As a follow up of the JRA research placement, Daniel Hajas submitted his research abstract to be reviewed for a presentation at the annual British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR 2016). Only two days after submission, the following response was delivered to our inbox.

“Your abstract provides evidence of an interesting and well-researched undergraduate study. We are happy to report that it has been accepted for the conference as an oral presentation. The full programme for the conference will be published in January.”

The British Conference of Undergraduate Research promotes undergraduate research in all disciplines. The Conference meets annually every Spring in a different British university. BCUR 2016 is taking place on Tuesday 22 March and Wednesday 23 March 2016 hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University. Undergraduates of all levels are invited to submit papers, posters, workshops and performances to the Conference. Abstracts are peer-reviewed and those accepted will be invited to attend the conference. Conference fees are usually paid by the student’s own university. BCUR also accepts submissions from students outside of the UK. The call for papers is usually published in the autumn.

BCUR was founded in 2010 and held its first conference in 2011 at the University of Central Lancashire. The conference doubled in size for the second conference, held in 2012 at the University of Warwick. The 2013 Plymouth conference was bigger still!

Abstract submitted: Enhancing accessibility of STEM education for blind and visually impaired students using focused information mapping and a cross-modality platform
The widespread use of graphs, figures and other images during the teaching of mathematical and physical sciences, adds significant conceptual and logistical challenges for students with visual impairments. In this research project I have made preliminary steps to enhance the learning experience of such students. First, I have investigated how to optimally compress 2D visual representations of scientific figures and graphs so that they could be reproduced in a 3D format that uses taxels rather than pixels. Second, I have developed a concept for a refreshable, hand held, device capable of delivering images in that format. This concept addresses the limitations of existing technologies available to visually impaired students: such as braille embossers, tactile paper and audio graphs.

For the compression aspect, I researched how digital images appear on computer screens, or printed hard copies. I then undertook a literature review of data compression techniques, focusing on those used by the Astrophysics community. Areas investigated include computer vision, machine learning, crowd sourcing, and optical character recognition (OCR). For the concept aspect, I have produced a detailed proposal for an ideal device – one that includes tactification (conversion of 2D images into 3D surfaces); sonification (the representation of data using sounds); verbalization (the use of spoken recordings).

The project has been enhanced by input from experts in the Physics & Astronomy, Psychology, Engineering, and Global Studies Departments at the University of Sussex. A prototype device – with eight moving taxels controlled by an Arduino device – has recently been completed with the assistance of sighted colleagues (technicians, fellow students and faculty).

What is an undergraduate research conference?
An undergraduate research conference is just like any other academic conference. There will be spoken papers, lectures, poster presentations and workshops — but each one will be delivered by undergraduate students presenting work they have done either as part of their course or as part of an internship. Students have a chance to learn a lot about how other disciplines approach research problems.

Early academic appearance: British Conference of Undergraduate Research 2016

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