Injured Penguin Gets Back on Her Feet With Special 3-D-Printed Boot Designed by Middle Schoolers

3D Systems(MYSTIC, Conn.) -- A penguin with an injured left foot is now back on her feet at an aquarium in Connecticut after receiving a custom 3-D-printed boot designed by middle school students with the help of engineers.

Purps the penguin injured her left foot about five years ago after getting into "a little bit of a spat with another bird on exhibit" at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, said Dr. Jen Flower, the aquarium's chief clinical veterinarian, in a video showing how Purps' new boot came to be.

Purps had torn her flexor tendon, which is equivalent to a person's Achilles heel, Flower said. The tear caused her pain and made her walk with a limp.

As a temporary fix, veterinary staff at the aquarium made handmade a boot for Purps that immobilized but protected and supported her damaged foot, according to Flower. However, that handmade boot constantly needed to be replaced, so earlier this year, Flower proposed looking to 3-D-printing a more durable boot for Purps.

Help came from an unlikely source -- the local middle school.

Kelly Matis, the aquarium's vice president of education and conservation, had been on a community board that had recently bought a 3-D printer for Mystic Middle School. She reached out, and a mission was launched to help Purps.

"Working as a team, Mystic Aquarium, ACT Group and the middle school students came together to design and 3-D print a new boot for Purps," said 3D Systems in a news release. 3D Systems manufactured the printer, scanner and software the students used for the project, and ACT Group is a local 3D Systems partner.

The learning curve was sharp, and it took months to finish the final product, according to Sue Prince, library media specialist for Mystic Middle School.

But it was all worth it in the end, the students said.

The kids joined aquarium staff in June to officially give Purps her new boot.

The penguin "took off across the exam room, looking very comfortable in her new boot and walking much more like a normal penguin should walk," said Flower.

Matis, the aquarium's vice president of education and conservation, added that "it's been truly amazing" to see everything come together "in order to make a real benefit to the health of one of our endangered species."

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