A Northeastern Student Is Using 3D Printing to Make Affordable Prosthetics

Brian Fountaine, an Army veteran, is a double amputee himself.

Brian Fountaine

Brian Fountaine. Photo provided

Brian Fountaine knows how difficult it is to live with prosthetic limbs–10 years ago, he became a double below-the-knee amputee after sustaining a combat injury in Iraq. What he didn’t know, however, is how expensive it is to get those prosthetics in the first place.

“I, for lack of a better term, was lucky, because the government covered all the costs of my prosthetic work,” Fountaine says. “Later on, I went and did some peer mentor work with victims [of the Boston Marathon bombing] and came to realize just how expensive prosthetics were.”

Fountaine, an undergraduate graphic design student at Northeastern University, set out to find a way to make high-quality, life-changing prosthetics affordable. The answer he found was 3D printing prosthetics using carbon fiber, an idea so promising that the Ford Foundation awarded him $25,000 to make it happen.

“That money will allow me to not only purchase 3D printers and the materials we need to do that, but 3D real-time scanning systems so I can take images of people’s limbs and use them to help create more accurate prosthetics for them,” Fountaine explains.

Given his Army background, Fountaine says a large piece of his initial motivation was helping veterans. The project has morphed, however, to include amputees from all backgrounds. Fountaine mentions a friend, an arm amputee, who wasn’t able to afford an adapter that allowed her to play the violin after her first was destroyed in a house fire; he’s now working with her to 3D-print a new one.

“I’m for helping anybody who has any kind of a mobility or amputee problem that they would need addressed,” he says. “Everybody has their own unique injuries.”

Fountaine is also allowing other students in Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media, and Design to use the 3D printers purchased through his grant, in an effort to keep the flow of ideas going. It’s a gesture in keeping with Fountaine’s humble outlook on the project’s success.

“I’m just an artist with a vision,” he says, “and I have the personal experience with prosthetics myself to see this through.”