Benjamin Campbell seems pretty good at designing things. It’s something he’s done all his life, he said. When the 20-year-old engineering student was little, he’d make things with Legos — coin sorters, pinball machines, combination locks.
In high school, Campbell took an aerospace engineering class and invented “a small little tool that you could attach to a handrail.” At first, this doesn’t sound like any large feat, until Campbell reveals who — and what — the handrail tool was for. “NASA liked it,” he said, “and it’s actually on the International Space Station right now.”
Recently, Campbell put his design skills towards creating something a little more down to earth, but, for one furry creature and its adoptive family, just as life-changing.
It all came about because Campbell needed a project for his engineering statics class at Northwest Nazarene University. “I was talking with my professor, Bob Rogers,” he said. “He mentioned he had a grandson with a ferret that was paralyzed — he had gotten into a fight with a cat or some other animal. They were thinking of putting him down.”
Campbell thought he might be able to help the family and the ferret, Smores — and tackle his class project, which was to complete a design to solve a problem.
He had some experience in creating custom 3D-printed parts, so Campbell decided to create a prosthetic device that would give Smores a chance to “run around” again.
It took him several tries to get it right. And when Campbell first put the device on Smores, “initially, it seemed a little hesitant,” Campbell said. “But the second time around, it snuggled right into the straps and motored right around.”
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Today, Smores seems to love his prosthetic device, and instead of getting around on four feet, he’s got two front feet and a couple of wheels — and seems to do just fine.
Campbell has two cats named Tom and Brody — “a very big fat cat,” Campbell said. For fun he whirls and twirls on the floor at a swing dancers club. “I like ‘20s through ‘40s music, and I really like East and West Coast Swing,” he said.
But most of his time these days is spent training for an upcoming competition in which Campbell will be, once again, using his design skills. He is on the SkillsUSA team and will be representing the U.S. in mechanical engineering at the 2019 Worldskills competition in Kazan, Russia, in August. The contest takes place every two years with competitors from 76 countries and regions around the world. There are only 22 competitors on the U.S. team.
In addition to practicing and training for the event, Campbell is also involved with the satellite program at NNU. “We’re designing them and building them here and sending them on to NASA,” he said.
What about the future — does he have any aspirations for space travel?
“If I’m lucky enough to ever go, I would love to go,” Campbell said. “Any space mission in the future I would totally jump on board.”