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Exploring "fundamental questions about humanity" with visually impaired individuals — KEK and Tsukuba University of Technology collaborate to produce braille book on particle physics


The Institute of Particle and Nuclear Studies at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), in collaboration with Tsukuba University of Technology, has produced a Braille book titled "Understanding the 'Invisible World:' The Origin of the Universe and Matter." This book aims to allow visually impaired individuals to think about and become familiar with the fundamental question, "Why do we exist?" While books in the humanities are relatively easy to translate into Braille, books in the natural sciences are not widely available because few Braille translators are familiar with the content, making it difficult to create Braille translations and tactile illustrations. This impedes visually impaired individuals' access to natural sciences such as physics. This Braille book was designed by the Institute of Particle and Nuclear Studies to respond to the desire of visually impaired individuals to "know and learn more" about the universe and matter. The repository can be accessed from the project's website ( and is available to all.

The universe originated 13.8 billion years ago from a minuscule mass of energy, from which matter, the Earth and life emerged. Although these processes are not fully understood, researchers at the Institute of Particle and Nuclear Studies provide easy-to-understand explanations regarding our current understanding of these topics and what is expected to be clarified through future research. The manuscript, written by ten researchers who were assigned various topics, was translated into Braille by a team from the Research and Support Center on Higher Education for People with Disabilities at the Tsukuba University of Technology.

Tsukuba University of Technology routinely translates textbooks and other materials into Braille for visually impaired students enrolled at the university, but this is the first time that the university has collaborated with an author to provide Braille translations in the field of elementary particles. Generally, Braille translations are created for books that have already been published; therefore, such books may contain text and graphic representations that are difficult for visually impaired people to understand. Even in such cases, a Braille translator interprets the original text and produces a Braille book. However, this was not the case in the creation of this Braille book. After the authors had written the manuscript, the text was proofread by visually impaired individuals and revised to make the expressions easier to understand for the visually impaired. In particular, in this Braille book, most of the graphs and conceptual diagrams have not been omitted and have been expressed using text and tactile diagrams (diagrams with raised surfaces for visually impaired individuals to touch and read). The authors, who are experts in the field of elementary particles, held discussions with Braille experts from the faculty of Tsukuba University of Technology over 1 month last summer in an effort to create better representations for visually impaired individuals.

Hitoshi Tanaka, a lecturer at Tsukuba University of Technology and a member of the Braille translation team who is himself visually impaired, commented, "Braille has evolved to meet the new requirements of visually impaired individuals since its creation by Louis Braille. The richness of Braille expression across words, musical notations, mathematical and chemical formulas, information processing, and diagrams and tables is a testament to the challenges that visually impaired persons have tackled over time. This Braille translation is rooted in my belief in the possibilities of Braille. I hope you will take a look at it."

Naohito Saito, Director of the Institute of Particle and Nuclear Studies, said, "I would be happy if this project enables visually impaired individuals to join in thinking about the mysteries of the universe and matter. A very impressive aspect of this project is the depth of concentration and passion with which visually impaired individuals made efforts to understand the subject using nonvisual information. Those of us who study elementary particles and quantum fields, which are fundamentally invisible to the naked eye, are in the same position as visually impaired people in the sense that we are building up our understanding by feeling our way in the dark, so to speak. If we can join forces and explore together, I am hopeful that a new understanding will emerge."

One visually impaired preview reader commented, "I was very interested in how elemental transitions were explained in detail using symbols for elements, protons, electrons, neutrinos and so on as well as equations presenting the potential energy of the Higgs field. Few general commentaries go into such depth, and it is very gratifying to know that this information is available in Braille. I think this book needs to be read several times because it contains such detailed explanations, but that is exactly why I feel it would be an important book for gaining new knowledge."

This Braille book consists of a Braille part containing the main text and a tactile illustrated part containing the figures. The tactile illustrations are available for loan to individuals, universities and research institutions. There are also plans to donate sets of Bluebacks books and tactile illustrations to university and school libraries as well as to information centers for visually impaired individuals.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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