Mark Thompson: Innovating for a Cause
Mark Thompson, an exemplary Grade 10 student at GWA who decided to help a cat in need with his passion and innovation skills.
Mark created a 3D-printed prosthetic leg for a stray cat that had lost his. He modelled the leg using 3D software and used a 3D-printer to create a working, real size prosthetic leg which was then used by a veterinary surgeon to attach it to the cat's leg to help him walk again.
We met with Mark and talked about his project, what inspired him, the challenges he faced, and the support he received from GWA.
Summarise what you did for your personal project?
I have been volunteering at a veterinarian clinic in Sports City for my Duke of Edinburgh charity time. One day, a kitten was brought in for treatment on a severely injured back leg, and it made me consider how widespread such problems are and how they might be managed. The vet decided that, because the cat would not have any functionality in its leg, amputation would be needed, which gave me the idea of constructing a prosthetic foot/leg for the cat, similar to what people would have if they were in the same unfortunate situation. After brainstorming with the vet in charge, we came up with designs for a prosthetic cat limb.
Mark's cat - Mila
What inspired you to do this kind of project?
“Obviously, I work in the clinic, I go there once a week for about an hour and a half to two hours. I said maybe I can help. I decided that I would like to try doing something like this. I designed it on a 3D software, that school gave us for homework in Design, from there I have just turned it into this.”
What kind of challenges did you face?
The cat was still a kitten at the time, which meant we would have to wait for her to stop growing before fitting the prosthetic limb. Obtaining a suitable steel rod that could be inserted into the leg was a challenge. I approached a few suppliers by email but they were very reluctant to provide the materials needed. With a little assistance from the vet, however, we did eventually find a willing supplier. Yet once the rod was inserted, we still faced the possibility that her body would reject the rod/foreign object.
I also arranged for a couple of versions of the foot to be 3D printed. What we had envisioned on paper as a design was not always suitable. I printed three different versions before we found a good fit. It was a good lesson in understanding that there are always improvements to be made Even now, with the cat happy with her replacement foot and everything working very well, we are still thinking about how different materials might assist her further.
One of the most outstanding Personal Projects from last year’s Grade 10 cohort was produced by Mark Thompson. Combining his lifelong empathy for animals, his passion for veterinary science and his interest in scientific innovation, Mark created a functioning prosthetic leg for a cat whose special needs had come to his attention while he was volunteering at a local veterinary practice...A truly significant Personal Project, Mark’s work bore all the hallmarks of the IB approach, both in terms of its innovation, and in its desire to make a positive contribution to the wider world.
GWA Teacher - Project Supervisor
How do you feel about the outcome of your project?
I am very satisfied with the learning and the outcome. Seeing her move around with such agility is very satisfying, knowing what her situation would have been had we not intervened.
What role did the school and your teachers play?
The GWA Design Department was immensely supportive in assisting me with 3D printing the various designs for the prosthetic foot. Mr Walsh, in particular, offered useful advice and was very patient, allowing me to print version after version.
Originally, this seemed a bit ambitious for a personal project, but it was definitely “Mark’s thing”. Watching him persevere through all the challenges and keep on trying, we knew this would be a good skill to practice. As a family, we shared in all the joy of the cat, which can now move so confidently with its prosthetic limb. We are so pleased that GWA offered this opportunity for students to be true learners and problem solvers, while teaching them important life skills along the way. - Mark's parents
What did you learn from the experience?
Mostly that everything is a work in progress and improvements can always be made. Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in animals of all kinds – the late Steve Irwin, also known as “The Crocodile Hunter”, was my hero when I was five years old. I was humbled and happy to have the chance to improve the quality of life of a living animal. I learned that helping animals is truly my passion, and I want to pursue something related as a career one day.