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FGCU student aims to restore mobility

By Victoria Alvarez

Gulf Coast News Wire

Cesar Hernandez kept his head so low that his face was nearly parallel to the table.

His emptied backpack occupied the seat next to him, and various notebooks and textbooks were strewn all over the table where he was working on his homework. His hand dropped a pencil he was using to design a device, and switched to grip the computer mouse.

The cursor flew over the screen that displayed his current class project. The bioengineering student is in the preliminary stages of designing a mobility device for people who have lower limb mobility issues.

The frame of the device twisted on the screen as he moved the cursor over it. With a limited budget, he hopes to make a hybrid of a walker and wheelchair that can be manipulated by the user to be suitable for his or her needs.

He has been through this process multiple times as a bioengineering student at FGCU. He has been tasked to build numerous class projects, but the knowledge he gains in his courses is useful to him outside his classes.

“It’s okay if this doesn’t work, but in the real world it has to work,” Hernandez said.

His notebook revealed where he had labored over designing the best prototype he could create. Pencil lines had been retraced, accidents had been erased and multiple arrows marked degrees and lengths.

Hernandez’s instructors assign him and other bioengineering students ambitious projects, but with a limited budget for materials and research, he tries to get the most of what’s available.

Cesar Hernandez’s sketch of his current project. Credit: (Photo Victoria Alvarez)

“If our lab fees were more expensive, we would have better projects,” Hernandez said.

As part of the Honors College at Florida Gulf Coast University, Hernandez can benefit from scholastic funds. He was recently awarded a scholarship grant for independent research he is doing with colleagues, which will help get them the money they need to create their passion project.

His area of interest is the sweet spot where mechanical and robotic engineering worlds collide. Some examples of machines that are birthed from this cross-section are exosuits – which he likened to the suit that the fictional character Iron Man wears – and prosthetics.

At the core of Hernandez’s passion for his studies is a simple fact from his childhood: He had very little to play with as a young boy.

What started as making toys with aluminum cans in a town near Mexico City, turned into tricking out his bicycle as a teen. Then he formed a passion for working on cars and figuring out how engines worked.

He ended up at FGCU after his family immigrated from Hidalgo, Mexico to Immokalee, Florida. Hernandez is a “Dreamer” under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program implemented by the former president’s administration that allowed young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally to remain.

Hernandez perseveres through his workload because he wants to be as equipped as he can be for employment, but to also be influential in his career.

“I just want to make the world a better place,” Hernandez said.

His friend and colleague, Nicholas Metro, echoed the same sentiment. He’s a bioengineering major taking similar courses to Hernandez, but he has a passion for cell development.

“We’re both working towards that same end goal of regenerative medicines and getting people back to full functionality,” Metro said.

Both men plan to continue working together where they will combine mechanical and chemical efforts to achieve their goals.

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