Tactile Universe

Making astronomy research accessible to the vision impaired community

About the Tactile Universe project

The Tactile Universe is an award-winning project at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation to engage the visually impaired (VI) community with our astrophysics research.

We're creating 3D printed tactile images of galaxies which can be used in schools and at public events.

Science and Technology Facilities Council logo

The Tactile Universe is supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council through a Nucleus Award.

Current Status

The current focus of the project is on engagement with young people through school visits and workshops. We're creating a set of versatile resources for use in the classroom with key stage 2 and 3 pupils (age 7 – 14), using our tactile images of galaxies as a focus.

With support from STFC through a Nucleus Award all our resources will be made available to the wider astronomy outreach and VI communities free of charge. In summer 2018 we released our 3D printing files for the tactile galaxy images, plus supporting materials, which can be found on the models page of our website.

In the 2018/19 school year we ran training sessions across the UK, so that teachers, educators, science communicators, outreach professionals and any other interested parties can learn how to use our resources.

The Tactile Universe is currently based at the University of Portsmouth, with additional support from The Ogden TrustRNIB Bookshare, the Royal Astronomical Society and the South East Physics Network (SEPnet).

Pilot Project

An initial 6-month pilot project was funded by the South East Physics Network until January 2017. For this pilot, we developed our 3D printed tactile images of galaxies, which were used in a public event for the VI community in Portsmouth on the 14 January 2017. At this event, attendees were able to explore the different shapes of galaxies using a set of the 3D printed galaxies. You can find out more about the pilot by reading our A&G article.

A Tactile Universe community event

A Tactile Universe community event in January 2017

Tactile Universe project lead Dr. Nicolas Bonne

Tactile Universe project lead Dr. Nicolas Bonne

Core team

Nicolas Jean Bonne Portrait

Dr Nicolas Bonne

Public Engagement and Outreach Fellow


Faculty of Technology

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Jennifer Ann Gupta Portrait

Media ready expert

Dr Jen Gupta

Associate Professor in Public Engagement and Outreach


Faculty of Technology

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Coleman Krawczyk Portrait

Dr Coleman Krawczyk

Citizen Science and Outreach Fellow


Faculty of Technology

PhD Supervisor

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User profile default icon

Mr Ted Turnbull

Senior Lecturer


School of Creative Technologies

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

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Special thanks

A special thanks goes out to the schools and groups that helped us test all our content:

  • Toynbee School
  • Kings Copse Primary School
  • The vision impaired support group at the Southsea Library

Explore more of our research

Our research areas of expertise

Theoretical cosmology

We're exploring the inflation of the very early Universe, the impact of dark energy on its geometry and developing tests to monitor its expansion.

galaxy space
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Gravitational waves

We're detecting cosmic gravitational waves and developing gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool.

Illustration of 2 merging black holes and the gravitational waves that ripple outward
Read more

Observational Cosmology

We're mapping the Universe on the largest scales to understand dark energy, studying the clustering of galaxies and dark matter, and observing transient events and supernovae.

Nebulas and stars
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Our research areas and centres

Cosmology and Astrophysics

We're working to understand the cosmos and the fundamental physical laws at work – including gravity and the nature of spacetime. And how these laws of nature play out in the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies.

Solar system
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Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation

Researchers at our Institute of Cosmology & Gravitation explore the evolution of our Universe and aim to inspire the next generation of scientists. 

galaxy space
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