Students in grades three through six at Prairie Queen Elementary School in Papillion, USA, carried out a community science project that used additive manufacturing to help a turtle with physical problems. The students, who are all members of the school’s 3D printing club, set out to create a 3D printed wheel system to make life easier for Shelly the turtle.
The project was sparked by a Facebook appeal from the nonprofit educational organization Wildlife Encounters, asking for help making a 3D-printed wheel system for the turtle. The reptile named Shelly was rescued by the organization about five years ago and had been struggling with her physical limitations for about a year, according to KMTV 3 News. At that time, Shelly had received swimming therapy and physical therapy to increase her strength. With the help of the 3D-printed wheel system, she could move more freely on land while continuing to exercise her legs.
A 3D printed wheel system for Shelly the Turtle
The elementary school’s 3D printing club took up the challenge. It was immediately clear to the students that they would agree to help the turtle. Third-grader Parker McCauley, for example, told WRTV News that they wanted to help Shelly “so that it can be like any other turtle”.
In February, according to reports in a local newspaper, the first encounter between Wildlife Encounters and Shelly the turtle took place. During that meeting, the students learned more about the red-footed tortoise. They then measured it so they could create cardboard prototypes of their designs before printing them. Regarding the 3D printed wheel system designs, the organization told the students that the designs for this should be no taller than one inch so that Shelly could move her front and back legs freely. The walker material must also be suitable for soil and other substrates in the tortoise’s natural habitat, they said.
For the students, who Professor Laura Smith said were already familiar with 3D printing, the project presented a welcome challenge. They had already made things like doorstops, remote control holders, and other useful items, and by doing this new project, they could now help an animal survive.
After some testing, they quickly realized that the project would involve a lot of trial and error. But the students were not put off by any setbacks and gradually approached the project to see what would work best. “We printed stuff that we knew wouldn’t work, but we wanted them to see it and make changes when they got the stuff handy,” said Laura Smith, who also mentioned that the children were very tech-savvy.
Since Shelly couldn’t attend all the meetings, the students had to be very patient and use a cardboard cutout of the turtle for the designs. On Thursday morning, the final test of the 3D printed wheel system took place and significant progress was made. The tortoise has already been allowed to try out his new 3D-printed walker and seemed quite happy with it. Jillian Lenz of Wildlife Encounters in Nebraska told KMTV:
“We’re really excited about what’s been created today and just to see kids process it, and the way their brain works to solve this problem – how do we get a turtle to walk again. It has been a really great experience”
You can learn more about this exciting project in the following YouTube video:
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*Cover photo credits: KMTV News