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An Interview with Saeed Arida, Founder, NuVu Studio

3-D printing, one of the most popular technologies going theses days, continues to advance at rapid speeds. We are always looking for unique stories of what people are doing, and we certainly found one with Dr. Saeed Arida, who is the founder of NuVu studio in Cambridge, MA. Under his guidance, a team of students from a nearby school who recently worked on customized prosthetic hands for children. The transcript of our email interview is below:

1)What is your background and what made you decide to start a school such as NuVu Studio? Was it your first experience with 3-D printing?
I have a PhD in Design and Computation from the school of architecture at MIT. My research focused on understanding the architecture studio model as an effective way to teach creative thinking for young students. As I was completing my dissertation, I founded NuVu in order to put my research into practice. I first experimented with 3D printing during my years at MIT. The technology was in its infancy I was interested in how rapid prototyping could improve the design process.

2) How do you go about selecting the students? Do they apply to you, or do you recruit them? Is it a little of both? What types of qualifications are you looking for?
Students come to us in many ways. Primarily, we establish partnerships with schools, such as our founding partner Beaver Country Day School, and those schools select the students. Beaver sends about 20 students to NuVu each semester. Our independent students come to us mostly by word of mouth. We find that parents of students make the best recruiters, and we do not actively seek out students. Some students have been involved in our Summer Program or other NuVu events. We don?t have a set of criteria that we look for as students can succeed at NuVu regardless of academic performance, skill sets, and experience in design. The only thing that we look for is enthusiasm and intrinsic self motivation, which is fundamental to our studio experience. For independent students, we conduct an onsite interview to ensure that there is a good fit.

3) The word "hack" can be considered somewhat of a double entendre when it comes to technology and computers. Can you talk a little more about what hacking means to a project such as this one?
Hacking, in the context of NuVu, is about dissecting existing technologies and reinvisioning them to make them do something exciting and different from their intended purpose. In the prosthetics studio, students challenged the premise that a prosthetic hand should look and act like a real hand. We took an open source design (the Robohand) and rethought both the purpose and the design in order to improve it. Ultimately we changed almost every element, but we did this through hacking existing design.

4) What do you think were the most rewarding parts of the project for the students and yourself? Have any of the hands been fully tested and put to use?
The most rewarding part was seeing the students look critically at an existing design and come up with amazingly creative ideas for innovative solutions. 3D printing made it possible for students to implement their designs. Rather than thinking about prosthetic hands in a traditional sense, students wanted to create task-specific prosthetics devices that do something a hand can?t do, and at the same time make the design cool and playful. That thinking resonated a lot with the kids we were designing the hands for who were frustrated with the limitations of the current design. Students worked with Leon, a kid their age who uses a prosthesis. It was very exciting to see Leon respond well to the designs and suggest some cool adjustments. The students in the studio continue to work with an online community to help design and make prosthesis for kids in need.

5) What other projects involving 3-D printing are in your future? What are some things you think we will see out of the industry as a whole in the next 5-10 years?
3D printing is fundamental to many of the studios at NuVu. Students prototype designs and machine parts and components on a regular basis. We have been experimenting with different materials like rubber, color changing, and conductive filament. There huge room for innovation and creativity with these filaments. We would love to get our hands on a carbon fiber printer to prototype high-strength designs. We have also been thinking a lot about organic materials, especially food printing. Obviously printing with live tissue will be a huge development for 3d printing—one that we are beginning to see in research labs.