Thanks to 3D printing and a group of middle-school children, this African penguin is back with a confident new waddle.
Purps, a resident at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, injured a tendon in her ankle after getting into a fight with another penguin five years ago. She was initially given a boot fashioned out of a moldable plastic material to help support and provide protection for the immobilized ankle. However, the new boot proved too heavy and made it difficult for her to walk.
The opportunity to help make a more lightweight and malleable boot was given to a group of students from the nearby Mystic Middle School. Together with the help of veterinarians from the aquarium and tech company 3D Systems, they started by scanning Purps’ foot to create a three-dimensional digital model. This was then used to create a 3D-printed boot that was customized specifically for the penguin's ankle.
Also affectionately known as jackass penguins because of their donkey-like braying calls, this species of penguin is solely found on the southern coast of mainland Africa and its 25 surrounding islands. As of 2010, the IUCN Red List classified them as an endangered species after intensified commercial fishing caused a sudden and ongoing decline in their population.
“This project not only helped a member of an endangered species, but it gave our students a hands-on understanding of the 3D printing process and how to carry an idea through from a concept to a design to a usable object,” Sue Prince, a library media specialists from Mystic Middle School, said in a statement to 3D Systems.
This is by no means the first time 3D printing has been used in biomedicine or veterinary care. People have received 3D-printed vertebra implants and skulls, while many animals have been given a new lease on life thanks to this increasingly popular technique, such as the turtle that received a new jaw or the toucan that was given a prosthetic beak. Another penguin, Bagpipes, was also given a 3D-printed foot last month in New Zealand.
3D Systems also created a short film about the recovery story of Purps. You can watch the full cut here and a slightly shorter version below.