Cosmologists win award for making astronomy accessible to vision-impaired children

Group image of Dr Nicolas Bonne, Dr Jen Gupta and Dr Coleman Krawczyk

The Tactile Universe enables children to experience the wonders of the Universe through a multi-sensory learning experience.

  • 17 January 2022
  • 3 min read

Three University of Portsmouth cosmologists have been awarded The Royal Astronomical Society Annie Maunder Medal 2022 for making astronomy more accessible to vision-impaired children.

The Tactile Universe project, led by Dr Nicolas Bonne and supported by Dr Jen Gupta and Dr Coleman Krawczyk, enables children between the ages of 7 and 14, to experience the wonders of the Universe through a multi-sensory learning experience with 3D models of galaxies, the Solar System and using sound.

Each year the Royal Astronomical Society recognises significant achievement in the fields of astronomy and geophysics through these awards, encompassing different types of talent from research to education and outreach. The announcements were made at the Ordinary Meeting of the Society held on Friday 14 January 2022. The Tactile Universe project and its team were commended for their continuing efforts to create a more inclusive environment that brings astronomy to all.

Project lead Dr Nicolas Bonne, a vision impaired astronomer in the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, said: “This project is really important because we all believe that astronomy should be for everybody. Through this project we want to be able to show young people, who are blind or vision impaired, that they can access and even study STEM subjects like astronomy if that’s where their passions lie.”

Picture of Dr Nic Bonne

This project is really important because we all believe that astronomy should be for everybody. Through this project we want to be able to show young people, who are blind or vision impaired, that they can access and even study STEM subjects like astronomy if that’s where their passions lie.

Dr Nicolas Bonne, Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation

The Tactile Universe team has delivered workshops, created resource kits and trained other practitioners and museums to share knowledge so that the project can be delivered widely across the UK. The project has received global recognition through invited conference talks, media coverage, including an appearance on BBC’s The Sky at Night, and collaboration with an international installation at the British Science Festival.

The Tactile Universe also has international reach through the project’s website, where educators across the world can access developed lesson plans, presentations and instructions for how to create 3D printed models to deliver astronomy classes to children regardless of their level of vision.

A newly funded Science and Technology Facilities Council project will enable the Tactile Universe to expand its interests to communicate research into gravitational waves.

Professor Emma Bunce, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, commented on this year's awards and winners: “I’m delighted that through our awards and medals, we continue to recognise the wealth of talent in the fields of astronomy, geophysics and space science. Our award winners continue to inspire us year after year by uncovering the mysteries of the Universe and the world around us, and encouraging others to do the same.”