The Tactile Universe is an on-going public engagement project from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, supported by the South East Physics Network, that is creating accessible activities and resources to enable members of the vision impaired community to engage with current research topics within astrophysics and cosmology. By doing so, they hope to demonstrate to this community that astrophysics can be accessible to them, and in particular, raise the aspirations of young people with vision impairments.
The current focus of the project is to create 3D printed tactile versions of single-band images of galaxies (eg. red optical filters, blue optical filters, etc). These can then be used to explain a variety of concepts related to galaxy research, such as morphology and stellar populations. Amongst other related projects that explain general astronomy topics to a vision impaired audience, the team is believed to be the first project to focus on opening up current astrophysics research to this audience.
The presentation described the production and uses of the team’s 3D printed galaxies and other project resources. At the one day conference at the Royal Astronomical Society — as mentioned in our event report — the Tactile Universe team explained how they have used these in different classroom and public settings to date, and they shared the lessons that they have learnt through the project so far. The presenters had examples of their models available for attendees to interact with throughout the day along with a demo showing how their 3D modelling software plug-in can make tactile image models in a few simple steps.
Special thanks to this team members Nic Bonne, Jen Gupta, Coleman Krawczyk, and Karen Masters for organising the conference to bring UK based projects together at the end of 2017, working on public engagement and accessible science. You can learn more about the Tactile Universe through their Twitter and website.