Sensory Scientific Exhibition: Making Science More Accessible

We could practically hear the cogs turning and the creative juices running right away when we asked our researchers if they could make their research accessible to people with vision loss. To say that everyone was excited and energised by this challenge is an understatement.

A model of an immune cell moving toward a cancer cell in th body A ball pitt to show how immune cells seek out and recognise cancer cells

On December 11, the students and staff of Single Molecule Science (SMS) hosted a scientific discovery day tailored for the blind and low vision community explaining how we investigate the Building Blocks of Life. We designed sensory activities and tactile materials to convey scientific concepts allowing the audience to explore and discovery our research using touch, sounds and smells. In the lead up to the event, inspiration and advice for these creations were provided by Dr Erica Tandori, the legally blind artist who immortalised the Human Immunodeficiency Virus with Paper Mâché embellished with lentils, pasta, LED lights and more for the exhibition.

Legally blind artist, Erica Tandori holding her 3D model of HIV Using smell to explain immunological memory

“3-D printers were running hot,” says Dr David Jacques, SMS Group Leader and Head of the event’s organising committee.

Among our visitors on the day, we welcomed people with vision loss with their companions, specialist teachers for the vision-impaired, orientation and mobility instructors, representatives from organisations including Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children, Vision Australia, Blind Sports NSW, Blind Citizens Australia, Curing Blindness Australia, Centre for Eye Health, our own UNSW staff and students, Professor Joanne Tompkins (ARC Executive Director), and others curious about science. We also extended the invitation to Year 7 and 8 students from Matraville Sports High – a local high school UNSW Sydney works closely with as part of the UNSW–Matraville Education Partnership.

A participate exploring a 3D printed HIV capsid with his white cane beside him A group of students from Matraville Sports High pictured with their teacher and an accessibility ambassador


The event kicked off with a welcome from Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Equity Diversity and Inclusion at UNSW, and was followed by a seminar about infection and immunity from Professor Jamie Rossjohn of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. After this, the audience had to opportunity to explore a series of breakout activities created and presented by researchers. Staff and researchers, from Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, UNSW Schools of Medical Sciences and Physics, the Centre for Eye Health, and the Museum of Human Disease also joined us to showcase their own scientific themes. To help our visitors move between sessions, we had the support of Accessibility Ambassadors from the UNSW Student Life and Communities office.

Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Eileen Baldry acknowledges country and welcomes our visitors Professor Jamie Rossjohn speaks about different immune cells typesEye researcher Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith discusses eye health Accessibility Ambassadors, student volunteers helping visitors move between exhibits

To bring the exhibition to a festive close, presenters and visitors all gathered around the Christmas Tree of Life and Death to sing the 12 Days of Christmas with new lyrics written by David Jacques to cover the themes covered in this event. …And E-bol-a in our tree !!!

A group of presenters led by Dr David Jacques Crocheted Ebola virus on the Christmas tree of life and death with other 3D printed and crafted rnaments

This was our very first full scale outreach event, which was embraced by our audience. They enjoyed learning about viruses, our immune systems, how our eyes work, how we sense touch, and much much more. Many commented that the interactive and hands-on nature of the exhibition was especially engaging.

A visitor with low vision piecing together 3D printed nucleotides that make up DNA Audeince members experiencing lab procedure

With such encouraging feedback, there is most certainly more community outreach activities for us in the future. Watch this space.

We were able to offer this event with the generous support offered by the UNSW Disability Innovation Institute, the Museum of Human Disease and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging.

Read more about this event in the UNSW Newsroom

Photography courtesy of Stephen Blake, more images below.

Registration IMG_5116Seminar Presenters4 Claire Audience2  EricasAntonie2 LisaAudience3 Audience4Photoreceptors LabExperience3 LabExperience4 LabExperience5 museum FilmingPhysics Physics2 Matraville8 SensingTouch

Presenters1 Presenters2




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