Three high school engineering students have designed a hand brace that will allow a nine-year-old girl with cerebral palsy to play the viola. Julia Weeks, Hannah Kennedy and Antonio Carvalho from Concord High School in Wilmington, Delaware, in the USA, began designing the hand brace for Rayne Mason-Smith – who dreamt of playing in the Lancashire Elementary School orchestra – last year as part of a real-world project suggested by members of the public.

“I love music. I always wanted to play an instrument,” fourth grader Mason-Smith told Action News. However cerebral palsy made holding her viola’s bow challenging.

“She was having difficulty grabbing the bow,” Carvalho told WDEL in an interview last year. He said he also hoped being able to play the viola would help Mason-Smith fit in more at her school. “It just seemed really important to us that we could help her, and it just seemed like something easy we could accomplish.”

The trio of young inventors built prototypes – created using a stress ball, nuts, bolts, wood, metal, Velcro and duct tape – which they tested in trials with Mason-Smith in weekly sessions, refining their design. The refinements included a larger stress ball – and a colour change from gold to Mason-Smith’s favourite colour, pink. The design also ultimately included a guide to limit the bow’s movement.

While neither Weeks, Kennedy nor Carvalho play string instruments, they were advised by Mason-Smith’s teacher Nicole Veater.

“This is by far the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen happen,” Veater told WDEL. “Rayne was talking about how she often gets stared at because she walks a little differently, and she’s not included in everything, and this is making a huge difference in her life, and she feels like a superstar.”

“She’s on track with all the other students,” she told Action News.

“It really just makes us happy to see that smile on her face when she finally gets a great note out,” Carvalho said.

The news follows our story last year about a group of undergraduate students in the USA designing a prosthetic arm for a 10-year-old aspiring violinist born without a left hand.