ThingTank Lab


This article was written on 07 Mar 2012, and is filled under Workshops.

The Extension of Man: Hacking the Body 2

The following was prepared by Nina Czegledy, ThingTank Advisor, KMDI Senior Fellow and one of the main organizers of our “Hacking the Body” workshop.

The Extension of Man – Hacking the Body – Prosthetics 2

by Nina Czegledy

The “Hacking the Body – Prosthetics” workshops presented at the ThingTank lab, University of Toronto, aims to explore some of the numerous aspects relating to prosthetics. Our goal is to provide a brief context to the workshop theme combined with critical making.

The word “prosthetics” indicates an addition or extension and the term has been included in medical terminology in the 16th Century. The history and practice of prosthetics dates back thousands of years. According to ancient literature, the earliest known written reference to an artificial limb dates back to around 500 BC.  The uninterrupted history of prosthetics continues to this day, however rapidly emerging engineering technology and advanced material has revolutionized prosthetics developments over the last decades.

Electronic technologies make today’s advanced prosthetics more controllable, even capable of automatically adapting their function during certain tasks, such as gripping or walking. University of Chicago and Cornell University researchers have designed a robotic arm that is capable of performing every-day tasks such as writing, drawing and serving drinks. But what makes this robotic arm special is that it can complete these common tasks without fingers.  Ivan Minev at Cambridge University uses techniques developed by the semiconductor industry and applies them to soft materials that can be flexed and stretched. This novel approach will help to bridge the gap between rigid electronics and that of soft, living matter.

Here in Toronto, two Ryerson University undergraduate biomedical engineering students are changing the world of medical prosthetics with  experimenting a newly developed prosthetic arm that is controlled by brain signals. An extensive body of literature has been published recently on brain signals and prosthetics that is outside the scope of this talk.

In the introduction to the workshop, we will briefly examine some of the issues related to prosthetics, such as ethical concerns, biological and evolutionary aspects, sports related issues and approaches by artists.

We welcome the expertise and experience of our distinguished guests Irene Healy and Erika Biddle-Stavrakos. Irene Healy founder of New Attitude trained as a visual artist and is a Certified Clinical Anaplastologist. She presents her independent clinical practice. Irene has published on several aspects of prosthetics, including the restoration of absent parts of the body, prevailing misinformation and false beliefs concerning external breast prosthetics. Erika a PhD candidate at York University returns to the Hacking the Body project with her informed, erudite talk and personal experience.


Bellis, Mary. The History of Prosthetics

The History of Prosthetic Limbs

History of Amputation &Prosthetics

University of Cambridge Nokia Photography Competition

Miven, Ivan and Louca, Rami. Synapse

Ryerson students invent breakthrough brain-controlled prosthetic arm

New Attitude

Healey, Irene. External Breast Prostheses: Misinformation and False Beliefs

Healey, Irene. Art as Applied to Medicine: Reconfiguring the Body

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