A ground-breaking project at the University of Portsmouth is giving blind and visually impaired children the chance to explore the universe for the first time.
The university’s cosmology and gravitation research team has developed a series of 3D printed images of galaxies, which allow the children to explore the universe by feeling the shapes of these astronomical objects.
The project is being led by Dr Nicolas Bonne, an astronomer who himself has been visually impaired since birth. Dr Bonne was inspired to create the objects through his own experiences as a child, at a time when there wasn’t a lot of astronomy resources for people with vision impairments.
Dr Bonne said:
In astronomy books and TV shows, whenever anybody wants to talk about how awe inspiring the Universe is, they tend to show beautiful pictures of space to make their point. I wanted to make something that could help to inspire and teach people in the same way, regardless of whether they can see or not.
The project began in 2016, and until recently had just been working with local schools in the Hampshire area – Toynbee School in Chandler’s Ford and Kings Copse Primary School in Hedge End.
The project has since attracted the attention of a number of national organisations, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Royal Astronomical Society. As a result, the team recently celebrated securing a £45,000 government grant to help make the resources available to use throughout the UK – for use in school lessons and at community family events.
Dr Coleman Krawczyk, who is a member of the research team added:
The Tactile Universe is the most rewarding project I have been a part of. I’m excited that this funding means that the tools we’ve developed can be used to make astronomy accessible to children with vision impairments for years to come.
Image: University of Portsmouth