MSU engineers build carbon fiber brace for basketball player

A team from the Michigan State University College of Engineering modeled and fabricated a carbon fiber/epoxy hand brace to get a key player back on the court.


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When Michigan State University’s key basketball player Nick Ward fractured his left hand in February, the MSU College of Engineering stepped in with a composites solution in the form of a carbon fiber/epoxy hand brace.

According to MSU, the 6’8”, 245-pound center has been a key player for the top-ranked Spartans, averaging 14 points and more than six rebounds a game. To help speed Ward’s return to the team, Nick Richey, MSU men’s basketball athletic trainer, reached out to MSU’s College of Engineering for help.

A team of professors including Larry Drzal, Tom Pence and Tamara Reid Bush, along with other MSU engineers and students, scanned Ward’s hand and created a 3D model. Working with Ward’s stand-in — Xavier Tillman, MSU forward — the lab also collected force data to gauge the stress caused from dribbling, passing and shooting. 

Reid Bush then passed the model to Drzal, Pence, Mike Rich and Ed Drown who worked with the Composite Materials and Structures Center, and the MSU-Fraunhofer Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies. Working together, they fabricated the brace from carbon fiber and epoxy components and computed the stresses the device could withstand.

The brace was ready just four days before the Big 10 tournament. After a few adjustments, Ward practiced with it two days before tipoff.

Fans first saw the brace as the Spartans powered their way through the Big 10 tournament, beating the University of Michigan Wolverines and claiming the title.

“This was an outstanding opportunity for MSU engineering faculty and students to work together with MSU athletics to make a difference,” says Bush, who’s also part of the Biomechanical Design Research Lab. “I've shared this story with all of my classes and students. The excitement it generates in the classroom is amazing; students can relate to the issue and see the engineering solution.”

Bush is also hoping the Spartans will add another teammate. “In the long-term, I’d love to see a biomechanics student being paired with athletics,” she says. “Engineering students could gather data, publish research and come up with solutions like this on a regular basis.”