There are so many alumnae/i who offer a helping hand to the charities and organizations they support. Dante Varotsis ’13 and fellow volunteers, however, are providing more literal helping hands—prosthetic ones made with a 3-D printer.
Made out of printable plastic, nuts, bolts, and tension cord, the hands are being used by people—many of them children—all over the world. They are being made under the auspices of E-nable, a startup NGO with more than 1,300 members across the globe who are working together to design and create 3-D “assistive hand devices.” E-nable provides an online meeting place where volunteers contribute in the design, customization, fabrication, and distribution of 3D printed prosthetics. The site also brings forth those who know of a person—or is a person—in need of a prosthetic hand, Varotsis says.
Varotsis stumbled upon the group online last year and is now one of the many E-nable volunteers seeking to recruit other 3-D hand fabricators and designers, encourage donations for materials, and spread the word about the E-nable mission.
“It’s all really exciting and as more people hear the story, join the group, and offer their expertise to whatever degree, we move forward in helping more people receive prosthetic hands,” Varotsis says.
Varotsis is making his first customized hand with his 3-D printer. The recipient will be a North Carolina highschooler who will be able to choose from one of the various open-source hand designs developed within the E-nable community, as well as choose the color, Varotsis says.
The cost of materials to make a hand is $50, dwarfing the cost of most prosthetic hands, which can be upwards of $40,000, Varotsis says. The E-nable hands are great for children, he says, because they can get new ones as they continue to grow.
Varotsis plans to attend medical school this year, but for now works as a researcher at Rockefeller University. “As an aspiring physician, I get to learn from orthopedic surgeons in the group about the different functionalities of the human hand. Beyond that, I get to work with people who don’t necessarily have the means to get a prosthetic to begin with and make them one,” Varotsis says. Within the group, collaborative research is being done to continue to improve the existing designs.
He’s also helping to locate and write grants for the various projects within E-nable, giving it a chance to change even more lives. With so many different ways to help, Varotsis says he’s hoping his fellow alumnae/i and current students will take an interest in the community.
“I believe Vassar is a special place where our students, alums, and teachers seek to utilize their educations for global benefit in one form or another. E-nable is a great space to share knowledge and learn from others in fields either similar to or far from your own,” Varotsis says.
This is the first article in the ongoing series One Year Out, which provides an inside look at the lives of newly minted graduates. Stay tuned for more!