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Tactile Astronomy: Seeing with Ears and Hands

Dr Nicolas Bonne at the University of Portsmouth is helping not only himself but others who are captivated by astronomy study the cosmos without relying on vision alone. Using a combination of spatial audio and 3D printed models, this astronomer creates auditory and tactile experiences for the visually impaired – or just those who learn better through these means. His work was featured in the British Science Festival’s A Dark Tour of the Universe exhibition and it also lives online for educators through his Tactile Universe project.

Assignment Idea: Hearing the Visual World


Imagine an individual blind since birth wanting to take up a new hobby or to further explore subject matter that may be impossible conceive of clearly in the mind’s eye. Are there technologies out there to assist this learning or exploration? What would be necessary for this individual to be successful?

Now think about what you study: How would you convey this field to someone who could not see related visual materials?

Brainstorm in small groups on how this concept could be best imparted tp visually impaired students studying in your discipline. What concepts would be difficult for students with vision impairments to create a visual image of? What could be done for them to learn the same content as expressed with visuals using a combination of sound and other media?

More fuel for thought:

Subject Areas

Art Education, Communications, Education, Engineering, Health and Human Development


  • draft of a device or app (paper or digital) that would provide a visually impaired individual with auditory knowledge of a single subject or topic
  • a written project proposal for the device or app that defines audience, outlines the problem, evidences research, outlines the solution and shows how it would impact the intended audience
  • (optional) a video describing your small group’s design and proposed product solution