Undergrads build prosthetic arm for 10-year-old violinist

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — The pressure was on for Abdul Gouda and his classmates at George Mason University: not only did their graduation depend on the success of their project, but so did the hopes of impossibly cute 10-year-old girl.

Fifth-grader Isabella Nicola wanted to play the violin, but she was born with no left hand and a severely abbreviated forearm. Her music teacher at Island Creek Elementary in Fairfax County had built her a prosthetic himself, but it was heavy and he thought there might be a better option. He reached out to Mason, his alma mater.

As it happened, Gouda and his four teammates in the bioengineering department were in the market for a project – students are required to take on a capstone project their senior year, and their initial idea had fallen through.

Still, Gouda admitted some hesitation at the outset.

"It's sort of a lot of pressure," he said. "You've got this young girl whose counting on you and you're expected to deliver."

The team – Gouda, Mona Elkholy, Ella Novoselsky, Racha Salha and Yasser Alhindi – developed multiple prototypes throughout the year. There was a fair amount of literature on similar projects that helped them get a good start, but Isabella's case is unique to her, and the project included plenty of trial and error.

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