Tactile Collider

Here is a guest post by Dr Rob Appleby from the University of Manchester and the team at Tactile Collider. You can find out more about them and there amazing outreach program at the following links:









BHiveLabs have, over the last year, forged a partnership with the national project Tactile Collider (funded by STFC) to make new tactile objects to explain the science and engineering of the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs boson to blind and partially sighted audiences. This audience has very little chance to learn about this exciting science, in part due to the visual nature of the materials.

The goal of Tactile Collider was to fix this!

Early one we realized we needed a variety of new materials to teach the science, to work to different kinds of sight loss and to reinforce concepts in several different ways. For the tactile objects we wanted to make 3D printing was the perfect solution and we were lucky to know Simon at BHiveLabs to offer expert advice and solutions. We also had a need to print many objects for large classes, so the expertise in casting from 3D printed moulds possessed BHiveLabs would be crucial.

Tactile Collider is built around four stations, covering four areas of science. One of these stations is the magnet station, where students learn how we control and manipulate beams in the Large Hadron Collider using strong electromagnets.  This is the station we made materials for with BHiveLabs (The other stations are particle, magnets and Higgs but that is a whole other story). One concept we wanted to communicate is the idea of a bar magnet and how we use magnets with a north pole and a south pole (a dipole magnet) to deflect particle beams. We designed a tactile bar magnet, with outward dimples for a north pole and inward dimples for a south pole, and a dipole  magnet with the same convention. Simon organized a special design workshop for the Tactile Collider team, which was essential and very useful.

We printed these items with Simon’s help and advice and they came out beautifully!  Tactile Collider then organized a test event at Daresbury Laboratory, with two visually impaired guests using the printed objects. The test event was very successful, thanks in part to the input of BHiveLabs!

Now we had a nice bar magnet model, we needed to make many copies. This is where the expertise possessed by BHiveLabs in casting from moulds. Simon taught us how to produce moulds from the first magnet prints and then helped us hold casting workshops, where we produced many copies of the magnet and other models. This process was made easy by Simon, who guided us through every step of the way and gave us confidence to cast independently. Simon designed and made bespoke moulds for us to use and also designed the support structures for these moulds. We even learned how to use dyes to give the colours we wanted! The result was a set of models in sufficient number and quality for Tactile Collider.

The technology of 3D printing has allowed us to realise our ambitions of creating bespoke objects for teaching physics in new ways. However, without the support and expertise of BHiveLabs we would not have been able to produce so many well-made objects to properly deliver our work in a classroom setting.

This has been so successful we are continuing to come up with new ideas and designs and hope to continue our partnership in the future!

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There have been a few reasons to celebrate lately around BHiveLabs of late, first of all Matthew and his wife have recently had their second child, and secondly a friend got married. To help celebrate, and to try and expand my skill set a little bit I thought I would try and make some chocolates to give out as gifts.

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