On June 4, ten-year-old Annika “Anni” Emmert of California, who was born without her right hand and part of her arm, reached into a cooler for a fish to feed to a dolphin named Winter at Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium. To Anni’s surprise, what she found instead was a 3-D printed prosthetic arm, customized just for her.
Limbitless Solutions is a non-profit organization based at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and founded by current U.S. Fulbright fellow Albert Manero II. Most bionic arms cost $40,000 and are not covered for children by health insurance companies because they outgrow them. The Limbitless team, however, uses 3-D printer technology to create prosthetic limbs that can be replaced, at a very low cost, as children grow.
Winter the dolphin had a special role in the presentation at the aquarium. She had lost her tail at three months old when it became entangled in a crab trap, but a groundbreaking prosthetic tail saved her life and her story inspired the 2011 film Dolphin Tale and the 2014 sequel Dolphin Tale 2. Actress Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who starred in both films, took part in the surprise for Anni, as well as ABC’s Good Morning America team, who captured the moment in a feature segment.
I was delighted to witness that extraordinary poolside presentation and to meet Fulbright Program participant Albert Manero II.
Explaining the potential impact of his team’s work, Albert said, “We uploaded our design on the Internet so that people around the world could build their own bionic arm for less than US $350. Together, we have shared a very powerful dream of engineering hope. The spirit of shared, open source technology is beginning to empower children all over the world.”
Albert is conducting his 2014-2015 Fulbright student research grant at the University of Cologne in Germany as part of his doctoral studies at UCF. In a blog post about his Fulbright experience, Albert wrote that global innovation and mutual understanding have “proved immensely valuable for my research, but also for my personal life….In the laboratory, my research has never been more effective, as I embrace the benefits and challenges of global research... My German colleagues have shared both their experience and their problem solving methodology with me, helping me develop in many ways. It has been a privilege to learn their history and culture, and to share in it together.”
Albert Manero exemplifies the kind of innovations conceived by Fulbrighters in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As more than 1,600 Fulbright students and scholars undertake STEM-related opportunities in research and teaching annually, the Fulbright Program is advancing the global science agenda, enabling scientists and citizens to address challenging global concerns such as energy security, food security, climate change, and pandemic disease.
Perhaps Albert Manero said it best, that the Fulbright Program is “a transformational experience, one that permeates all areas of one’s life and shapes people for a future in global innovation.”
About the Author: Betty Castor serves as Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board to which President Barack Obama appointed her in September 2011 and reappointed her in 2014. She was President of the University of South Florida in Tampa, from 1994 until 1999, and was previously the Florida Commissioner of Education. She was the first woman elected to the Florida cabinet and she served three terms in the Florida Senate.