Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Public Engagement with Research

#handson: Upper Limb Prosthetics: developing interactive engagement with innovations in health care

#handson intern Tina in action at the stand
#handson intern Tina in action at the stand

Project leads

Dr Cheryl Metcalf:, Health Sciences, Faculty of Environmental & Life Sciences

Dr Alex Dickinson:, Engineering, Faculty of Engineering & Physical Sciences


This project created and piloted engagement activities to raise awareness of on-going prosthetic research at the University of Southampton.  The longer term objective was to build a permanent interactive exhibition at Winchester Science Centre, illustrating the need for great interdisciplinary research when developing prosthetic medical devices; bringing together a team of allied health professionals, health scientists, psychologists and engineers.

Key motivations:


The project targeted pre-GCSE (5-15 yrs) school children as the primary audience, aligning with the project purpose.

During the project the team engaged directly with over 200 individuals each year across a range of public events including the 2018 & 2019 New Forest Shows, Pint of Science Southampton 2018, and the Smallpeice Trust Biomedical Engineering summer residential course at the University.

Alex also presented the project on invitation at the Royal Academy of Engineering STEM Ambassadors training workshops 2019 and 2020, to RAEng Research Fellows and QE Prize Ambassadors.

Background for the project

The public engagement project was conceived between Cheryl Metcalf and Alex Dickinson within his RAEng Research Fellowship, from which £4K was committed to pay for the student intern and contribute to some materials and event costs.


Winchester Science Centre has been partnering with the project team to construct a permanent interactive exhibit.

constraint therapy game
constraint therapy game

Approach taken

The team identified two key messages to communicate across their activity:

1. Have you ever thought what it would be like to do the things you do every day if you did not have two hands?

2. Have you ever thought about the range of different people are involved in developing prosthetic hands?

With an additional higher level question:

3. How can we develop prosthetic hands if we do not have any experience of living without a hand?

They developed two key interactive activity types focussed on primary and lower-secondary school stages, mapped to learning engagement descriptions in the National Curriculum for Science:

‘Make Your Own Hand’ – creating a working prosthetic hand model for participants to construct from a kit.

‘Kitchen Challenge’ – producing several ‘constraint therapy’ simulations to help participants experience how they may take for granted the full use of two hands. Eg simulating every-day tasks of food preparation, against the clock using only one hand.

Taking existing demonstration material and questions – based largely around a didactic show-and-tell format – they modified these to provide:

‘Make Your Own Hand’ and ‘Kitchen Challenge’ activities were run on different days, and audience/participant opinions were monitored.

New and eye-catching banners and signage were created to attract people to the exhibit.


The team evaluated the interactive methodologies using audience voting, with magnetic letters on a whiteboard (categories of ‘Great’, ‘So-So’ and ‘No-No’), and collected observational logs of the visitors’ interaction and comments. They found that:

Social media statistics tracked impact beyond those who actually visited the stands. At one event, the New Forest Show, three key tweets from the team created 3,200 impressions.


The two key activity types were successfully created and tested with a wide range of participants at different venues.  The testing of integrated engagement and feedback in the ‘Design Your Own Hand’ activity provided the potential to generate future research data.

This potential to support future research was enhanced by gathering further evaluation and visitor opinion data, using a ‘Design Your Own Hand’ sketchbook. Building upon previous questions, the team asked i) what is the most important thing you use your hands for? and ii) Imagine you do not have two hands. Can you draw a new hand for this activity, in the space below? What features does it have?

23 designs were collected and clustered into ‘cosmetic/anthropomorphic’, ‘multi-functional’, ‘adjustable’ and ‘other’ categories. Initial trends were noted in the opinions of different gender and age-group participants; these can be investigated more thoroughly with a larger sample size and potentially a more structured design exercise, as part of the permanent WSC and touring exhibits.

A great contribution to the project was made by undergraduate intern Tina Munyebvu.  Tina’s involvement led to enhanced reflective analysis of existing public engagement materials, creative input to the ‘Build Your Own Hand’ kit and the marketing materials, and energy in delivering the interactive activities at a key roadshow event.  Tina’s work and lessons learned were presented to researchers and fellow interns.


After the project commenced, an additional £10,000 was successfully leveraged from the EPSRC/NIHR Global Challenges Research Fund (grant EP/R014213/1: “A Step Change in LMIC Prosthetics Provision through Computer Aided Design, Actimetry and Database Technologies”).

The RAEng and EPSRC/NIHR funding (extending activities a further 28 months in total) was allocated to completing the WSC stand and funding contributions to the 2019 Bringing Research to Life Roadshow tour. 

The team presented their ‘Build Your Own Hand’ activity to WSC who jumped at incorporating the kits into their MakerSpace.

Activities in early 2020 were interrupted by cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the WSC stand (see Future Plans below) should be included in the Centre’s eventual ‘Br2Life’ launch, and displayed later in the year.

Future Plans:

The Project remains integrated within the RAEng and EPSRC/NIHR Global Challenges Research Fund work. The team have worked with Winchester Science Centre and agreed a detailed design proposal for fabricating a touring exhibit, which will be housed semi-permanently at the Centre (like UoS Stem Cell Mountain). The design specification for the exhibit includes:

Privacy Settings