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BYU engineering student creates simple device to help young violinist with prosthetic arm

Simple device helps determined young violinist. Video produced by Julie Walker.

Adia Cardona is a 10-year-old violinist who has exceptional skill for her age and determination to match it. The young Provo girl also has just one hand.

And while Adia masterfully plays with a specialized prosthetic that connects to her bow, her soaring solo act is shining a little brighter today thanks to a simple device that came about through a confluence of connections between United Way, BYU’s College of Engineering and local nonprofit 2ft Prosthetics.

“We were running into a problem of her bow sliding up and down the violin, which reduced pressure and caused the sound to be a less clear and less crisp,” said Madilyn Olsen, who has been teaching violin to Adia at United Way’s South Franklin Community Center in Provo since September 2020. “We needed something that stopped the bow from moving up and down.”

It was Adia — who, by the way, also plays the piano beautifully with her prosthetic arm — who approached Olsen with a sketch of an idea to help guide the bow.

The concept was simple enough: a vertical piece that could attach to the violin and keep the bow in place, but it wasn’t something Olsen knew how to make. So, Olsen contacted BYU’s College of Engineering to see if they could make the idea a reality.

The College of Engineering then reached out to mechanical engineering student Joshua Vanderpool to see if he could assist with the device. Vanderpool has won several on-campus innovation competitions and is a volunteer with 2ft Prosthetic, a local nonprofit started by a group of BYU students that focuses on low-cost prosthetic devices for low-income families. (Vanderpool is also president of the 2ft Prosthetic Club at BYU.)

“The moment I met Adia, I could tell she was very determined; she was going to achieve whatever she wanted,” Vanderpool said. “My job wasn’t to save her or do things for her, it was to give her a tool and get out of the way so that she could accomplish whatever she wants.”

After meeting with Adia and going over the design, Vanderpool figured out a prototype that was affordable to produce and would attach to her violin. Within a week, he had it 3D printed and ready for use.

The end product looks a bit like a red antenna that rises about 12 inches up off the edge of her violin, opposite her bow. But the result that matters is not the looks, it’s the sound. The first time Adia used it was the day of her spring recital, and, according to Olsen, it sounded amazing.

“Everything she touches with music turns to magic,” Olsen said. “Whenever I go through trials, I will be able to look back and see that the trials that Adia faces didn’t stop her from achieving her dreams.”

The device cost less than $10 to make and it is so simple to use that Adia can attach it to her violin on her own.

“Music makes me feel happy because it is a part of me,” Adia said. “Thanks to Joshua, I can play easier and just keep playing what I like. Engineers are great and awesome because they can make people be happy.”

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