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GMU students make 3D printed prosthetic arm for violinist

A new beginning for a Fairfax County girl who has just received a new prosthetic arm that was designed and 3-D printed by George Mason University college students.

Isabella Nicola, 10, has been raised by her mother, Andrea Cabrera, to never say never. 

"My mom's phrase is, when you say 'I can't do it', it's 'I can't do it yet,'" said Nicola. 

The fifth grader signed up to play violin in the strings program at Island Creek Elementary in Franconia last year, even though she knew it'd be a little difficult. 

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She was born with an incomplete left arm. Her music teacher fashioned a makeshift prosthetic arm out of PVC to hold her bow. Then he a called his alma mater and got the engineering department on board.

But now, Isabella has a bright pink, custom-made, brand new prosthetic arm that allows her to hold and move the bow properly.  

"I have to say thank you to them because without them I couldn't really be able to play," said Nicola.

The five students have been working as a team for more than a year on their capstone senior project. It was designed, 3D printed, and pieced together by five George Mason University bioengineering students, Yasser Alhindi, the lead, Abdul Gouda, Mona Elkholy, Ella Novoselsky and Racha Salha.   

Dr. Elizabeth Adams, a GMU music teacher, explained that a player's arm movement affects the violin's sound.  Adams worked with the students and Isabella, providing advice. 

The faculty mentors are Wilsaan Joiner and Vasiliki Ikonomidou. Laurence Bray is head of the bioengineering department.

"We were brainstorming ideas right away. We were aiming to take the strain off her shoulder to make her as comfortable as possible," said  Ella Novoselsky. 

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"It's amazing. They didn't have any background when they started, of the mechanical engineering aspect. I'm amazed. When they came to me with all those designs, and they told me, this is going to go there and this will go like that. 'Ok, sure,'" said Vasiliki Ikonomidou, one of the mentors said about the student designers.

For Thursday's hand-off, the students had a surprise for Isabella. They also made a grip so that she can ride bike with both arms. Isabella beamed as she held it like she was holding the handlebars.

"Very cool and nice...They thought about other things. They went above and beyond," said Isabella. 

She and the college students hit if off from the start. At their first meeting, Racha Salha said Isabella was "making jokes and laughing. We were actually the ones who were nervous....She's amazing."

"I want her to play the violin and love playing the violin and be excited. And I want her to believe she can do anything she wants," said Ella Novoselsky.

The bioengineering department has already received more inquiries from other people, so another group of students could soon have a new project on their hands.