Blind student presents 3-D tactile images to national microscopy conference

August 21, 2012

While Ashleigh Gonzales is a typical, 20-year old ASU senior, she is not your average student. Unlike other undergraduates studying life sciences, her decision to major in molecular biosciences and biotechnology created an unusual challenge – one few others are willing to tackle.

Gonzales is blind. Yet she is pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degree that requires an understanding of many detailed, microscopic biological elements – something she finds fascinating and exciting.  ASU students present 3-D tactile images to national conference Download Full Image

“When I applied to Arizona State University, I chose molecular biosciences and biotechnology because of my love of biology,” said Gonzales. “I was always very interested in science. From a high school biotechnology course, I found that although I loved biology, it was the finer details, such as the molecular processes involved, that I was most interested in.”

Last spring, she signed up for the 400-level course Cell Biotechnology, which teaches students how to experiment with various types of cell cultures and requires a large amount of work with microscopes.

As part of the course, students must design and execute a research project as well as give a final presentation to classmates and bioimaging faculty. Gonzales’ project described how 2-D images could be converted into 3-D tactile boards. They, in turn, provide students who are blind or visually impaired an opportunity to independently learn about images found in textbooks, presentations and captured through a microscope.

At age 13, Gonzales lost her vision completely due to a rare genetic disorder. She had to learn Braille and other skills very quickly. As a college student, she must rely on current technologies such as line drawings, Braille, and image descriptions from teachers and classmates. These methods offer limited tactile translation. Through her project, she hopes to improve access to STEM courses for students who are blind or visually impaired.

“I chose this project because I feel very strongly about the potential for the blind population to have access to STEM materials,” Gonzales said. “Right now, very few blind people will pursue a career in a STEM field. There is a whole group of people whose only barrier to STEM fields might be easier to break than previously believed.”

Recently, Gonzales and classmate Leanne Harris presented their scientific poster, titled “Pictures Worth a Thousand Words,” at the national Microscopy & Microanalysis meeting in Phoenix. 

“Ashleigh was the lead author on this poster and presented her research to a group of outstanding microscopists from around the world,” said Debra Baluch, research scientist in School of Life Sciences. “We were excited to see the positive response from fellow microscopists as our student who is blind, explained to them how to look at image data in a different way.”

“Our poster presentation was very successful,” said Gonzales. “Several people showed an enthusiastic interest in our project. People inquired as to how the tactile boards are made, and provided suggestions on how they might be used. Our research stimulated a lot of conversation about the potential for blind people to have better access to STEM fields.”

Gonzales and Harris both received NASA/ASU Grant Internships to continue researching cell biology and developing three-dimensional tactile image technology. The pair will receive assistance from an interdisciplinary research team from ASU’s School of Life Sciences, School of Earth & Space Exploration, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and Disability Resource Center.

This fall, the two students are scheduled to present posters at conferences for the Society for Neuroscience and American Society for Cell Biology.

In addition, Gonzales will continue her leadership role for a second year as president of Ability Counts Tempe – a disability awareness group on ASU’s Tempe campus. In an attempt to remove common stigmas, the group works to promote better understanding of people with disabilities.

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


Spectacular season opening at the ASU Art Museum

August 21, 2012

The ASU Art Museum celebrates its season opening on Sept. 28-29 with the arrival of "Ant Farm Media Van v.08 [Time Capsule"] at the Ceramics Research Center and the opening of "Trajectory," the new exhibition by Portugese artist-in-residence Miguel Palma.

The festivities, free and open to the public, run from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 28-29 and include Movement Connections, a group which mixes parkour, martial arts, acrobatics and dance, who will perform using the museum building as its stage. Download Full Image

The premiere of " 55: Music and Dance in Concrete," a project by composer, pianist and electronic musician Wayne Horvitz is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. each evening. An intricate performance featuring dance and video elements, "55: Music and Dance in Concrete" emphasizes the unique visual and acoustic elements specific to the museum, with site-specific choreography performed by dancers visiting from Japan.

The work’s electronic score is composed of fragments from 55 improvised and 55 composed pieces recorded in bunkers and a cistern on the former military base Fort Worden, the project’s initial site. The electronic score was recorded and composed during the summer of 2012 in preparation for the collaborative installation and performance with choreographer Yukio Suzuki and his KINGYO company, engineer and producer Tucker Martine and video artist Yohei Saito.

Food trucks will be available both nights of the season opening festivities.

The ASU Art Museum is located at 51 E. 10th Street, Tempe, Ariz., and the Ceramic Research Center is across the street at the northeast corner of 10th Street and Mill Avenue.

Public Contact: 
Deborah Sussman Susser
PR/Marketing Specialist

Media Contact:
Deborah Sussman Susser
PR/Marketing Specialist