Engineering student invents device so girl with one hand can play the violin

Five-year-old Neriah could not play the instrument she loves, the violin, because she was born without a left hand. Drew Miles, an engineering student at LeTourneau University, changed that, by designing a 3-D printed, assistive device to allow her to pursue her passion.

A five-year-old girl from Florida is filling her house with music thanks to an engineering student from far away who finds great purpose in helping others.

Neriah Rhodes from Tallahassee, born with a limb deficiency, is missing her left hand. That made playing her favorite instrument, the violin, nearly impossible. Touched by her passion for performance, Neriah’s music teacher contacted an assistant biomedical engineering professor at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, last summer and asked if one of his students might be willing to design an assistive device that would help Neriah realize her dream of playing the violin.

The task? It had to be lightweight, sturdy, assemble easily, fit Neriah’s measurements, and be able to hold a violin bow. Oh, and if at all possible, the budding musician was really hoping it could be pink, according to published reports.

With only one computer-aided design class under his belt, then-sophomore Drew Miles answered the call — another example of the many unsung heroes that MassMutual applauds, who step up daily to support strangers through selfless acts.

Miles said he hadn’t realized initially that he was the only student who agreed to help, but after considering his father’s life-long advice, he accepted the challenge with an open heart.

“My dad has a saying that he really embedded in me and my siblings as he raised us: ‘It’s easy to be nice,’” said Miles, a former Eagle Scout, in a talk with MassMutual. “There’s a lot of truth to that. Yes, sometimes it’s going to take all of your energy to do so, but that doesn’t make it any harder. Ultimately, that’s just been something that I’ve always tried to live by because it’s something my dad’s always lived by.”

To create the assistive device, Miles had to teach himself higher level computer design software programming. It reportedly took him seven months and more than 150 design hours to develop the 3-D printed device, with 15 prototypes made from different materials, according to the Longview News-Journal.

Along the way, Miles informed the Rhodes that the material that worked best did not come in shades of pink and that he would have to produce the device in red. But before mailing it off, he realized that a quick coat of pink paint would do the trick.

Thrilled with the device, Neriah told MassMutual that her goal is now to play on a stage for a larger audience and “make up my own songs.”

“Someday, when I’m bigger, I can play on a big stage,” she said, noting that she and her mother had a “big hug” reserved just for Miles. That, and a heartfelt message: “Thank you for making this thing for me.”

Apart from the satisfaction of giving a young girl the gift of music, Miles said he has gained something else from the experience — a future career path.

“Now that I’m in it and doing it, I’ve realized it is perfect for someone like me,” he said, proving that when strangers help each other, everyone wins. “I’m fascinated with the human body. Through doing this project I really learned that I’d much rather be doing in-lab research, analyzing data, and that’s great.”

1 Longview News-Journal, “Florida girl ‘tickled pink’ after receiving device designed by LeTourneau student,” May 1, 2018.