Professor 3D Prints Prosthetic Hand

As an astronomer, Dr. Eric Bubar studies stars and teaches Marymount University students about the cosmos. He loves his work, but was looking for a project that was a little more down to earth.

“I wanted to do something that would help people,” the assistant professor of physical sciences said.

That’s when he discovered Enabling the Future, a global network of volunteers that uses 3D printers to create free prosthetic hands and arms for those in need. Getting involved with the group fit perfectly with Marymount’s commitment to service.

The most recent beneficiary was Rebekah “Beka” Jensen, a 13-year-old seventh grader from South Riding, who received a hand at Bubar’s Marymount lab on Dec. 22 – just in time for Christmas.

“I love astronomy, but this has a big impact,” said Bubar, whose doctorate is in applied physics. “It’s nice to know that at Marymount I’m encouraged to do this and am being provided the resources to really make a difference.”

That difference was immediate for Beka, who was quickly picking up things with the hand, the fingers of which close when she bends her wrist, allowing her to grip things.

“It’s pretty cool and actually pretty easy to use,” said Beka, who was born with only a partial right hand. “I want to try so many things.”

Before receiving the hand, the Loudon County resident, who plays the guitar and has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, still had trouble doing certain things, such as getting the tin foil off a yogurt container, cutting her own food, or holding and stirring a pot on the stove.

Now she can pick up utensils, cut her own food, and pick up her iPod Touch.

“It was thrilling to see her grab something with her right hand for the first time,” said her mother, Kathy Jensen, who said that after the presentation the family went to Red Lobster and Beka was eating with a spoon in her right hand and experimenting to see what she could pick up with it.

“We’re excited about her increased ability, especially when it comes to doing things in the kitchen,” Kathy said.

Originally they looked at getting an electric prosthetic hand, but insurance wouldn’t cover the $10,000 price tag.

None of this would have happened without Jessica To-Alemanji, a Marymount alumnae who had learned about Beka’s situation and made it her mission to see that she received a hand before Christmas.

“She made it happen fast, in just a couple of weeks,” Kathy Jensen said.

To-Alemanji, who received her master’s and doctorate of physical therapy from Marymount, contacted one of her former professors, Dr. Julie Ries, who put her in touch with Bubar.

“As a physical therapist, I am familiar with prosthetics, and I thought helping a child get such a device would be a great way to teach my children about giving from the heart,” To-Alemanji said.

Her daughters, Emma and Eva Alemanji, ages 6 and 4, presented Beka with the hand. They even helped Bubar put it together.

The professor has been printing the prosthetic hands for the past year with an open source design shared by Enabling the Future. Bubar and his students printed about 20 hands during the fall semester.

Printing time for Beka’s prosthetic, which consisted of about 35 pieces, was around 20 hours, split over two days. Bubar was aided by Max Hogan, a Marymount sophomore from London, England. The printer they used cost $600, Bubar said, adding that the materials used in the hand –screws, plastic, fishing line and dental rubber bands – cost between $30 and $40.

Early in the semester, his Marymount students began printing hands as a class project.

“Once they started reading about Enabling the Future, they started printing extra hands to help more people,” Bubar said. “They also told their friends.”

Now Bubar has students he doesn’t even know approaching him, asking if they can get involved. He’s happy to oblige.

“Anybody can make a hand,” he said. “It takes about 15 minutes for me to show them how. We need to get the word out that we can do this at Marymount.”

Bubar has helped Gunston Middle School set up a 3D printer and plans to visit other schools to explain the technology. He’s also willing to give tours of his lab and help area residents buy printers so they can get involved. He can be reached by email.

For more information on the organization he works with on the process, go to

Photo captions:
Photo 1
Rebekah “Beka” Jensen, a 13-year-old from Loudon County, fists bumps Marymount University professor Dr. Eric Bubar with her new prosthetic hand, which was made with a 3D printer at Marymount.

Photo 2
Dr. Eric Bubar of Marymount University shows off a 3D-printed hand. He and his students have printed and assembled 20 of the hands, which they give away for free.

Photo 3
The pieces of the 3D-printed prosthetic hand that was given to a 13-year-old from Loudon County.

Photo 4
The 3D printer that Marymount University’s Dr. Eric Bubar used to print the prosthetic hand.

Photo 5
Beka Jensen receiving the box with her new prosthetic hand while her mother, Kathy Jensen looks on. Also pictured are Jessica To-Alemanji, Nkeng Alemanji, and Emma and Eva Alemanji.