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One of the most common complaints among consumers who purchase and use inflatable balls is that they inevitably go flat. An airless solution to remedy this issue in basketballs is in progress with two Carnegie Mellon materials science and biomedical engineering alumni at the forefront of its development.

As students, Nadine Lippa and Dave Krzeminski relied on their interest in sport to keep them balanced as they pursued their degrees. Lippa spent one year on the women’s soccer team as a walk-on, was a buggy pusher for PIKA for four years, and took up trail running and yoga, while Krzeminski was a member of the men’s swimming team, capturing the NCAA title for 200-yard butterfly in 2007.

Despite the fact that their time as students in MSE overlapped, it wasn’t until after they had graduated that they were able to connect thanks to Mike McHenry, a professor of materials science and engineering. Lippa saw McHenry during a Carnival weekend after she had graduated and inquired if he knew of anyone working in the area of sports materials engineering.

The combination of MSE and BME really set the stage to go into sports engineering.

Nadine Lippa, Alumna, Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering

“The combination of MSE and BME really set the stage to go into sports engineering,” said Lippa. “The electives that fell between those two majors, such as studying physiology with Dr. Campbell, along with my MSE base, made me well-rounded going into my career.”

McHenry provided an introduction to Krzeminski, who was completing his Ph.D. at the University of Southern Mississippi at the time. Lippa and Krzeminski quickly became acquainted and continued to connect sport to their work as they followed similar trajectories in their Ph.D. programs, international internships and fellowships, and published research, and eventually married in 2017.

They most recently collaborated on a prototype of Wilson’s 3-D printed basketball that debuted at this year’s NBA all-star Dunk Contest. Lippa, who is currently innovation manager at Wilson Sporting Goods, says the project initially launched in 2018 in response to three issues faced by Wilson and its consumers: consistency in play that is impacted by ball inflation, sustainability, and production limitations.


From a sustainability perspective, an airless basketball has many benefits. There is less waste with its production via additive manufacturing, as only one material is used to create this ball, as opposed to many materials procured globally in a conventional basketball. Its ability to be produced anywhere with 3-D printing capability reduces shipping costs, further contributing to environmental impact. From a business perspective, making basketballs through additive manufacturing reduces lead times and order fulfillment can take place in a more real-time fashion, eliminating supply chain issues currently encountered by limited production sites.

While the final product may appear as though it was easy to make, it took years of testing to find the right material for the airless basketball.

“We faced the challenge of the interplay between the mechanical design and the material of the ball, as it needed to be soft enough to catch, but also capable of bouncing,” said Lippa. 

She and her team at Wilson reconnected with EOS during COVID shutdowns when other aspects of business slowed down and identified a material that matched the specifications ultimately used in the prototype—a material that was not yet available when the project was initially conceived.

“There’s a lot of intricacy that went into printing an object that’s completely spherical and performs equally in every direction at all times,” said Krzeminski. “It took a lot of engineering of not just the powder material, but also of the process, in order for the latticed design to serve its purpose.”

While some digital testing was possible, testing various outcomes by printing samples was necessary in order to understand if the basketball was acting as it was intended. From there, the team had to weigh several factors from performance to economics to translating athlete feedback into technical engineering action.

The mentality required by their athletic endeavors has transferred to their academic and professional pursuits, particularly as the project involved multiple iterations before landing on a prototype that could meet all of the required specifications.

“Unless you’re unbelievably lucky, you have to learn to respond quickly amidst failure and adversity,” said Krzeminski, as he likened experiences as an athlete and a researcher.

While the prototype had a successful launch earlier this year, the overall project is still in progress as the design is further refined and Wilson hopes to have a small batch release in 2024 through which they can gather more user insights. The airless basketball is just one of several projects that Lippa is working on at Wilson to reinvent inflatable ball sports. Additionally, Krzeminski is involved with other sporting goods, medical device, and sustainable energy companies using both polymer and metal additive manufacturing.

Pictured, top: Lippa and Krzeminski with an unfinished ball prior to the smoothing and dyeing processes. Source: Nadine Lippa.