How do we design tactile models for outreach?

Over 2 million people in the UK live with sight loss. Frequently those with sight loss are excluded from enjoying cultural exhibitions, as they are unable to see the items on display. Developing content for those with visual impairments is one of the most challenging tasks for curators. Museums trying to make their exhibits more accessible have adapted a range of responses from tactile paintings to the holistic approach of the V&A in London which incorporates Braille descriptions, staff training and tangible objects. These recent initiatives have shown there is an appetite in the curating world to attempt to adapt content to make it fully accessible; and those with sight loss have engaged positively with the artefacts. However, detailed research into how to optimise content for those with sight loss, and indeed anyone, has not been conducted. How one explores a tactile object will be intrinsically different to how one views an item and questions of scale, and methods of discovery need to be explored and standards arrived at.

We believe 3D printing provides a rapid and flexible tool to address the problem of developing content for those with sight loss. We want to build 3D models from the Natural History Museum in London's extensive collections and datasets, print them and use them for outreach, in the Museum, on gallery, in schools and in public outreach programmes. With this project we will use the specimens to tell stories about the NHM collections and what they inform us about the natural world - its past, present and future - in a way that is accessible to everyone. Our data, methodologies and findings will be shared online and be available to everyone for free.

This project is done in connection with SEAHA, UCL, Carl Zeiss Microscopy, and the Natural History Museum.

Make It Visible is a collaboration between the NHM, Carl Zeiss Microscopy and UCL and is a research project that tries to make the concepts of microscopy and magnification accessible to people with visual impairments.

Microscopy is a highly visual way of studying the natural world, but high-performance research microscopes rely heavily on computer imaging techniques. The operator "sees" a sample with the aid of the instrument. Often the details that are observed are invisible to the unassisted eye. We want to know if we can make an experience like this relying on tactile models.

We are exploring different methods to acquire 3D data using SEM photogrammetry and other acquisition and data processing techniques. We are comparing these methods to more traditional 3D microscopy techniques such as micro-CT scanning and confocal microscopy.


We are creating 3D printed models of microscopic and magnified objects and to test different types of 3D printed materials to see how our testers respond to them.