailler used a Dremel rotary tool to sculpt away some plastic and line everything back up.

Lesley Mailler demonstrates an x-ray of a normal, four-legged turtle.

A glob of Gorilla glue was applied to hold everything together, and after ten minutes of drying, Mailler set Stumpy loose to test out the new addition.

After a little prompting, the camera-shy turtle came out of her shell and started to crawl, however she could not get any traction on the tile floor. Once the students laid out a towel for her, Stumpy was unstoppable.

A student from the team proudly holds up Stumpy and her new leg.

Most fifth graders are taught the old adage that 'slow and steady wins the race,' however this new team of 3D printing enthusiasts is already eager to head back to the drawing board and design a slightly smaller version, giving Stumpy more balance and control.

It just goes to show that you're never too young or too old to make 3D printing a hobby—just imagine what these kids will be printing by the time they're in grade six.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Kathy Ryan wrote at 7/2/2017 10:27:11 PM:

Is it possible to get the .stl file for this? I have a friend with a similar turtle problem!

Jeremy wrote at 2/19/2015 8:05:01 PM:

That was sad then it terned happy thanks for sharing

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