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updated: 6/17/2013 1:11 PM

Prosthetic leg brings U-46 grads engineering fame

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  • From left, Beny Romo, 17, of South Elgin, Jonathan Kuruc, 18, of Bartlett, and Justin Markel, 18, of South Elgin developed a first-of-its-kind prosthetic leg for a regional competition. The recent grads from South Elgin High School now hope to patent the leg and start their own business to market it before heading off to college.

       From left, Beny Romo, 17, of South Elgin, Jonathan Kuruc, 18, of Bartlett, and Justin Markel, 18, of South Elgin developed a first-of-its-kind prosthetic leg for a regional competition. The recent grads from South Elgin High School now hope to patent the leg and start their own business to market it before heading off to college.
    Emmalee Luckas | Staff Photographer

 
 

It's the most impressive thing they've ever done, but South Elgin High School graduates Justin Markel, Jonathan Kuruc and Beny Romo can't tell you exactly what "it" is.

They designed a prosthetic leg for an athlete, one that isn't otherwise available on the market. The teens are in the process of forming a business and securing a patent for the leg, but until they have it, their creation is being kept under wraps for fear someone else will take their idea and beat them to production.

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"Right now we're trying to get a plastic prototype made so we can refine the design and then hopefully build up from there," Markel said.

So far the prosthetic leg is only a reality on their computers, but simulation software has given the team credibility as industry leaders help them take their next steps.

Markel, 18, Romo, 17, and Kuruc, 18, took an Engineering Design and Development class together this past year at South Elgin High School. In October they heard about the Next Generation Innovators Challenge, a division of the Midwest Research Competition, and decided to compete as a team.

Their teacher, Russ Bartz, helped guide them in the competition and let them incorporate the design of their prosthetic leg into the class, which already asks students to solve a problem in society by working on a yearlong project.

The competition has been held at Wheeling High School for the last two years, welcoming high school students and their ideas for making a positive impact on the world around them.

In their category, the boys had the option of choosing among three themes. They could design an operating room and ventilation system to control airflow and minimize the risk of infection during surgery, design a piece of headgear to protect against concussion and serious injury or design a prosthetic leg for a specific type of athletic competition.

Markel and Romo, with their sights already set on careers in biomedical engineering, gravitated toward the prosthetic leg challenge and Kuruc didn't put up a fight.

The team worked with local industry partners, met with an amputee who helped them figure out what was missing on the market and pored over lists of patents.

About six months later, and after more than 400 hours of work, the team won first place in the April competition and launched themselves into their careers.

Romo said he is now considering becoming a prosthetist, designing such body parts for a living.

"It's definitely solidified what I wanted to be," Romo said, though the South Elgin teen knew he wanted to go into engineering since elementary school because of a love of science and math. "With biomedical, I think can help a lot of people."

Kuruc, of Bartlett, will attend Illinois State University next year and, though he doesn't know which branch of engineering he prefers, he has no doubt about the wider field.

Markel, also of South Elgin, said the project helped him feel secure with his college plans. He'll be at Purdue University next year with a focus on biomedical engineering and a major achievement under his belt, thanks to the project.

"It helped uncover a passion for the field and it makes me more comfortable going into it," Markel said.

The recent grads, while working summer jobs and preparing for college, are trying to get a Kickstarter fund going to raise money for their fledgling business, which they still have to name.

They're getting some help from Intel and HP, two corporate sponsors of the Midwest Research Competition, as they navigate the business startup and patent processes.

And while they all plan to sign agreements promising not to run off with the idea as a solo act, none of them is out to make big money on the prosthetic leg.

"It's mostly just to help people," Kuruc said. "This whole competition was to really just help the community -- help everyone around the world."

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