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By Nancy Hopkins on

Where’s Mat at?

With three and a half weeks to go until Manchester Science Festival, we catch up with the winner of this year's Josh Award, science communicator Mat Allen to find out what he's been developing for visually impaired visitors.
Mat Allen
Mat Allen, science communicator extraordinaire

Hi Mat. What have you been up to?

As part of the award, I’m developing activities, resources and a workshop to better enable people with visual impairments to learn more about space. I’ve called it Touch the Stars.

I’ve developed a number of tactile (sense of touch) and auditory (sense of hearing) resources that I’ve been testing.

These resources can be used by anyone, whether they are visually impaired or not.  This means everyone can participate and learn about space together.

Sounds great. What inspired you to do this?

Astronomy and space are very visual. One of the ways people first become excited about space is by seeing incredible images, such as pictures of the Universe taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, or seeing the night sky through a telescope.

For people with visual impairments, these routes into astronomy are not always possible. I wanted to develop a way to communicate such a visual subject to those with limited vision.

What’s a dinosaur claw got to do with space? Read on to find out more…

How can you feel or hear the Universe?

Imagine an image of the night sky or an object in the Universe. Some parts of it are bright, whilst the background of the image will probably be quite dark.

By 3D printing the night sky and raising the bright parts of the sky, people can feel where the bright parts of the image are. By doing this, you can feel what a star, galaxy or full image of the night sky looks like.

Another resource that I’ve been working on is a 3D model of the planet Mars, which is the size of a tennis ball. By exaggerating the sizes of the valleys and mountains, you can feel what the overall surface feels like, including Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the Solar System.

3D print of Mars

Meteorites are magnetic pieces of rock and metal that fall down to Earth from space. By putting a few objects inside an opaque box, participants can try to work out which one is the meteorite by using their hands and a magnet.

The non-meteorite objects that we are using include a dinosaur claw and an ammonite, making them interesting enough to have a play with on their own!

What’s in the box? Is it a bird, is it a plane…no it’s a meteor!

They sound great. Have you managed to test them out yet?

I was lucky enough to demonstrate these and other activities with the Cardiff Institute for the Blind and Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) with a group of visually impaired space enthusiasts!

Everyone loved all the activities, with the meteorites and the 3D model of Mars getting special attention. The feedback and advice they gave will make the projects and activities even better.

Can we have a go?

Sure! The workshops for Touch the Stars are fully booked, but you can come to the drop-in sessions.


18–19 October, 10.00–11.00 and 14.00–16.00.





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