Space in Your Hands

An Overview

For a blind person to experience the world of astronomy and space science, there is little help but theory and imagination. ‘Space in Your Hands’ will reach out to those who cannot see and open to them, literally in their hands, the research world that others visually experience with models or observations. A blind person holding and discovering the properties of the Sun in their hand would reconcile them with the source of the unseen light in a most symbolic way. The project will help the visually impaired to understand the 3D shapes that make up our space environment and beyond.

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What does it use?

The project will use the engineering polyamide, which has been developed for high resolution and feature creation of freeform geometries, perfect to create fine, robust and tactile object representations of modern space and astrophysics that could be accessible to all. Production will be done at the University of Exeter Centre for Additive Layer and Manufacturing (CALM). CALM is one of about 10 University centres across the UK that has the engineering capabilities required for this project. Although the technology is costly at first, replication from the digital models can be widely achieved with regular cheaper 3D printers.

Special attention will be placed in the design of fifteen educational prototypes to meet the needs of communities. Latest advances in research, variations in texture and colours will be incorporated in the choice of 3D-rendered designs such as the solar interior and atmosphere, coronal and heliospheric structures, magnetosphere, moon, comet 67P/C-G, Saturn, galaxies, pulsars...


Legacy of the project beyond 2020 will take the form of:

  • A numerical database of space science objects in a format ready for 3D printing;
  • A free repository of the exhibits produced for workshops and exhibitions;
  • Birth of new enthusiasm for space science from part of the population that is visually impaired;
  • Community commitment for the social and educational inclusion of visually impaired people;
  • New outreach and educational experiences for all with the use of the tactile sense, and high potential for mainstreaming;
  • High potential to inspire similar projects across the sciences.

The primary audience are blind organisations and schools, forming new partnerships with the RAS. To form an inclusive community and reach out to the wider public in the longer term, we will also work in conjunction with schools, science centres and science outreach events.

Education professionals and the visually impaired communities will be engaged from the outset. At first we will interact with the following local communities. The West of England School is a specialist centre for visual impairment. The Norman Lockyer Observatory holds popular hands-on outreach activities, which will be amplified by a new tactile awareness. The Exeter Mathematics School (EMS) is a new 6th form school created for able Mathematics students throughout the South West and keen to enrich their provision in sciences.

University of Exeter staff involved in public engagement and outreach, many with schools across Devon and the EMS, will provide research knowledge, advice and feedback on the design, both on the scientific content and in considering themselves as future users of the exhibits as part of their current activities (not necessarily with blind people).

Cycle of the Project

Over a 1-year cycle, the different stages of the project are:

  1. Development with the focus group;
  2.  Production into 3D exhibits;
  3.  Delivery in outreach and educational activities;
  4. Evaluation and Legacy including the free repository of numerical models and exhibits.


  The consortium focus group formed of all key-partners (providers, users and beneficiaries) will meet up at the start of each year in the project, to agree in a cohesive and collaborative effort on the following;

  • Target audiences, e.g. age group, types of impairment;
  • Co-design of 2-4 new prototypes, around a chosen annual theme, e.g. solar physics, space weather,

    planets and comets, astrophysics;

  • Plans and logistics for activities, e.g. school curriculum, minibus hire;
  • Format of associated teaching-learning materials, e.g. contents, Braille, MP3s.