Jan 9, 2017 | By Tess

Working within the 3D printing industry, it is always inspiring to see ambitious and innovative people who are helping to push technology forwards in an effort to improve the world. 28-year-old Matilda Brooks is without a doubt one of those people. A member of California’s Yurok Tribe and a senior at the Northwest Indian College (NWIC) on the Lummi Reservation in Washington, Brooks has a dream of becoming the first federally recognized Native American woman to go into space.

That dream could someday become a reality. Having interned with NASA in 2015, been part of her college’s rocket club, and developed innovative 3D printed medical devices to help her friends, Brooks is well on the way to achieving her goals. Most recently, Brooks was selected as one of 50 semi-finalists for the Search for Hidden Figures contest, which is seeking to find the world’s next female innovators and leaders.

Organized by PepsiCo and 21st Century Fox, the contest was launched in association with the new film Hidden Figures film, which tells the much overlooked but inspirational story of three African American women who assisted NASA in the 1960s in launching astronaut John Glenn into space.

Brooks’ application to the Hidden Figures contest undoubtedly captured the interest of judges not only because of her story, but because of her 3D printed knee brace, which she designed for a friend she plays basketball with at NWIC. The 3D printed brace, which will be made from flexible plastics, combines additive manufacturing technologies with Native American-inspired acupressure treatments.

According to Brooks, her basketball teammate could not comfortably wear the knee brace provided to her by doctors because she is missing a portion of her meniscus, a fibrocartilaginous structure in the knee. Seeing her friend’s discomfort inspired Brooks to make her a new, properly fitted knee brace, a project that eventually became her senior capstone project. Though the 3D printed knee brace is still a prototype, Brooks hopes to finalize it by adding interchangeable plates that can be put in to help stimulate the knee muscles while the brace is worn. If her final design is a success, she plans to submit it to NASA, and will make her 3D models open source so they can be freely recreated.

Ultimately, Brooks’ goal is to become a part of the commercial space industry, as she wants to “fly rich people to space.” And while her dream job may not technically exist yet, there is no telling what she’ll accomplish in the coming years.

Growing up in foster care, Brooks is well aware of the significance of what she is accomplishing, and wants to be a source of inspiration to other foster children in Native American communities. As she explains, “If I go, I’d be the first federally recognized, registered Native American female to go to space—for me that would mean a lot. For me it’s more of a statement to our people than it is my career. It would mean a lot to a lot of foster kids and a lot of Native Americans. To say, ‘Yeah, there is no limit to what you can do.’”

The top 10 runners-up for the Search for Hidden Figures contest will be announced on January 12th. The two grand-prize winners will win a $50,000 scholarship as well as a trip to Orlando, Florida, to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. As a semi-finalist, Brooks won movie tickets and a yearlong membership to the New York Academy of Sciences.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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