NEW technology developed by an Oxfordshire woman could be introduced in schools to help blind and partially sighted people study biology.

Bio-imaging researcher Louise Hughes led a project at Oxford Brookes University to bring images under the microscope to life as 3D models.

The team used the latest technology in microscopy and 3D printing to create models of viruses, parasites and cells.

The 36-year-old, from Bicester, said: “It really helped my mother, who has gone blind through Alzheimer’s, to keep following my research. This formed the basis of my idea to get groups of people who are blind and partially sighted into biology.”

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The plan is to introduce the models in schools to create a more hands-on method of teaching. Mrs Hughes said: “It’s a great tool and we want to make the models available for schools and teachers. We want to get some of the national specialist blind schools involved.

“The 3D models benefit people who are not used to using microscopes and those who struggle with their sight. It’s accessible and is a tangible method they can use to interpret the data.”

She added: “Using 3D electron microscopy techniques I can image and model miniature structures and can convert these models into data that 3D printers can use and generate sculptures of these structures which are several million times their normal size.”

Oxford Brookes also wants to promote the models to Oxford-based charities for the visually impaired.

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  • Louise Hughes

Dr Hughes recently won a New England Biolabs Passion in Science award for her work to bring microscopy to the public and in particular blind and partially sighted people.

The models were recently shown at the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) Great British Bioscience Festival, as well as at a special event in Tower Hamlets, East London, for the blind and partially sighted, dubbed ‘Giant Germs’, again in collaboration with the BBSRC.

Chris Hawes, Professor of Cell Biology at Oxford Brookes, said the models had been well received.

He added: “We brought the microscope along so people could feel it and then explained what was under it and let them feel the models. It had an amazing reaction. It’s an area of science that blind and partially sighted people haven’t been able to access.”

The professor said the team would approach local schools and take the models to the Oxfordshire Science Festival in March to generate more interest.


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