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Next time you see a trail of flame on the sidewalks around campus, it just might be Jonny Cole riding by on his bicycle.

Born without most of his right arm, the 8-year-old struggled to successfully ride his red bicycle, complete with a Spiderman bell. His arm’s development was stunted due to amniotic band syndrome, a birth defect caused when amniotic sac tissues wrap around a baby’s joints and cut off circulation.

Jonny’s father, Douglas Cole, a University of Iowa visiting assistant professor and recent UI Ph.D. graduate in linguistics, was determined to find a way for Jonny to join his family on bike rides around their Cedar Rapids neighborhood. Cole approached people in the UI College of Engineering machine shop in search of experts who could create an adaptive device for Jonny’s bike.

From there, Cole was directed to the UI Biomedical Engineering Department, where undergraduates spend two semesters of their final year as Hawkeyes working on design projects. UI students Mitchell Miller, Kylie Hershberger, Nate Witt, and Alicia Truka each listed Jonny’s project — later dubbed “Jonny and the Flamethrowers” — as their No. 1 choice.

When he approached the UI, Cole, then a student, said he was hoping he could find the right group of people with the time to work on his son’s project. He said he found just that in the four students.

“They’ve really done an amazing job of building a relationship with him and teaching him about the design process,” he said.


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