If you have poor eyesight, you know how difficult it can be to try to function without glasses or contacts. I alternate between both – I started wearing glasses way back in the third grade, then got contacts in high school. I recently just upgraded to new glasses and contacts – because my vision got worse again! – but I always keep a pair or two of old glasses around just in case something happens to my current ones. Corrective eyewear is expensive, so losing or breaking one’s glasses or contacts can be catastrophic for those without backups and without the funds to replace them right away. New technologies are enhancing availability of eyewear, including customized looks, from at-home to professional options.
At the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI), many students depend on their glasses to be able to function at all, so if something happens to their glasses, they can be stuck without their only means of getting around and functioning, sometimes for months if they don’t have the financial resources to replace them immediately. So three mechanical engineering students from Louisiana State University (LSU) have stepped in to help. Seniors Macie Coker and April Gaydos and sophomore Lucy Guo, have been spending a good deal of their time this semester working on a project to help nearly half of the 75 students at LSVI by designing and 3D printing temporary glasses that students can use until they can buy a new pair.
LSVI Director Leslie Bello spoke to Heather Lavender, education coordinator with LSU’s Consortium for Innovation in Manufacturing and Materials (CIMM), about projects that LSU students could work on that would help students at LSVI – like creating glasses.
“With a lot of these kids, they’re taping their glasses together or just holding them up all day,” Bello said. “It could be months to a year before they can get new glasses. The success of this will alleviate this problem.”
She then contacted Adrienne Steele, the LSU Society of Peer Mentors staff advisor, who put her in touch with Coker, Gaydos and Guo.
“The three of us were contacted and all agreed that we were interested in the project,” said Gaydos, LSU SPM president. “The ultimate goal is for every kid’s glasses to be scanned once they start school, and their scans saved in a file that can be pulled up if they break their glasses down the road. The scan can then be used to print a pair of temporary glasses.”
LSVI has the equipment needed to do this, but the LSU students are working to find the most cost-effective and efficient way of 3D scanning and 3D printing the glasses. They will also train the LSVI staff and possibly some students on how to use the technology.
“What I like about this project is it brings you back to those volunteer days from high school,” said Coker. “It’s something that is for a really good cause. Not only does it promote STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] to these kids at a really young age, it’s something that’s benefitting them.”
The students use SOLIDWORKS to scan the glasses and create 3D models, which are then printed in ABS.
“Whenever you have students that are motivated to do something, and do something extra that’s going to benefit someone, my thinking is, let’s try to facilitate that,” said David “Boz” Bowles, a technical communications instructor who runs the Chevron Center for Engineering Education and principal investigator on the project. “For mechanical engineering students, it’s not just some theoretical thing; it’s a project with an impact in the community. It’s forcing them to learn a lot of things—not only the possibilities, but also the limitations of these technologies.”
This month, the mechanical engineering students will meet with LSVI students to show them the project and set up a training session that will take place in August.
“I feel like this is a good chance to reach out to the community,” Coker said. “I think the reason engineers have that drive or pull towards the community and service is that we get this stigma of being behind a desk and being quiet and introverted all day. We solve problems, slide them under the door, and that’s that. But this is a chance to make people’s lives better and make engineers a little more personable than we get a reputation for being. I’m learning the importance of effective communication, which is incredibly important in engineering. From working in a refinery, I learned how important it is that the contractor has all of the information that the refinery does when they’re working on projects. Carrying that over into this project, it’s the same—that LSVI knows what’s going on at LSU.”
“Being a part of a project that has a direct impact on my surrounding community is something that I am extremely grateful to contribute towards,” Guo said. “I get to utilize the concepts I learned in my engineering classes and incorporate them into something productive that will visibly improve someone’s life. Knowing that makes this project well worth the effort for me.”
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