We are smack dab in the middle of the season of giving, and that means there is no better time to share this story about a group of UAB School of Engineering freshman students whose class projects this semester were as much about giving to those in need as they were about receiving a passing grade. More than 80 students, all enrolled in an Intro to Engineering class instructed by Rose Scripa, Ph.D., with support from Alan Eberhardt, Ph.D., were assigned a design project to build a fully functional crutch, but not the shiny metal crutches you are used to seeing. The students were told that their designs must use bamboo, twine, leather and other inexpensive materials that are commonly available in under-developed countries. In the assembly process, the students could not use power tools, chemical adhesives or other components that are cost-prohibitive if available at all in the third world.
So why the strict design rules, you ask? Well, the students' crutch designs are going to be shared with SIFAT , an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that provides outreach services in Africa. The thinking is that SIFAT with the help of companies on the ground in Africa could take the UAB designs and eventually begin manufacturing low-cost crutches, using locally available materials, to meet the medical needs of the sick and injured who wouldn't otherwise have access to the medical equipment they need to be mobile.