At-Bristol Science Centre

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After Hours: BRAINS - a sneak preview!

Blogging science to life

Tue 21 October 2014, Heather

If you’ve been to one of At-Bristol’s After Hours evenings before then you’ll know to expect plenty of interactive fun and hands-on activities as we give adults free rein of the science centre, without any kids around!  After a break for the summer, this Thursday we’re back with After Hours: BRAINS.

So far we’ve explored topics ranging from forensics to outer space, and celebrated Christmas and Valentine’s Day in our own sciencey style.  This is the first time we’ve decided to delve into the fascinating world of the mind, so we’re looking forward to getting stuck into plenty of hands-on activities, cranial challenges, and mind-bending experiments!

Get up close to real brains!

We’re very lucky to have close links with our neighbours and local universities, so naturally we’ve called on a little help!  Anthropologist Kate Robson-Brown will be exploring the evolution of the brain and investigating how closely related we are to our ancestors; Kelly Sealey, head cookery tutor at Bordeaux Quay, will be whipping up some brain-based cuisine for you to try; and experts from Bristol Neuroscience will be on hand to guide you through interactive experiments – including investigating the electrical nature of nervous activity, and dissecting a real sheep’s brain. 

We caught up with Dr Emma Robinson, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol, to find out a bit more about her job and what she’ll be getting up to on Thursday:

What are you doing at After Hours?

I’ll be dissecting a brain from a sheep!

What interesting things will we see inside a sheep’s brain?

The surface of the brain is very folded, similar to the brains of primates and humans, suggesting there's a lot of processing power.  When we cut the brain we'll also see some of the internal structures, such as the hippocampus, which is a very beautiful structure and plays an important role in memory.

What does your job as a neuroscientist involve?

I'm involved in both teaching and research at the university.  I specialise in pharmacology, the study of how drugs act, and teach students about how drugs affect the brain.  My research group is interested in understanding the causes of psychiatric disorders such as depression so we can find better ways to treat patients

What do you like about living and working in Bristol?

Bristol is a very lively city! I love the fact that I work so near to the heart of the city, but also have access to open spaces such as Ashton Court and the Downs.

After Hours

We’ll also be challenging your mind with our Brain Games – can you trick your brain into thinking a rubber hand is your own, or identify your friends just by their movement?  Then, if your neurons are feeling frazzled, join one of our expert presenters in the Planetarium, who’ll blow your mind in a completely different way as they take you on a trip through the wonders of outer space – without having to leave the comfort of your seat!

Of course, there’ll also be the chance to explore two floors packed full of hands-on exhibits, fully-licensed bars, and live music – we guarantee this isn’t your average night out!

Tickets are £7/£6 for members and concessions (group rates also apply).

Book your place online, by calling 0117 915 1000 (lines open 9am – 5pm), or popping into At-Bristol (Welcome Desk open 10am - 5pm).

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Do try this at home: How to bake a cake, with science!

Blogging science to life

Fri 10 October 2014,

What happens if you miss a vital ingredient out of a cake?  Why is the egg so important?  What does baking powder actually do?  Join Nerys and David of the Live Science Team as they investigate the chemistry of cakes & show you a tasty experiment to try in your own laboratory/kitchen!

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LEGO® Robotics

Blogging science to life

Wed 22 October 2014, Eddie Peacock, Formal Learning Communicator

Watch out – this autumn robots will be invading At-Bristol! Don’t worry though, it’s all part of piloting our exciting new workshop, LEGO® Robotics. Eddie Peacock, Formal Learning Communicator and robot whisperer, gives you the scoop on this exciting project.

When the learning team in At-Bristol Science Centre start to brainstorm content for new workshops, we’re always led by any changes in the National Curriculum, as we want our workshops to support teachers and complement learning in the classroom as much as possible. As Computing has a much larger focus with the 2014 National Curriculum, naturally we were keen to create a KS2 Computing workshop – and of course, we wanted to make it as fun as possible!

After much deliberation, we hit on a winning idea: LEGO® Robots! Everybody loves robots and LEGO®, plus LEGO® have an amazing range of educational products which are perfect for computer programming.

LEGO robot

With the support of the IET we were able to purchase a class set of LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT, (programmable robotic kits) and then the hard work began. Many hours were spent building the LEGO® Robots, and lots and lots of time was spent playing. I know what you’re thinking, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it! My favourite part of this project so far has to be programming loads of robots to move and swarm like my minions. Of course, I suppose I should get my head back down with some serious work now...

As all of our schools workshops are designed to be tailored to students and teachers, we are really keen to find out what they think, so this October we’re piloting the first of our LEGO® Robotics workshops to find out. All feedback will be taken into account and we’ll use this to shape the final workshops which will launch January 2015.

It’s shaping up to be a fun, hands-on introduction to robotics and programming! Students will learn how to write and debug simple algorithms that control movement and operate sensors on a LEGO® Robot, and teachers will benefit from a workshop that brings a new section of the National Curriculum to life.

If you want more information or book your place please call 0117 915 7777 (8.30am – 5.30pm Monday to Friday, excluding Bank Holidays).


This workshop is supported by The Institution of Engineering and Technology


Many thanks to Eddie for writing this blog! If you'd like to discover more about what the IET offers for teachers, check out their website here.

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Do try this at home: How to make bread, with science!

Blogging science to life

Fri 10 October 2014,

What is gluten? How does yeast help dough to rise? Heather and Joel of the Live Science Team show you how to make bread in this tasty experiment to try at home!

To keep up to date with all our latest videos, don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

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The top five ways to celebrate World Space Week…

Blogging science to life

Mon 6 October 2014, Lee Pullen, At-Bristol's Planetarium Officer

The top five ways to celebrate World Space Week…
…according to Lee, At-Bristol’s Planetarium Officer.

SPACE! If there’s any topic that deserves its own International Week, this is it. Fortunately the United Nations agree, and since 1999 every 4th – 10th October has been World Space Week. Here are some suggestions for how you can celebrate this year.


5. Follow space news
We live in a golden age of space exploration. Even as you read this we have robots exploring Mars, a satellite orbiting a comet, and a probe closing in on Pluto. And these are just the first three that spring to mind. Never before have we had so many active space missions, and thanks to the internet it’s easier than ever to find out about them. To keep track of the latest developments, head over to the website Portal to the Universe. This collects together press releases and blog posts from major space agencies and research centres, all in one convenient location. For younger audiences, Space Scoop takes some of these stories and rewrites them in simple language, whilst keeping much of the detail.

Portal to the Universe

4. Help professional astronomers
It’s often said that astronomy is one of the few sciences in which amateurs can make a real discovery. This is very true, as the citizen science project Zooniverse is proving. Astronomers need the public’s help to find exoplanets; understand galaxy evolution; discover new features on the Moon; and much much more. You don’t need any science qualifications to help with these projects as short tutorials get you started. Over 1 million people worldwide are already involved, so why not join them this World Space Week! (If you discover something good, be sure to name it after me. Thanks).


3. Join an astronomy group
In Bristol we’re lucky to have an active group of friendly hobby stargazers: the Bristol Astronomical Society. They have regular observing sessions, lectures, and special events. They meet at Bristol Grammar School (just off Park Street) on Friday evenings and are always keen to welcome beginners. Another idea is to join an online group. The Stargazers Lounge is vibrant forum filled with astro-experts happy to answer questions of any level about practical astronomy, from “which telescope is best for me?” to “what’s the quantum efficiency of a QHY5L-II planetary / guide camera, mono version?”*

Bristol Astronomical Society

2. Visit a Planetarium
Well, this was bound to make the shortlist! Seeing a Planetarium show is a great way to celebrate World Space Week. Obviously At-Bristol’s Planetarium is one everyone should visit! We have a fantastic team of presenters that guide audiences around the night sky, pointing out constellations, showing deep sky objects, and explaining ancient legends behind the stars. If you’re not local to Bristol then use this interactive map to find a Planetarium near you.

At-Bristol's Planetarium

Image courtesy of Lee Pullen, At-Bristol. 

1. Go stargazing!
Of course, the best way to celebrate World Space Week is to go stargazing. Download a free Night Sky Guide from the bottom of this webpage and head out under the night sky. You don’t need any special equipment to spot constellations, meteors, satellites and planets. The more you look the more you’ll see. Stellarium is a free computer program to help you navigate and is highly recommended. If you have binoculars or a small telescope then the book Turn Left at Orion is invaluable. Pro tip: get the spiral bound edition as that’s much easier to use when you’re out stargazing.

Unfortunately in this country the weather is often against us. To help plan observing times there’s a brilliant website called Clear Outside designed for amateur astronomers. It gives an hour-by-hour prediction of cloud cover, and includes handy features such as the timings of International Space Station passes.

If you really want to stretch yourself, try taking some photos of the stars. You only need three things: a DSLR camera, tripod, and some clear skies. Oh, and this handy instructional video may help too:

That’s just a small selection of ideas to celebrate World Space Week. Try as many as you can, because space is completely and utterly amazing. You know it’s true.

Many thanks to Lee for writing this blog, if you'd like to know more about World Space Week, check out their website here!


* The answer is 74%, in case you were wondering.

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Urban allotment update

Blogging science to life

Thu 25 September 2014, Sara Venn, Incredible Edible Bristol

As the penultimate planter goes in this week, we catch up with Incredible Edible Bristol head honcho Sara Venn to get the low down on the urban allotment project.


When Incredible Edible Bristol was asked to collaborate with At-Bristol and Almondsbury Garden Centre to change the use of the beds in Bristol’s Millennium Square from ornamental and failing to edible and exciting, we jumped at the offer. The aim of Incredible Edible Bristol is to empower communities to get together and grow food in unloved and unusual spaces and the idea that we could help put something together that might help to inspire people to do this was perfect. We were also very excited to be working alongside the new Food! exhibition at At-Bristol, as we are working with many schools that we expect will visit the exhibition and the space over the next three years.

Millennium Square planters

The concept of all the beds is not just to make beautiful beds of edibles, but is also to show people that a small area can be really productive and also really beautiful. Rows of lettuces, alternating red and green, squashes climbing up tripods of bamboo canes, and rows of chard are all part of what has been planted so far, and all look stunning as well as being delicious to pick and eat.

Each bed also has fruit trees in it, to produce apples and pears which, as they grow, will offer shade to those sitting underneath them. The fruit trees have been carefully chosen to ensure that they will cope well with being in containers, and so are on medium sized and small rootstocks that will keep them at a manageable size.

Millennium Square planters

Incredible Edible Bristol’s role has been to help design and choose the plants for the beds and then to help plant the beds by using our core team alongside our volunteers. This has seen all age groups take part in planting the beds, from the age of 2 upwards and means that the beds have ownership by the people of the city. We have had people join us from Lockleaze, Bedminster, St Paul’s, Horfield and more and each and every person has had a great time and tells me they regularly pop by the beds to see how they are doing. For us this shows that growing food gives communities ownership of a space which is a very powerful thing.

Going into the future the beds will be managed as any food garden would. We will harvest and replant seasonally, spend much time fighting off pests and diseases, water, prune and weed. Going into next year, as we begin the new growing season, we will be making sure the beds all have a specific theme, so one may end up as a 3 sisters bed, one may all be perennials and one may be an old fashioned allotment space.

Millennium Square planters

What all the beds will have in common is that we are growing food in the community, with the community, for the community, so if you wander past and things look ready to harvest, please do so, and enjoy the fact that Bristol is the UK’s first Incredible Edible City.

If you’d like to get involved in the project, please do contact us – the more the merrier! 


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How to make a light saber

Blogging science to life

Thu 1 January 1970,

Ross and Beth have been getting all excited about Star Wars: Episode VII, so they've only gone and used science to make their own lightsabers! Here's how:

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Which is stronger... glass, sapphire, or a gorilla?

Blogging science to life

Wed 10 September 2014,

What's the difference between gorilla glass & sapphire? Is glass a solid or a liquid? How is glass able to support the weight of a 32-stone gorilla? Join Ross as he explores the science of glass.

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Do try this at home: How to burn metal

Blogging science to life

Fri 1 August 2014,

How is it possible to set fire to steel using nothing but a 9V battery? Ross of the Live Science Team shows you a simple but beautiful science experiment to burn metal, which you can try at home!

To keep up to date with all our latest videos, don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

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How to make a hot air balloon

Blogging science to life

Fri 1 August 2014,

Just how big is a hot air balloon?  And what exactly is it made from?  This week, Ross visits Cameron Balloons, one of the oldest makers of hot air balloons - then puts his new-found knowledge into practice as he shows you how to make your own balloon at home!

To keep up to date with all our latest videos, don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

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