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If only Long John Silver had lived to see a 3D printer. Eschewing the traditional wooden peg, a multidisciplinary team at Penn is using the technology to create a novel means of support for a parrot named Pete, who lost a leg during an unfortunate run-in with a fox.

The task fell to Jonathan Wood V’12, staff veterinarian in neurology and neurosurgery at Penn Vet, along with a team of collaborators at the veterinary hospital, PennDesign, and the biomedical library. Wood had previously used 3D printing to make replicas of animal bones to aid in surgery, such as a model dog skull to help plan a tumor removal, but Pete was his first parrot.

First he tried to duplicate the structure of the bird’s original leg. “That was an abysmal failure,” Wood says. The model was too frail and unstable.

Next, he and Gregory Kaiman V’17 created a piece that looked like a boot, with a wide cylinder and base, which was sturdier—if less aesthetically pleasing. But “most animals don’t actually care what they look like,” Wood notes.

Once they settled on a basic design, they tested materials of varying rigidity to find the best mix of comfort and support. So far the bird has responded well to the boot, but the team is still fine-tuning to ensure it meets Pete’s final approval. “Never did I think there would be a time where I’m trying to outsmart a parrot,” Wood says.

—Aaron Kase
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