FORT WORTH — Krystal Johnson holds the “flesh” of a knee that will one day save hospitals thousands of dollars.The flesh she holds is pink, soft and snugly fits around a knee joint on the table before her, but the tissue, the bones and ligaments are all fake. Nearby by is Darius Gray who is using uses a computer-aided design software and a 3-D printer to create molds for the “Knee Model Surgical Simulator” for the same knee Johnson is holding.Johnson is 17-year-old Lamar High School senior, and Gray a 16-year-old Arlington High School junior, are two of six Arlington students interning at the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute (UTARI) to help researchers develop assistive technology for people with disabilities, the elderly and wounded veterans.The end goal of the knee project is to incorporate the simulator in surgical residency training programs, where surgeons will use the knee-simulation system for arthroscopic surgical training. Other training technologies can cost up to $100,000, and this will provide a low-cost version for the medical community. The project is a collaboration with the University of North Texas Health Science Center.Arlington high school students had to pass interviews, submit resumes and letters of interest to qualify for the partnership, said Hayden Hale an 18-year-old Martin High School senior works on robotics, 3-D modeling and animation.The students started interning in September, and work about nine hours a week with UTARI researchers, many of whom are UT Arlington alumni.Gray works primarily creating molds and then and molding polymer, or rubber, parts for the knee simulator project. Gray uses a 3-D printer to create “body parts” like lifelike bones for the knee simulator. .Partnering for the peopleStudents and researchers develop assistive technology based on determined need and products that will eventually be sold on the market, said Eileen Moss Clements, director of research at UTARI.UTARI is located at the university’s Riverbend Campus in east Fort Worth where researchers strive to become global leaders in the areas of advanced manufacturing, biomedical technologies and robotics.McLane Ballenger 17-year old Martin High school senior works on robot operating systems with the TurtleBot, a mobile robot that will prepare Ballenger for the big-boy of robots — Baxter. Baxter is giant red programmable robot than can be used for manufacturing and assembly-line work.Johnson also works on a “Biomask,” through a collaboration with surgeons at the Institute of Surgical Research at the U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.The face mask is for post-surgery healing for burn victims to deliver medicine and help with the application of skin grafts. The Biomasks also has sensors that monitor the healing process.The Arlington school district also offers its advanced students the opportunity to intern at UTARI through its Engineering Internship classes, said Ami Motsenbocker, a marketing coordinator with the district.Hands-on educationThe Arlington High School, Lamar High School and Martin High School students all plan on majoring in some sort of engineering field in college. Whether it be biomedical, petroleum, aerospace or electrical engineering, UTARI internships provide more than a couple of lines to put on college applications — it’s providing hands-on education, said Christopher Calandria who uses a 3-D printer and computer numerical control to create machine parts.“It’s about learning how to get used to the tools instead of just sitting at a desk pushing paperwork,” the Martin High School senior said.The 17-year-old said he starts with a computer system, where he creates the parameters for say, a wrench, and then proceeds to use several software platforms to create the machine parts.“In the long run this will come in handy,” student Navjeet Singh said of the partnership. “Most people in college can’t afford to go to school and work at the same time, especially engineers. This will put me ahead.”Singh comes up with dimensions for parts like a camera mount, among other projects. The 18-year-old Martin High School senior said he takes pride in researching and creating parts from scratch.Two Arlington ISD seniors who interned in the summer are now currently enrolled at UTA. One even gets paid to work at UTARI.“We are providing them with an opportunity they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” Clements said.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST