Sophomore makes prosthetic turtle fin at UC Berkeley engineering camp

Sophomore Sonja Hansen attended the July 5-12 session of the National Youth Leadership Forum: Engineering & Technology at UC Berkeley.

Q: How did you hear about the camp?

A: I received a letter in the mail saying that I had been nominated by a teacher. I then had five of my teachers fill out surveys about me and send those in.

Q: What was a standard day like?

A: I would wake up at 6 a.m. and eat breakfast. Then I would go into my group, and we would play games and bond until lunch. For the first few days we played a lot of icebreaker games. In one game we would say an adjective that started with the first letter of our first name and then our name. I said Sassy Sonja.  It really helped memorizing names. After that we would have a speaker or work on our projects in the afternoon.

Q: Where did you stay?

A: I stayed in the dorms at the Clark Kerr Campus, which is a couple minutes away from Berkeley’s main campus.

Q: How close did you become with your roommates?

A: We became pretty good friends. I haven’t texted them much since the camp. But we’re friends on social media.

Hansen lived with two roommates, Jane and Eva.
(Photo courtesy of Hansen)
Sonja Hansen (far right) lived in a dorm at Clark Kerr Campus with two roommates, Jane and Eva.

Q: What type of kids did you meet?

A:  The majority of kids were really into tech and programming. I met people from all around the world too. There were kids from China, Africa, and Belgium.

Q: What was your group like?

A: They were super awesome. Everyone was very nice, and it was a great time. There were five girls including me.

Q: What activities did you do in the workshops?

A: We 3-D modeled houses using an application called SketchUp. We programmed helicopters to take specific flight paths. We made circuits with breadboards and LEDs. We made tables out of newspaper and ziplines out of string.

My favorite workshops were the design challenges. We would be given a few items and then instructed to make something out of them.

Q: What type of project did you complete? 

A: My group and I made a prosthetic fin for a turtle.

(The goal for the projects was to improve on an invention.) A lot of groups in the biomedical group decided to make prosthetics for people. My biomedical group wanted to be different and make a prosthetic for an animal. We tried to make something for a sea lion or dolphin, but there were problems trying to find the right materials.

We decided to make a turtle fin because turtle fins are naturally stiff, so the material wouldn’t have to change when switching from land to sea.

Q: Were there any problems?

A: Our biggest problem was coming up with a way to attach our prosthetic. We found out that prosthetics need to be taken off every day so that the skin doesn’t get infected.

We also needed a durable material that wouldn’t totally disintegrate in water. After a bunch of brainstorming, we decided on making a vest that would go around the shell.

Q: What was it made of?

A: Several tubes of paper. We made about a dozen paper tubes until we finally got the design right. Then we connected a bunch of tubes to make the prosthetic.

Q: How did your fin turn out?

A: My group and I made it so you could add attachments to it throughout the turtle’s life as it grew. I was proud of it.

Q: What did you learn from the process?

A: Making the fin taught me to keep things simple. A lot of groups wanted to make really complex prosthetics, but they never came to a working model. The first thing to do is make a very simple layout, then make it more complex.

Q: Who were the most interesting speakers?

A: Robert Full, a bioengineering professor at Berkeley, spoke about his previous and current projects. He is currently working on trying to utilize the technology of geckos’ feet, which allows them to stick to surfaces.

The lead professor of Berkeley’s nuclear program also came and talked about the discoveries of his department.

Q: Did you stay at UC Berkeley the whole time?

A: No, we went to Stanford and San Francisco.

I had never been to Stanford before. It was absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately we only toured the engineering part of the campus. We also didn’t go inside any of the buildings.

We went to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco more just to hang out with our friends.

Q: Were you disappointed in anything?

A: The only part I was disappointed in was the lack of free time.

Q: What did you gain from attending this camp?

A: I was shown more areas of engineering. I was only interested in bioengineering before. Environmental and engineering that deals with energy usage appeal to me as well now. I’m not committed to engineering as a profession, though.

—By Adam Dean

Hansen (first row, far left) and the members of her core group (shown here in front of one of Berkeley's engineering buildings) called themselves the C-Men because they were Group C.
(Photo courtesy of Hansen)
Sonja Hansen (top row, far left) and the members of her group (shown here in front of one of Berkeley’s engineering buildings) called themselves the C-Men because they were Group C.
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