May 15, 2017

Yerkes Observatory Begins Project to Make Astronomy Accessible

The University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory will work with high school students in Chicago and around the country for a three-year research initiative to make astronomy more accessible to the blind and visually impaired. 

The Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA) program at the Yerkes Observatory hopes to produce software, named “Afterglow Access,” that will generate learning models like 3-D printouts and sound displays that will allow blind and visually impaired students to more easily study astronomy and other STEM subjects. 

  IDATA will design software that uses the same light data astronomers use to view stars and galaxies, but will interpret the data into sound and objects instead of images. It will be working with 200 teachers and high school students from schools around the country to test the software every year, and hopes to complete “Afterglow Access” after three years.    

The initiative is funded by a $2.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and follows the success of similar NSF and Yerkes Observatory–partnered programs like Skynet Junior Scholars, which provides professional astronomy tools to young students.   

Recruitment of schools and teachers for 2017 closed in late April.