Making Molecular Imagery More Accessible to Students with Blindness

This presentation will discuss our recent investigations into fabricating 3D models of molecular graphics that are millimeter in scale. We refer to these models as micro models. The size of micro models range from the size of a rice grain to a peanut. We have converted X-ray crystal structures of various proteins into atomically accurate models on this size scale. Some of these models are made via 3D printing, using biocompatible resin. Others are made from edible gummy material using silcone molding, where the initial silicone mold is made from a 3D printed master structure. We have tested students’ ability to recall the shape of micro models using manual stereognosis (tactile sensing with fingers) and oral stereognosis (tactile sensing with the tongue and lips). Despite their small size, students were able to recall the structure of models accurately (at about 85 %) by both oral and manual stereognosis. However, these tests were only performed on blindfolded sighted students. The small size of these models gives them two advantages over more conventional models that are larger in size. First, the models are cheaper to make (about 10 cents per model). Secondly, the models are more portable than conventional base-ball size models, allowing models to be arrayed, stored, and transported at high volume. The low cost and small size of micro models could make large numbers of 3D images (such as in a standard biochemistry textbook) more accessible to students with blindness.

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