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Design Award Winner

Wonder Connection

Bedside Field Trip

Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Analysis & Optimization

With WonderSphere, immune-compromised kids can interact with natural materials without risk of infection.

Bresslergroup’s airtight, highly usable design empowers pediatric patients through worry-free exploration and positive distraction.

Natural experiences, especially in hospital settings, serve as positive emotion boosters. When patients are having fun, it’s easier for them to learn and to heal.

But natural materials are dangerous for kids with weak immune systems who can’t be exposed to germs and bacteria. Katie Stoudemire, founder of Wonder Connection, a program that brings the natural world to pediatric patients, envisioned a product that lets hospitalized kids get their hands dirty. From her work in environmental education, she knew it would introduce incredible benefits.


The core development challenge was tricky: to create a chamber with an airtight seal and a way to let kids and their grownup teachers reach inside to dig, water, plant, and dissect. A range of ergonomic challenges complicated the puzzle.

Bresslergroup’s engineers and designers focused on safety and usability to provide a unique product experience that’s hands-on and safe. WonderSphere is able to host a range of activities, including flower arranging, baiting Venus fly traps, and dissecting flowers, to keep the kids’ interest. One seven year old gave it the ultimate seal of approval, declaring it “better than an iPad.”

WonderSphere is a sealed chamber whose portals and built-in gloves make it possible for hospitalized, immune-compromised children to reach inside to plant, dig, water, and touch nature without danger of infection.  It provides an experiential, multi-sensory, bedside field trip that passes standards established by Bresslergroup’s engineers in partnership with epidemiologists at the University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

Bresslergroup’s development team took its general inspiration from the kinds of glove boxes used in chemistry labs, but the design, shape, size, and ergonomics had to work for pediatric hospital patients. Glove boxes tend to look industrial, and WonderSphere needed to be friendly, appealing, and scaled to accommodate an audience of kids ranging in age from 5 to 18.

There’s a power in interacting with natural objects. There’s magic in sprouting a seed. For kids to be able to be a part of that, there’s an implication of hope there.” – Katie Stoudemire

Requirements included fitting on a hospital bed tray; avoiding any kind of reflection or glare from hospital lighting; and being comfortable to reach into from both a sitting and reclining position. The glove ports needed to be the right height for the age range.

Bresslergroup’s engineers and designers tried out many configurations using mockups made of foamcore and Plexiglas, going back and forth with Katie at Wonder Connection to make modifications. We came up with solutions such as tilting the glove ports down and spacing them out in such a way that they don’t interfere with the user’s line of vision.

A two-part glove design and adjustable adaptor ring solved the problem of not being able to find nitrile gloves that are small enough for WonderSphere’s users. The kids wear disposable, extra-small laboratory gloves and put their hands through a reusable, easily disinfected cuff.

To make it easier and quicker to clean and disinfect, the unit is designed with a smooth surface and a minimum of sharp corners, edges, and nooks that might trap dirt and grime. Acrylic was chosen for the chamber because, unlike polycarbonate, it stands up to ammonia — a chemical sanctioned by hospital. Acrylic is also lightweight – good for carrying into and out of hospital rooms and back to the cart that Katie and her staff use to wheel it around the hospital. It is optically clear, and more easily formable than other materials through a process called drape-forming. 

To be sure the product is safe, Bresslergroup’s engineers came up with a spec and test protocol to make sure no air could make it into the chamber during normal use.

A great deal of research on positive psychology and nature therapy inspired the creation of WonderSphere. Initial evaluation results from Wonder Connection bear out the product’s expected health, psychological, and learning benefits, with many patients reporting an increased enthusiasm for science, and one hundred percent of patients reporting feeling happy and proud.

Core77 selected WonderSphere as winner of their 2016 Design for Social Impact Award.

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