Out of sight – exhibition that explains cancer to blind and visually impaired

Monash University

A unique program designed to make science accessible to the half a million Australians who are blind or have low vision will open to the public this Friday with a colourful display of tactile art and 3D models.

The focus is on making cancer research accessible by engaging other senses, including smell and touch, through a suite of tactile art and models that depict cells and cell division, tumour growth and invasion, targeted cancer treatments and more. For example, exhibition visitors can engage with soft toys of cancer cells that can be healed when flipped inside out in a hands-on learning activity.

The Sensory Scientific Exhibition and Discovery Day is a program developed by researchers within the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI). Last year’s exhibition (see video) brought to life research exploring infection and immunity. It has travelled nationally – most recently on show at the Lion’s Eye Institute in Perth, and was a finalist for the 2019 Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion.

This year’s exhibition will be held on Friday 6 December at Monash University’s Clayton campus.

Monash BDI recruited legally blind Dr Erica Tandori last year as an artist-in-residence to produce art that could explain infection and immunity to the blind and those with low vision, and provide expert advice for the activities in the exhibition.

This year, Dr Tandori will produce a completely new suite of tactile art and models that depict cancer research. Exhibition visitors will have access to 3D models of cancer cells, and immerse themselves in interactive activities and sessions on cancer research.

Participants will also be able to experience Monash University’s CAVE2 facility which is a 360 degree immersive experience that will have cancer related molecules projected onto enormous surround-screens.

“We’ll have 2D and 3D models, tactile posters and interactive art. The exhibition even includes soft toys of cancer cells that can be healed when flipped inside out, so that people can experience different textures in a hands-on learning activity,” said Monash BDI’s Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who is coordinating the event.

“All of the models will be accompanied by descriptions in both large text and braille and volunteers from the research community will guide participants, explain concepts and answer questions.

“Each small group topic will have interactive and sensory displays suitable for all ages – we really want this to be an inspiring multi-sensory experience. We are encouraging everyone to attend, as we have activities that will appeal to all,” Dr Wagstaff said.

Professor Roger Daly, Head of the Monash BDI’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Cancer Program, is hosting the event.

“We take for granted, when talking to students, the general public and even patients, that they can see what we are talking about when describing what happens in cancer at a cellular and anatomical level,” Professor Daly said.

“For those who have low or no vision, using words is often not enough – so programs that can convert these scientific concepts into tactile and audible demonstrations are enormously valuable.”

The Sensory Scientific Exhibition and Discovery Day will be held on Friday 6 December at Monash University, Clayton campus. Find out more and register here.

/Public Release.