“I decided to do my thesis for a humanitarian organization”

Valentine Delbruel, 25 ans, doctorante à l'INSA Lyon et Handicap International.

Table of Contents

“I left Istres, near Marseille, after my BAC to join the preparatory cycle at INSA in Lyon for two years. My admission is based on application and then completed by an interview. It is a classic prep class but located within the INSA Lyon campus.

I then began the three-year engineering cycle at the same school. As soon as I entered L3, I moved towards the ‘materials' specialty because they are at the heart of our daily lives and economic and environmental issues.

I participate in various student projects, including one in partnership with Handicap International, the school's preferred partner. This experience reinforces my desire to work on projects with a social impact.

At the end of my career at INSA, I decided not to join the professional world straight away. INSA Lyon and Handicap International then offer a thesis offer as part of their alliance “Innovation for Humanity”, which aims to develop and transfer research and technological innovations to put them at the service of humanitarian aid and disability. The objective of this thesis met my personal aspirations, I am applying for this program.

Looking for a material

On October 1, 2021, after a selective process, I was selected. My topic is: “Use of additive manufacturing technologies for functional rehabilitation. ».

The goal of my research is to find and use recycled and local materials to limit the cost of orthopedic devices and their environmental impact in low-income countries or in conflict contexts.

The country I work in is Togo, one of Handicap International's countries of intervention. Concretely, I am looking for a recycled material available there which makes it possible to manufacture orthotics (which are correction devices for the legs or arms) in 3D printing for patients followed by the NGO in the countries where it is established. .

Once the objectives and expectations of my thesis are defined, I begin to test different materials that could meet my specifications. Throughout my experiments, it is polypropylene, a material present in particular in plastic packaging, which catches my attention. Resistant, light and durable, it has all the characteristics required to be used to make orthotics. I now have to go check if it is available on the ground in Togo.

Knowing how to change direction

In April 2023, I arrive in Lomé, the capital of Togo for a seven-day stay. I realize that the Togolese use little plastic packaging. I abandoned this idea and started looking for a new source of polypropylene in Togo.

On site, while visiting orthopedic centers, I noticed that there was a significant quantity of polypropylene scraps from unused plates used during orthopedic operations. This source of material, in addition to being available in large quantities, also has good resistance quality to be used in the biomedical field for the manufacture of orthotics.

I therefore replace polypropylene from packaging with scraps of orthopedic plates. I am returning to London with this new deposit of material to launch new experiments.

Testing is still in progress. They will determine if this type of polypropylene is strong and durable enough to manufacture 3D printed orthopedic devices in Togo. My thesis ends on September 30, 2024 and I hope, if the tests prove conclusive, to be able to develop a recycling protocol based on plates.

An atypical thesis anchored in reality

These three years were not limited solely to laboratory research work. Thanks to Handicap International, I discovered the world of humanitarian work. One day a month, I meet with employees at the NGO's headquarters to understand the organization's projects, its functioning and see in a concrete way the implications of my research.

For example, I visited orthopedic centers and I was able to see the real needs of the NGO and the challenges it faces. In addition to my scientific skills, I acquired expertise in project management. I also took advantage of my thesis to launch the blog in 2022 « Thesis Print» on which I popularize science on my research work.

When I have closed the chapter of my thesis, I would like to work in the field of the environment and put my expertise at the service of these issues. Why not move into the world of teaching? During my first two years of my thesis, I had the opportunity to give courses to students in the engineering cycle at INSA.

I am very lucky to have this atypical research experience, anchored in reality and usefulness. I am proud to say that my work will have concrete implications for many people! »

To note

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