Offering a first-of-its-kind opportunity to 50 visually challenged students, the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) marked National Science Day on Thursday by, among other events, taking them on a journey across the mountains, craters and other features on the inundated surface of planet Venus.
Manufactured thousands of miles away in South Africa, a 3D-printed yellowish-brown model of planet Venus was among the handful of tactile objects — globes, maps, grids and a dome — that were introduced for the first time at the IUCAA.
The models of Venus are funded, conceived and designed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). There are less than 30 such special models in the world, and one such model was gifted by the University of Valencia to IUCAA a few months ago.
On Thursday, forty boys and 10 girls from Jagruti School for the Blind, Alandi and School of Blind, Bhosari learnt about the planet, through touch, at the IUCAA. They also learnt more about the continents on Earth, which were highlighted using wool, thread, glass paints, jute twine, buttons, rubber and other items.
“The objective is to provide equal learning opportunities and develop a sense of navigation among visually-challenged students. With so much data available in formats accessible for differently-abled persons, the subject of Astronomy is no longer limited to sighted persons,” said Neha Deshpande, one of the members of IUCAA’s Outreach Programme, who specialises in Inclusive Astronomy dedicated to the visually-challenged.
“It was a moving sight to see these visually-challenged students feel the continents and touch the Venus model. We will definitely scale up the models and include more students in the learning process,” said IUCAA Director Somak Raychaudhury.
It was no easy task to design maps, a globe and the dome, and the IUCAA team sought help from two visually-challenged students of the Savitribai Phule Pune University for it. “We needed to seek the help of students, who would visit us during the last eight to 12 months, to make the tools best suited for the needs of the visually-challenged,” said Deshpande, who also took lessons in Braille during the last few months.