Bay Area Science Discovery Day

2019 Bay Area Science Discovery Day

Photo collage of SKERI at the 2019 Discovery Day Festival

The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute participated as an exhibitor in the 2019 Bay Area Science Discovery Day held on Saturday, November 2nd at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Thousands of parents and children visited our booth to learn more about how we see and how to make information accessible to those who can't. The Institute is very grateful to all the Post-Doctoral Fellows and employees who participated in the day long event.

Our exhibit included the following activities and demonstrations:

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Our Bay Area Science Discovery Day Demos

Tactile Graphics and Braille- The Science of Haptics

What is braille?

Braille is a system of touch reading and writing for blind persons in which raised dots represent the letters of the alphabet. It also contains equivalents for punctuation marks and provides symbols to show letter groupings.
Braille is read by moving the hand or hands from left to right along each line. The reading process usually involves both hands, and the index fingers generally do the reading. The average reading speed is about 125 words per minute. But, greater speeds of up to 200 words per minute are possible. Research at Smith-Kettlewell suggests that the higher the dot height, the easier it is to read.
Braille gives blind individuals access to a wide range of reading materials including recreational and educational reading, financial statements and restaurant menus. Equally important are contracts, regulations, insurance policies, directories, and cookbooks that are all part of daily adult life. Through braille, people who are blind can also pursue hobbies and cultural enrichment with materials such as music scores, hymnals, playing cards, and board games.

What you will do

You will complete a worksheet/booklet using a tactile braille alphabet card from the NLS as a key. Those that complete that challenge successfully can type out a name or phrase using the perkins brailler, or a label maker (6 dot automated machine).

What you will learn

Braille is a useful and rewarding learned skill. Braille is a way of writing and reading that can be done by anyone, sighted or blind/low vision.

3-D Stereo Test


Depth perception is the ability to see the world in 3 dimensions (length, width, height) and judge how far away an object is.
But did you know that seeing depth is an illusion? That is because the image formed on your eyes is a flat, 2D projection. The depth that we all think we see is actually a trick that our brains have learned: forming 3-dimensional images from 2-dimensional projections of the world! That process is called stereopsis.

How does it work?

Because the eyes are separated on the face, each retina (the back of the eye lined with cells that transform light into signals sent to the brain) produces a slightly different image of the world. The difference between those images is processed by the brain to give a perception of depth!

You might wonder: how come I can still see depth when I close one eye? The answer is simple: there are clues in the environment that one eye can use to infer depth. For example, when you’re riding in a car, the nearby telephone poles rush by much faster than the trees in the background. This cue allows you to perceive the fast-moving objects as closer than the slow-moving objects.

But sometimes, two eyes are needed to see depth! This is called stereoscopic depth, and it works as simply as drawing 2 slightly different images - the same as your eyes produce - and then showing each eye only one of those images.

What you will do

To try this for yourself, play our STEREO GAME! You will wear polarized glasses - which is a fancy term meaning one lens will bend light one way, the other lens will bend light another way - and look at some pictures. See if the pictures jump out at you with two eyes open, then try seeing depth with one eye closed! What do you experience? (note: this is how 3D glasses work at the movies!)

What you will learn

Depth perception is a trick our brain perform by combining 2-dimensional images from the 2 eyes to form a 3-dimensional image! Although you don’t necessarily need 2 eyes to perceive depth, under some contexts (like in our game and at 3D movies) having 2 eyes is essential to seeing depth!

"Magic Eye" Autostereogram

What is it?

This is a technique for 3D viewing from a single printed image that was invented by Dr. Christopher Tyler in 1979, and became widely popular in the 1990s.

What you will do

To make the 3D image appear, stare through the surface into the distance. The 3D image should then resolve in near space. The printed images can also be viewed by crossing the eyes in front of the plane of the page. Relaxing or crossing the eyes should allow the two dots to re-fuse as three dots, with one center and two fainter flanking dots. With practice, each image can be viewed as either protruding or receding in 3D.

Prism Bean Bag Toss

What you will do

First, with your everyday vision, you will aim to throw bean bags into a bucket. Together, we will find how close you need to stand to be able to make most of them into the bucket. Then, you will put on some special goggles that will shift the way you see your surroundings, including that bucket. Watch what happens when you try to aim for the bucket! After a few tries, you will take the goggles off and once more aim for the bucket. Can you guess what will happen now?

What you will learn

Everyday we take in information from our surroundings and our brains have to make sense of the information. Then, the brain has to tell our bodies how to react to that information. In this demo, you will be shown just how long it takes your brain to talk with your body when there is a shift in the way you are able to see things.


Do you know that you have a blindspot in each of your eyes?

If you close one eye, do you perceive anything strange? Any black spot? Nothing looks different than usual… And yet, you do have a blindspot!

What you will do

You will almost magically make an object disappear just by closing one eye. Intriguing, right?

What you will learn

The brain is clever and adapts to vision loss by “filling in” what is hidden by the blindspot. The same phenomenon happens in age-related macular degeneration (an eye disease that may occur for elderly people). The “filling in” is tricky, because people are not aware of how much things are missing in their vision. Do not worry! This does not happen in normal vision, because the natural blindspots of your two eyes do not overlap.

Retina Viewing

What you will learn

We aren’t aware of the sensors that capture the visual world. The retina stops noticing things that don’t change, like blood vessels stuck to its surface. We change that by casting shadows from an unusual angle, but it fades as soon as the light is removed. The brain wipes all that stuff away and cleans up its input so we think we’re seeing a “clean” image! Amazing.

Peg Board

What you will do

You will be given a shape, then asked to cover one eye. The researcher will put the shape in the row farthest from you, and again in the row closest to you.

What you will learn

Two eyes help you see in depth. Both eyes are essential for an accurate estimate of depth in everyday tasks.

Motion Aftereffect

What you will do

You will view a one minute flickering YouTube video while fixating on the center of the screen. Following viewing, you will then be free to look around their environment and observe a motion illusion that affects the entire visual field. The motion adaptation illusion will persist for approximately 10 seconds before your vision returns to normal.

What you will learn

Motion aftereffects are seen when looking at a stationary stimulus after looking at something moving in a certain direction for some time.
The information gathered by the eye is processed by the brain, creating a perception that in reality, does not match the true image. Perception refers to the interpretation of what we take in through our eyes. Optical illusions occur because our brain is trying to interpret what we see and make sense of the world around us. Optical illusions simply trick our brains into seeing things which may or may not be real.


Click the title to learn more about this activity.

Simulating Colorblindness

What you will learn

Color is important, it helps us make visual judgments about object properties. Removing color illustrates the work that our brain does to analyze the visual information entering the eye. “Color” isn’t just an attribute that an object has. It’s a function of the environmental illumination and the object reflectance spectrum, as well as perceptual processes in the brain.


What you will do

You will hold a wooden stylus and point it at a 3D model of a biological plant cell. Meanwhile the demonstrator will run the CamIO app on an iPhone and aim the camera towards the 3D model. When you point the stylus at a “hotspot” (feature of interest) on the 3D model, the iPhone will read aloud a pre-recorded audio description of the hotspot.

What you will learn

Many people explore objects by touching them, especially if they have trouble seeing. Audio labels, such as the ones supplied by the CamIO iPhone app, can help people understand what they are touching even if they can’t see clearly.

Can you draw without vision?

Recent scientific findings from the Likova “Brain plasticity, Learning and Neurorehabilitation” program in art, drawing and the brain suggest that a special kind of rapid training in memory-guided drawing can facilitate learning, spatial memory and cognition, including STEM education. This unique - and fun! - training was developed by Dr. Likova a decade ago to maximize the capabilities of blind and sighted people. Beyond its practical advantages, this memory-drawing training also serves as an effective non-invasive tool to drive neuroplasticity mechanisms in the brain.

What you will do

You will have the chance to test yourself in “seeing” with your hands instead with your eyes. You will test yourself in drawing-from-memory of the tactile images you have just explored to “see” in your “mind’s eye”. Come, learn, and have fun!