3-D mathematical models assist blind student

Translating text into Braille is straight-forward work. But how does one translate calculus models with intricate shapes and shadings for a blind person to easily understand?

For Chelsea Cook of Newport News, Va., a junior majoring in physics, the lack of an exact translated diagram was a hurdle to learning. A cylinder shape can be demonstrated with a soda can, a sphere as a baseball. But what of paraboloids or hyperboloids?


Chelsea Cook studies inside the College of Science’s projectile physics lab in fall 2011. Chelsea Cook studies inside the College of Science’s projectile physics lab in fall 2011.

Virginia Tech’s DREAMS Lab was able to design and print a myriad of 3-D tactile shapes for Cook using large, high-end printers. Such models have been built before, but never with braille for the visually impaired. 

“All of the verbal explanations of what the shape looked like and the 2-D cross sections that were given to her just were not as good or as clear as having a model to hold,” said Jacob Moore of Blacksburg, Va., a doctoral student with dual concentrations in mechanical engineering and engineering education, who led the shape-printing efforts.

Cook has used the models extensively.

“I don’t have to concentrate so much on what the shape looks like because it is already there,” Cook said.

Moore and Assistant Professor Christopher Williams, along with Austin Amaya of Urbana, Ill., a doctoral student in mathematics, and Ethan Groves of Front Royal, Va., a junior in computer science, have won university awards for their efforts.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Steven Mackay at 540-231-4787.

Determination propels physics major toward her dream

    Chelsea Cook is a sophomore physics major from Newport News, Va.

Chelsea Cook is a physics major from Newport News, Va, who plans to be an astronaut. She’s taking a full load of courses, maintains a 3.3 grade-point average, and is active in the Society of Physics Students and the Ladies of Robeson, a women’s physics group. And one more thing. Cook is blind.