Armed to Succeed

Summer 2016

Photo of student Lydia Carroll Lydia Carroll’s ’16 undergraduate major—biomedical engineering—is a sweet spot at the intersection of two passions: neuroscience and “building stuff.” So a 2015 summer internship with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s prosthetics group felt like nothing short of heaven.

“It’s phenomenally cool stuff,” says Carroll.

Carroll was part of SPUR, the Summer Program in Undergraduate Research. The partnership pairs engineering undergrads with APL mentors for projects ranging from missile systems to secure communications.

Carroll’s task was to take the next step on an already groundbreaking journey. APL researchers had recently developed a procedure for mounting a prosthetic arm to a residual limb using a new procedure, which bypasses the often-uncomfortable socket and instead connects the prosthesis directly to bone. But what had been missing was the artificial sense of touch that electrodes embedded in the old socket system had permitted. Carroll’s mission: Create a new biofeedback system to lend sensation to the new prosthesis and figure out how to attach the two.

Carroll was treated like any other APL engineer. “They let me maintain ownership of the project but still provided the information I needed,” she says. She had access to experts, recruited and led a team of other interns to help her, and was expected to produce a viable product. Ten weeks, one control interface, one CAD mechanical interface, and one MATLAB feedback device later, she had a prototype.

“I was amazed at how fast she picked up new skills,” says her APL mentor, Robert Armiger, MS ’06.

“This is the first time I’ve really felt like an engineer,” Carroll says. “It’s made me a lot more willing to dive into things that seem impossible at first glance.”

And she hasn’t stopped. Carroll stayed on at APL to continue her task, using it as her senior project for the fall. In the winter, Armiger hired her part time. She’s hoping to continue her work at APL while earning a master’s degree in robotics and plans to apply for a full-time position once school is behind her.