Making Computational Chemistry Accessible for Blind Students

We are working to provide access to the computational/theoretical chemistry laboratory for blind students interested in independent investigation of structure-function relationships. Our approach utilizes tactile drawings, molecular model kits, existing software, Bash/Perl scripts written in-house, and 3-dimensional printing (with a printer purchased with support from NSF, the UCD Math & Physical Sciences Dean's Office and the UCD Department of Chemistry) in a process that allows a blind or visually impaired student to satisfy her/his curiosity about structure-function relationships with minimal assistance from sighted co-workers.

Here is a summary of our workflow: from idea to quantum chemical calculation to printed 3-dimensional models of resulting structures...

We have published a paper describing parts of our approach:

Wedler, H. B.; Cohen, S. R.; Davis, R. L.; Harrison, J. G.; Siebert, M. R.; Willenbring, D.; Hamann, C. S.; Shaw, J. T.; Tantillo, D. J. J. Chem. Educ. 2012, 89, 1400-1404: "Computational Chemistry for the Blind and Visually Impaired"

Hoby has also described our progress through lectures and posters...

Henry Wedler: "Being Blind in a Sighted World: Why Equality and High Social Expectations are Indispensable." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA, April 30, 2012.

Henry Wedler: "From High School to Graduate School: One Blind Chemistry Student’s Perspective." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at Sonoma State University, Coati, CA, November 14, 2011.

Henry Wedler: "Instructing Chemistry at the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam: A Brief Description of Activities and What Students Came Away With." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at the National Federation of the Blind of California Annual Convention, Newark, CA, October 15, 2011.

Henry Wedler: "Chemistry Camp Panel: Several People’s Perspectives on Chemistry Camp and What they Learned." Panel discussion led by Hoby Wedler at the general session of the National Federation of the Blind of California Annual Convention, Newark, CA, October 15, 2011.

Henry Wedler: "California Chemistry Camp: Showing Blind Students that Visual Impairment Shouldn’t Stop them From Studying Visual Subjects." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at the California Association of Blind Students Annual Seminar, Newark, CA, October 14, 2011.

Henry Wedler: "Moving Forward: Making a Computational/Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory Accessible to the Blind." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at the 2011 Richard Larock Undergraduate Research Conference, UC Davis, Davis, CA, May 14, 2011.

Henry Wedler, Jason G. Harrison, Rebecca Davis, Sarah Cohen, Christian Hamann, Matthew R. Siebert, Jared Shaw, and Dean J. Tantillo: "Moving Forward: Making a Computational/Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory Accessible to the Blind." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at the 241st ACS National Meeting, Anaheim, CA, March 27-31, 2011; paper CHED 1468.

Henry Wedler: "Nobody Can See Atoms: Why Blind People Can Do Science and How Blind Scientists Can Help Them Achieve Their Goals." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at the 2010 Annual Meeting of Northern California Blind Field Services Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, December 9, 2010.

Henry Wedler: "Why Blind People Can Do Science and How Blind Scientists Can Help Them Achieve Their Goals." Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at the National Federation of the Blind of California convention, October 31, 2010.

Henry Wedler: "Are You Blind? Then Computational/Theoretical Chemistry Is for You!" Lecture presented by Hoby Wedler at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, October 13, 2010.

Henry Wedler, Sarah R. Cohen, Rebecca L. Davis, Christian S. Hamann, Jason G. Harrison, Jared T. Shaw, Matthew R. Siebert and Dean J. Tantillo: "Are You Blind? Then Computational/Theoretical Chemistry Is for You!" Poster and short talk presented by Hoby Wedler at the 9th MERCURY Conference, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, August 1-3, 2010.

...and has spearheaded efforts to develop camp experiences to show younger blind students that careers in chemistry are indeed accessibile:

A chemistry camp for blind teenagers in Napa (with help from Mike, Jason, Becky, Sarah, Chris, Kristin Milinkevich, Tim Newman, Jared Shaw, Annaliese Franz, Lighthouse for the Blind of San Francisco and the National Federation of the Blind of California). Hoby was interviewed about his work on organizing this camp for KQED's QUEST radio show (also, see this link and this link). Interviews were also aired on The California Report and on NPR, and Hoby was subsequently interviewed by Chemical & Engineering News, The Sacramento Bee and The California Aggie. See also this UCD Chem news feature, this "UC Davis Today" feature, this interview with Insight on Capital Public Radio, this brief story on the California Report (also featured here), this story in the California Aggie and this story in the Retina India newsletter.

The 2011 National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam (chemistry section co-organized and run with Chris and Jason; see this essay in The Albright Reporter for Chris's personal perspective):

The fourth biennial Youth Slam was put on by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) at Towson University in Towson, Maryland from July 17-23, 2011. The NFB invited 150 blind high school students to Towson University to study particular branches of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The students were divided into groups of three called pods and a blind mentor chosen by the NFB was responsible for each pod. The scientific portion of the youth slam occurs in tracks which study specific areas of STEM like chemistry, biology, geology, civil engineering, etc. Each track is led by at least one (usually two or three) instructors also chosen by the NFB and each track consists of five pods (fifteen students with their five mentors).

At this Youth Slam, chemists Henry Wedler and Jason Harrison from the Tantillo group and Prof. Chris Hamann from Albright College instructed the chemistry track. Through hands-on chemistry activities, the students learned that their blindness shouldn’t hinder them from pursuing careers in science. The students synthesized their own esters, performed titrations using olfactory indicators onion and garlic, worked with non-Newtonian liquids, determined the hydration energy of acetone using computational chemistry, and made ethanol that was subsequently used to power a fan which wafted vapors of reactions towards them safely. Says Hoby Wedler: "Chemistry students in general often feel that chemistry is daunting. Blind students may see chemistry as even more daunting than their sighted peers because it is often instructed in a very visual manner. Our mission (which I’m confident we accomplished) as instructors of the chemistry track was to show blind students that they could study chemistry as blind people, that chemistry doesn’t have to be so daunting, and that they may have an advantage in many areas of chemistry over their sighted peers. As I like to say, 'Nobody can see atoms."”

We have published a paper describing Hoby's approach:

Wedler, H. B.; Boyes, L.; Davis, R. L.; Flynn, D.; Franz, A. K.; Hamann, C. S.; Harrison, J. G.; Lodewyk, M. W.; Milinkevich, K. A.; Shaw, J. T.; Tantillo, D. J.; Wang, S. C. J. Chem. Ed. 2014, 91, 188-194: "Nobody Can See Atoms: Science Camps Highlighting Approaches for Making Chemistry Accessible to Blind and Visually-Impaired Students"

 

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