Balraj Rathod

Titration ColorCam: The Sound and Feel of Chemistry Colors.

Chemistry, by nature, is a visual subject, one that recalls memories of scientific adolescence that included reactions that flash, fizz, change color, or smell. The subject furnishes insight into the nature of how things are. A chemist can look and understand the reason behind the red color of a rose and perceive why a leaf is green. Through chemistry, we understand the reason behind the pleasure of our surroundings, the flavor of fruits, the texture of materials, and the changing colors of leaves in different seasons. This comprehension adds an extra layer of delight to enjoy the knowledge that chemists know.

The visual attribute that adjoins chemistry tends to create a challenging environment for the color-blind and visually impaired (CVI) students. This Master’s thesis project addressed the design and development of an Android-based application to provide the color-blind and visually impaired students a multisensory perception of color change observed in chemical solutions. The application records and converts the color information into beep sounds and vibration pulses, which are generated by the smartphone. It uses a range threshold of hue and saturation coordinates of the HSV (Hue, Saturation, Value) color space for detecting a color change specific to a color change for e.g. shades of pink. This approach can enable color-blind and visually impaired students to actively perform a fairly routine laboratory activity of titrations which rely on observing color changes.

Master's Thesis Project: June 2016 - April 2017

Department of Chemical Sciences,
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata

Concept Development, User Experience Design, User Interface Design, Android-App Development.

Accessibility: Designing for Visually Impaired Students. Integrated schooling requirements.

Thesis Advisor
Dr. Subhajit Bandyopadhyay,
Associate Professor, Chemical Sciences
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata.

The research underlying this project was published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Chemical Education. The article is here.

The app 'Titration ColorCam' is available freely on the Google Play Store. Download.

The thesis project won the Second-Best 'Master of Science Thesis Award 2017' in the Department of Chemical Sciences, IISER Kolkata.

In June 2016, during a discussion with my MS thesis adviser, Dr. Subhajit Bandyopadhyay, an aspect of chemistry came up which serves as a crucial method of judgment for experimental chemists but is vastly underemphasized in its quantitative potential. It was the colors of chemistry.

What followed next were two stories that went on to shape my thesis project. During a candid conversation with a college sophomore, he mentioned to me about his difficulty in performing titration experiments in the undergraduate chemistry laboratory. He told regarding his inability of distinguishing between certain shades of colors because he was color-blind. After hearing about this, Dr. Bandyopadhyay recollected an account from his graduate school where one of his chemistry professors was color-blind. The thought process converged in the direction of developing a laboratory intervention that would enable color-blind and visually impaired (CVI) students actively perform chemistry experiments involving colors.

In the following months, my role in the project was to sketch a solution concept that can be adopted without hassles in usability and accessibility.
The facets I had to cover to find a solution were -
1. Understanding the color changes in chemical solutions.
2. Identify methods to capture and quantify color information.
3. Translating the colors into a multisensory mode (sound and touch) which can be observed by CVI individuals.
4. Implementation.

What particularly motivated me about this project were the overlapping areas of science and technology because the idea was to be molded into a smartphone application. This intersection would result in a step for empowering a neglected group of students to pursue careers in chemistry. As a student, working on this task provided me an opportunity to research and explore the extraordinary capabilities of the field of ‘chemical education’. The challenges were several, to begin with, starting with the fact that I did not know how to code!

Furthermore, there were an extensive number of cross-disciplinary fields such as - computer science, visual arts, mathematics, social sciences, design, and chemistry - all of which contributed to the background studies and subsequent development. In the end, we enabled a student who cannot observe colors differences to perform an experiment that solely relies on color transformation.

This research study was featured in several major Indian Daily Newspapers such as 'The Hindu', 'The Indian Express', and 'India Today' among others.