01 September 2022
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Scientists at Baylor are leading the charge on research that could change what learning looks like for people with blindness.
They are using the simple technology of 3D printing to allow both blind and sighted people to visualize the same thing.
“They are called lithophanes,” said Bryan Shaw, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “They look like an engraving but when you hold them up to the light, they are a picture-perfect representation of the digital image in which we made them.”
It’s a step forward in inclusion for everyone to be able to pursue their passion for science. The printing of a picture allows people with blindness to feel and visualize the image.
“A lot of blind people who study biology, chemistry, or neuroscience or microbiology, they always hear about what these look, like but they have never been able to visualize one,” Dr. Shaw said. “This lithophane, everything I can see when I hold it up to the light, they can feel.”
It can be used for graphs or molecular structures. The options are endless.
“It can be applied to any image,” Dr. Shaw said. “We can make a lithophane of the Mona Lisa or Sistine Chapel.”
Scientists like Dr. Hoby Wedler, a blind Ph.D. chemist, are excited about the possibilities.
“You can look at this and it’s exactly like what I feel,” he said.
“Chemistry historically has been very inaccessible,” Dr. Shaw said. “It has systematically, explicitly kept people out who are blind. Often times it’s because of lab safety or ‘the visual nature of molecules’ but as Hoby Wedler always says, no one can see molecules anyway.”
It is making a difference for students like Noah Cook, who lost all vision during his senior year of high school.
“The huge issue is bridging the gap of communication between the blind people and sighted people when it comes to looking at visual things like graphs or diagrams,” Cook said.
They hope it will inspire future generations while also giving a helpful tool to scientists in the field now.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Cook said.
Dr. Shaw says they are using standard 3D printing devices and this can be replicated in any high school or college.
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