UMaine Students Design Device for Girl with One Hand to Play Recorder

Seven teams of University of Maine Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) students will unveil their design challenge projects from 9 a.m. to noon on Maine Day, Wednesday, April 29, in Bennett Hall on campus.

Maine Day at the university is about providing service. And for MET students, it’s typically when they debut their senior capstone projects, which often are created to meet needs of people with challenges.

Nia Nicola, 8, a student at Indian Island School in Old Town, will be particularly interested in the demonstrations. Not only will she select the winner, the project will benefit her.

Nicola, who was born without a left hand, will take home the design that best supports her while she plays a Baroque soprano recorder.

Last summer, Melissa Barton, music teacher at Indian Island School, proposed the project to UMaine MET personnel. Barton would like Nicola to be able to fully participate in music class.

Criteria for the device include that it allows Nicola to use both arms and play nine Baroque notes. It also needs to be able to be disinfected and continue to function as Nicola grows. She needs to be able to put the discrete device together and take it apart. And, if possible, it should be her favorite color — purple.

For about six months, UMaine student teams have been brainstorming, planning, building, testing and tweaking the devices. MET teaching assistant Emmett Hodder says the 50 participating seniors have become more knowledgeable about music and instruments, as well as better educated about the engineering design process.

Team 4 scholars Gentry Burch of Owls Head, Maine; Corey Denis of Waterville, Maine; Justin Dobrovich of Kennebunk, Maine; Dylan Johnson of Bennington, N.H.; Brian Kearns of Eddington, Maine; Aaron Koss of Vermont; and Travis Sherman of Winthrop, Maine titled their project “Notes for Nia.”

“The ability to play music has been an inspiration for many throughout generations,” they wrote. “Opportunities to assist someone in need and allow for their personal enjoyment is an inspiration to create the best product possible.”

Previous years’ MET projects have included a stair-climbing wheelchair and a human-powered watercraft for a person without arms.


The first portion of the design challenge begins at 9 a.m. Sessions run back-to-back, thus the end time could be between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Events will be in Room 137, Bennett Hall unless otherwise noted.

  1. Musical tone testing, Room 140, Bennett Hall
  2. Judging at team tables
  3. Case Race — Students will be timed removing the device from the case, assembling it, playing a note, disassembling it and returning it to the storage case.
  4. Cleaning demonstration — Teams will show how to maintain the device and give directions for disassembly and cleaning.
  5. Presentations — Each team will provide a 10-minute description about how it came up with the design and why it’s the best choice for the client.
  6. Musical competition — One member per team will play “Camptown Races” on a recorder equipped with his or her team’s respective design. This is the only event the audience will judge.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777