WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.-- While Purdue fans waited for tip-off in Friday night's Sweet Sixteen game against Texas Tech, the school's engineers were working full speed ahead in the lab to give star player Isaac Haas a chance to play with an elbow brace.
Haas fractured his elbow during the team's tournament opener, and the brace he initially tried to play with wasn't allowed by the NCAA. So back at Purdue University's Human Injury Research and Regenerative Technologies lab, a team of graduate engineers set out to create one that was.
"It was really fun to combine leather working, which is probably a few thousand years old I guess in principle, with the rapid prototyping and the pliable composites and the new padding material, because you're covering kind of a big range of human technology at that point," Purdue mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and basic medical sciences professor Eric Nauman said.
Nauman said they've worked with athletics for at least ten years, so when an administrator reached out to him Sunday night about creating an elbow brace, he quickly said they would take on the project.
"Purdue basketball's off playing in the Sweet 16, that's their big challenge," graduate student Taylor Lee said. "Our big challenge was can we make this brace NCAA, satisfy the NCAA regulation."
The team worked around the clock for 34 hours.
"It's pretty awesome to be able to use our engineering skills and come together and help out our athletes," student Kevin McIver said.
"We all I guess pushed each other," graduate student Goutham Sankaran said. "We didn't give up basically."
The engineers had a goal to create a brace that didn't use hard materials, would protect Haas if he fell, would keep him from locking his arm out, provide enough mobility and be safe for him and everyone else on the court. The students said they replaced a rigid metal piece with pliable carbon fiber.
"We made a carbon fiber piece, which is the same technology used in spacecraft and high performance race cars, which is where I learned how to do it. Then on the other side put a quarter inch of padding to meet the NCAA guidelines, so it's very strong yet it remains flexible," graduate student Michael Dziekan said.
The students said they then turned to graduate student Roy Lycke's hobby of leather work to make leather strips to help keep Haas from locking out his arm.
"It felt pretty awesome being able to contribute in a way that, I'm no athlete, but I can use my book smarts and my engineering skills and it seems to be making a lot of people very happy," Lycke said.
The team also put padding on the brace.
"What we basically did first was just have some 3D printed models, so just designed those in the computer, 3D printed, basic stuff, then we have our own recipe here for mixing it up, putting certain stuff in there ," graduate student Nicolas Leiva said.
The students then had to make sure it fit the 7'2" center. They tried to simulate his arm by dressing in layers of sweatshirts, though Haas ultimately sat down for a fitting. The engineers were able to deliver the brace by Tuesday night.
"My favorite part was when we actually delivered it to the team. Isaac was there and Vincent actually came as well and showed his appreciation which was really cool just to see those guys on the team being happy with the work that we provided for them," graduate student Nathan Knodel said.
"Those guys are really great and so it just makes this project even more meaningful getting to do this for them," graduate student Brie Lawson said.
Friday, the NCAA approved the brace, paving the way for Haas to have a chance to play with the device. But ultimately the decision was made to keep Haas off the court.