Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Customized Ankle Brace Wins Thayer's Jackson Award

By Anna Fiorentino
December 2014 • Thayer By Degrees: BE

A team of BE students took home Thayer School's Phillip R. Jackson Award this fall for designing an ankle brace that decreases an athlete’s chance of injury. The recognition is fueling further development of the project they called "Brace Yourself" — recently re-named "FyreFrame Braces" — which uses thermo-moldable polymer reinforcements to achieve a customized fit to better prevent ankle injuries, especially ankle inversion.

“After all the hard work we put in, it was great to see that work being appreciated,” says team member Magnus Bigelow '17.

Each quarter, the Jackson Award, named after and established by the former Thayer Board of Overseers member, is given to the Introduction to Engineering project group with the best overall performance as determined by the review board. Members of "Brace Yourself" included Bigelow, Prescott McLaughlin '17, and Dual Degree Program students Graham Scott and Guram Vardiashvili, with guidance from TA Kiah Williams and Thayer School Machine Shop instructor Pete Fontaine.

Fall 2014 Jackson Prize Winners
l to r: Pete Fontaine, Prescott McLaughlin '17, Magnus Bigelow '17, Guram Vardiashvili, Graham Scott, Kiah Williams

The brace uses a two-tiered lacing system that tightens around an athlete’s lower foot and separately around their ankle and allows users to easily adjust the brace during exercise. Plastic splints located on either side of the ankle as well as a neoprene section along the Achilles' tendon allow for maximum comfort and ease of use.

"The award will allow us to invest in upgraded components, in particular the thermoplastics for the supports and possible alternative lacing materials," says McLaughlin. "Our low-profile device makes use of moldable lateral supports and a lacing system that uniformly tightens to provide desired support, while not inhibiting athletic performance."

The brace, which the group tested on varsity and recreational athletes at Dartmouth, was built primarily for high school and college athletes, since they are the most at risk for ankle injuries. It can, however, be worn at any age. “Our group had personal experiences and many friends and teammates who were unsatisfied with the options of available ankle braces,” says Bigelow.

While there are many ankle braces on the market, the team filed for a provisional patent in November for the personalized conformability of the lateral components that serve as a uniform support system through the quick-tightening two-tier drawstring-style closure system.

"Our goal is to continue to develop our product as a full team with every member of our original group in our effort to land a full patent for our design," says McLaughlin. "We are looking to improve the design and gain the capability to produce two different size ranges."

The group also plans to enter "FyreFrame Braces" into the Stanford Center on Longevity Design Challenge, which focuses on enabling personal mobility for all ages.

"The Stanford challenge takes place in April of 2015 and would provide our group with the funds to further iterate our design as well as a clear goal and timeline for more improvements," says Bigelow.

Tags: curriculum, design, entrepreneurship, innovation, patent, projects, students

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