Blogging science to life
Mon 16 July 2012, Written by: Helen
Helen Featherstone, At-Bristol Content Research and UWE Researcher, gives us the insider information on how an exhibition is made and the processes behind it.
We’ve been having a great time developing our latest exhibition: Our World – no more waste which is funded by the SITA Trust. The exhibition looks at how the Earth recycles everything and asks if we can we take inspiration from this.
My role in the team is to find out about the science, come up with ideas for exhibits, and to work with designers and visitors to make those exhibits go from idea to reality. But it’s not easy making exhibits! The exhibits have to be appealing, useable, reflect the science accurately and be built within financial and technical limits. To make sure that we manage this we work closely with scientists and with our visitors. Did you know that every bit of science in At-Bristol gets checked by a scientist? And every exhibit has been tested several times by our visitors before we build it?
Sometimes exhibit development goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn’t… We wanted to have a tank of worms in Our World to show how worms recycle dead plant matter and make the soil better for growing new plants.
Unfortunately, it turns out that worms are camera shy. We knew they liked dark places, but hadn’t realised quite how much. Also, when we asked our visitors about seeing worms in the exhibition, they liked the idea, but they really wanted to hold the worms. So, we changed our mind and took worms out of the exhibition space.
Taking out the wormery left us with an empty space. What should we put into the exhibition instead of worms? One of our friendly scientists had told us at the beginning of the project that “soil supports all life on earth” and that thought has stayed with us throughout. We had to have soil in the exhibition somehow. We wanted to cover how important soil is because it supports plants and plants capture sunlight. Without plants, there’d be no life on Earth. So we decided to have plants growing in the exhibition. Visitors can use time lapse photography to see how seeds grow and change in the exhibit called Little growers.
This is how our exhibits start. We get the technical bits sorted out first, make sure our visitors can use it, and then we make it look nice.
Now Little growers looks like this:
I have a great job here in At-Bristol. It’s a creative role which also satisfies my desire to find out about the latest science. I get to meet our visitors and I find out the latest bits of kit and technology which make our exhibits work from touch screens to Arduinoes and how to use those to bring science to life!
So next time you are in At-Bristol have a look to see if we’re developing any new exhibits and if so make sure you help us out by trying it and giving your feedback!
You can see Little Growers and the rest of the Our World - no more waste exhibition when it opens on Friday 20th July! Our World - no more waste is supported by the Sita Trust.
Blogging science to life
Thu 12 July 2012, Written by: Chris
The City of Bristol might not be basking in sunshine at the moment, but we're still enjoying the summertime vibe here on the Harbourside. Schools are breaking up for the holidays and university students are hurling their graduation hats in the air (ok, so Bristol University undergraduates don't actually wear caps). However, one exciting new 'institution' isn't closing its doors for summer - in fact the Children's University launches this month in the City and At-Bristol are proud to be an official Learning Destination for the summer holidays and beyond.
The Children's University is a national programme to validate children's learning outside the classroom. We know that lots of valuable learning takes place outside the classroom and this initiative is all about giving credit to the pupils who take part in educational opportunities outside of school. With hundreds of hands-on exhibits, a new science show, Live Lab activities and more, At-Bristol provides countless opportunities to keep learners engaged and excited over the summer break. In the coming months we're expecting to see lots of budding scientists from City Academy, Millpond Primary, Bannerman Road Community School, Easton Primary, Whitehall Primary and Barton Hill school.
On arrival, our Visitor Services team will be ready to check 'Learning Passports' for pupils registered with the Children's University (through their schools listed above). Every visit earns a stamp in their passport and with so much to do in At-Bristol, we look forward to welcoming learners back again and again until there's no more room for new stamps! Once passports are full of stamps (and brains full of interesting science facts and ideas), it's time to graduate. The first graduation Ceremony is in November 2012, taking place at Bristol Cathedral alongside other graduates from across the City. What an incredible opportunity!
So this summer, you may well be using a passport to explore new places abroad, but there's a new passport around for exploring the amazing world of science right here on your doorstep!
Blogging science to life
Thu 14 June 2012, Written by: Zoë
It’s the time of year again when At-Bristol descends upon the Cheltenham Science Festival, helping entertain visitors with interactive fun until it closes on Sunday.
The At-Bristol team are in the Discovery Zone, where the attraction’s in-house science communicators are bringing science to life with hands-on activities and experiments such as a vein viewer – yes you can really see your own veins using near-infrared light, a Proscope which allows you to see your skin, nails and hair magnified and Power Lab where you can monitor your own heart beat using an ECG (Electrocardiograph).
You can also explore the fantastic world of forces with At-Bristol’s portable exhiblets - discover all about the force of pressure and electrifying effect of electricity!
So far, hundreds of school kids and teachers have had a go at the various activities and are loving seeing their veins and looking in their ears with the Proscope! So if you’re coming along to Cheltenham, make sure you come and find us and say hello!
Blogging science to life
Tue 12 June 2012, Written by: Sarah
On my previous visits to At-Bristol, I’ve always wondered what the huge black cylinder is in the far corner of the exhibition floor, looming over the exhibitions like a giant statue or battery. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that it is, in fact, exactly that – a battery. It’s a eutectic, or phase change, tank containing thousands of purple plastic balls that change from solid to liquid and back again at certain temperatures, storing and releasing energy as they do so and heating and cooling the At-Bristol building.
This is just one of the many things I learned whilst on a tour of the building at At-Bristol, delving deep in to the murky maze of pipes that make up At-Bristol’s heating and cooling systems and learning about how At-Bristol has become a beacon of sustainability. After the tour had finished, I realised something had been niggling at me – their building system has helped them to achieve a level of sustainability through energy saving methods that are still unique today. Why has no other building in Bristol attempted to do the same?
It seems that when it comes to making a building sustainable, At-Bristol has the answer. But in order to make the whole city sustainable, a universal solution may not be the best. Chris Dunford, At-Bristol’s Sustainability Officer, makes a good point – “our building runs on night-time surplus electricity; if all the other buildings in the area started to do the same, then the electricity would no longer be surplus.” At-Bristol’s building system was also installed at the resurrection of a derelict building, and most buildings and businesses would have to work with the building system they already have. It would be almost impossible to tear down a building and start from scratch, installing the complex network of machinery and pipes required to run a building on electricity alone. It’s about choosing the most sensible solution for individual buildings to improve their sustainability.
Chris’ building systems tour being enjoyed by staff and volunteers now also forms part of the workshop “Sustainability on all scales”
But all is not lost - the team at At-Bristol is determined to get everyone else on board with sustainability, through exhibitions, tours and workshops. The new exhibition, Our World – no more waste (supported by the SITA Trust), demonstrating how in the natural world nothing is wasted. The exhibits will use real time data to show climate change on an interactive globe, and include a timeline that leaves the building and snakes out on to Anchor Square. The interactive timeline will become a 3-D model of a valley, showing the evolution of life on Earth and will show creatures reacting to visitors and the environment. The brand new workshop “Sustainability on all scales’ is also getting schools to think sustainably, giving Key Stage 4 students the opportunity to explore the building systems in detail and design engineering solutions around sustainability issues.
At-Bristol is reminding us that it’s not just about what their building can do, and encouraging businesses to change their attitudes as well as their boilers. It’s about getting everyone involved in making smaller changes, so that we can have a positive impact on the environment as a community.
Thanks Sarah for that great blog!
On 12 and 14 June, we're hosting behind the scenes tours of our super green building as part of Bristol's Big Green Week. Book your tickets and join us!
Blogging science to life
Wed 18 April 2012, Written by: James
I did this with a rose at school and wanted to see if it would work with a daffodil after seeing the dissection when visiting At Bristol. I asked the lady doing the daffodil dissection whether the daffodil would change into two different colours and she said she was not sure and maybe I could try it at home.
My flower experiment
Can you make a daffodil two different colours?
I thought it would go Purple.
- Two cups
- Red and blue food colouring
- Two large paper clips
- Fill cups with water and add red food colouring to one cup and blue to the other
- Cut up the stem of the daffodil by 6cm
- Place half of the cut stem in the red food colouring and secure to edge of cup with paper clip
- Place the other half of the cut stem in the blue food colouring and secure to edge of cup with paper clip
- Leave over night for best results.
Half went red and half went blue.
The daffodil went two different colours but they did not mix to make purple. Therefore, the capillaries do not join and my prediction was incorrect.
This was my 5th visit to At Bristol and this time I looked at my veins, weighed the brains, made a fossil, did an animation, played with the large magnets and iron fillings and spun discs on the revolving plate. I always find it an interesting place to come and have fun. I am looking forward to returning in August to experiment more.
We loved your experiment and can't wait to see you again! :)
Blogging science to life
Mon 16 April 2012, Written by: Phil
What is it like to be the Chief Executive of At-Bristol? My name is Phil Winfield and I started in the job on 2nd April so I haven’t been here long, but I am rapidly finding out!
I come from Winchester where I was managing INTECH Science Centre & Planetarium so I am not new to the world of science centres, but of course At-Bristol is a special place and so I have a lot to learn about the organisation and Bristol.
My first impressions are of a really friendly and enthusiastic staff team who have given me a very warm welcome – I have been introduced to most of them, but please don’t test me on their names! They are doing a great job making At-Bristol a vibrant place to work and visit.
Most of my time so far has been spent getting to know how the organisation works and who does what, but because it is the Easter school holidays it has been great to get out into the exhibition and see lots of visitors interacting with the exhibits.
One thing that always amazes me is the different ways that visitors explore the exhibits. Having been involved in exhibit design I know that it is easy to be fooled into thinking that visitors will behave in a certain way – in fact the only thing you can be sure of is that visitors will all behave very differently and usually in ways you don’t expect! So it’s always good to watch visitors having fun and having what I call ‘light bulb’ moments when they are inspired or excited, as they discover something new.
There has been a lot going on over the Easter holidays with special ‘live science’ experiments and science shows in the exhibition, plus activities in the Millennium Square - we have been really busy.
Rainy days bring more visitors and Easter Monday was especially busy with over 1700 people here; so imagine my surprise when on day 5 in the job I was asked to do an interview with ITV about our Easter so far. I am pleased to say that it went well which is a relief - saying the wrong thing on TV after 5 days in the job would not be good!
I still have people to meet and of course a lot more to learn, but at least I am starting to escape from my office which is the best way to get a feel for the organisation.
I am also very keen to get to know Bristol better; it is such an exciting and diverse city with lots going on, I would really like At-Bristol to be at the heart of things as we develop and grow what we do for schools and the general public.
In the meantime I am still finding my way around, so if you see someone looking lost that could be me, please be kind enough to point me in the direction of At-Bristol!
Blogging science to life
Wed 11 April 2012, Written by: Zoë
At-Bristol is one of the best places in the city for star spotting – not of the celebrity variety (although we do have a number of famous faces through our door) but of the kind up in the sky.
On Monday 30 April, At-Bristol is joining forces with Exmoor Dark Sky Discovery to bring you an adult-only (16+) evening event: Urban Stargazing. The night will include lots of star spotting, a Planetarium show, Telescope Clinic, talks and Q&A sessions with experts, plus a licensed bar so you can enjoy a tipple on the terrace whilst looking for the rings of Saturn - the night is going to be super-nova!
Urban Stargazing runs from 8.30pm – 11.00pm. If you already know your Ursa Major from your Dobsonian then there will be plenty to get involved with, and if you’re a complete beginner to astronomy then discovering the sky with Urban Stargazing is the perfect way to start.
If you already own a telescope but need a few tips then bring it along to our Telescope Clinic, run by the Exmoor Stargazers and Bristol Astronomical Society. They’ll also be giving advice to people considering buying a telescope, and will show you how to make the most of your local stargazing areas.
If the evening decides to be a rainy one, it won’t put a dampener on things as there’s still plenty to do with our waterproof activities! As well as Dr. Alapini’s presentation about exoplanets – mysterious worlds far beyond our own Solar System – and a Planetarium show, you’ll be able handle real meteorites and eat space ice-cream – a must-do for any budding astronomer!
The booking details are below, hope you can make it, and if not, feel free to forward it onto friends who might enjoy an evening of astronomy!
Thanks to funding from The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), we are able to offer reduced ticket prices for this event. Standard tickets are £6 and £5 for concessions and At-Bristol members. Please note that this event is not for under 16s.
Tickets are available via At-Bristol’s booking line: 0845 345 1235 (9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday excluding Bank Holidays), or from the At-Bristol Front Desk any day, 10am – 5pm. Tickets can be collected from the At-Bristol Front Desk in advance or on the night. Online booking is available (please note this incurs a 10% fee)
Blogging science to life
Tue 3 April 2012, Written by: Zoë
March madness was sooo last week…this week (and next week) is all about Egg-cellent Easter and all that is on offer in At-Bristol!
If you’re looking for a special treat, of the non-chocolate variety, then we’ve got loads for you to do both inside and outside the venue, so come and join in the fun!
Inside we’ve got Spring Unearthed; our brand new activities available until 15 April. Visit Live Lab for the chance to create your own cress head character or take part in a daffodil dissection! Did you know there are over 25,000 varieties of daffodils with colours ranging from yellow to pink! Find out all there is to know about the famous flower and see what is hiding behind the petals.
Spring Unearthed also gives you the chance to discover how fossils are formed, and even how to make your own! Discover the cycle of rocks as you become a geologist for the day, investigating how one rock can form another or find out how old a tree was on the day you were born using tree rings!
The adventure continues from 6 March to 28 May in our latest presenter-led Planetarium show Spring Night Sky. Get intergalactic as you sit back and discover what wonders you can find in the sky from your own back garden this spring.
For the younger explorers there is our Little Stars Planetarium Show designed especially for the under 5 astronomers. Join a member of the At-Bristol team as they lead you through a story that will take you out of this world and introduce younger adventurers to the spring night sky.
Outside, At-Bristol’s Millennium Square is also chock(olate) full of activity! On Easter Saturday and Sunday, Toy Story 3 is being shown on the Big Screen at 11am and 1pm both days so why not come down to watch the characters larger than life. If you fancy being more active, then Trunki are holding rather unusual Trunki races on Saturday (and possibly Sunday but that has yet to be confirmed) from 10am-3pm so if you want to race The Gruffalo, a fire engine or be a part of Team GB, this is your chance!
Ok, so what’s Easter without a bit of chocolate? Celebrate the Chocolate Festival by getting creative and doodling on one of the biggest canvases in the city – the At-Bristol building! On the 7 and 8 April, Drawn In Bristol will be on hand to inspire and illustrate the glass under the colonnade by the At-Bristol café.
Free hot drink!
Feeling peckish after all this activity? The At-Bristol café will be serving a variety of homemade chocolaty treats including chocolate & toffee muffins, chocolate chip cake, brownies and blondies to name a few! As a science centre, we know that chocolate can make you thirsty, so to add to the chocolaty treat, we will give you a free standard sized hot drink when you purchase any of our yummy chocolate creations!
If you fancy coming to At-Bristol, you can buy tickets by calling our bookings team 0845 345 1235 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm excluding Bank Holidays) or buy online
Blogging science to life
Fri 30 March 2012, Written by: Alex
In At-Bristol, February half-term is, to put it mildly, a bit busy. With around 2000 visitors a day, it’s the busiest week of the year. To help visitors have the best possible time, volunteers like myself are brought in to help run extra activities, like Make Your Own Robot in the Live Lab. This adds to the visitor experience and provides extra hands-on fun for everyone to get involved with!
In fact, it’s not just February when we’re needed. School holidays in the summer, October, Christmas and Easter breaks are all extremely popular times for visitors. So opportunities for volunteers to contribute are very common. Plus the opportunities don’t just end with holiday support, we can get involved in schools’ workshops, community days and outreach activities into the wider Bristol community.
The Live Lab activities are always a highlight for visitors, afterall who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to create your own robot friend, have a look at your own DNA and dissect a daffodil?! All these great activities mean the space can get pretty busy! At the end of a particularly manic day recently, a couple of members of staff even tried to apologise to me for how many people there had been. I thought that was very sweet of them. However, I would hear none of it. “I don’t come here to get bored” I said. So what reasons do I have for giving up my time?
To a certain extent, I romantically agree with At-Bristol’s charity mission of “making science accessible to all”. It’s about self-sacrifice in the name of a greater good and the chance to engage with the wider community and get science out there!
On the other hand, I’m also being quite selfish. I don’t just mean the free lunch, (although that is nice!). Volunteering, I’m told by endless careers advisers, “looks great” on my CV. So I fully expect my experience with At-Bristol to help land me a job someday.
It is also proving very useful for my Master’s degree in Science Communication at the University of the West of England (UWE). Compared to its counterparts at other universities around the country, the UWE course contains a lot of opportunities to try out practical skills, like demonstrations and presentations.
Nonetheless, even a highly hands-on course like the one at UWE is no match for real-world experience. Spending time in At-Bristol is all about “learning by doing,” and this applies to us volunteers as well.
For example, last August, I was volunteering on the K’Nex challenge, where visitors could use K’Nex construction pieces to make anything they wanted. A girl of about 11, complete with mother in tow, came along to the LiveLab, plonked herself on a seat and declared “I want to make a clock”.
Not knowing much (anything!) about how clocks are made, I was feeling a little apprehensive as I enthusiastically declared that this would be “no problem at all”. As we broke the problem down into chunks, working out what bits we would need to put together and in what order, I realised that improvisation on this scale simply can’t be taught.
Overall, it’s clear to me that by lending a hand in the Live Science Team, I get a lot more out than I put in. That’s how it should be. I really feel part of the team in At-Bristol, certainly much more than “just a volunteer”. And this makes me want to come back, to continue the cycle between being taught the theory on my course and putting it into practise on the venue floor and to get hands-on!
I can’t wait for the next occasion…
Thanks Alex! Look out for volunteers like Alex on your next visit to At-Bristol and say hi – they’ll be lots here over Easter!
Blogging science to life
Fri 23 March 2012, Written by: Chris
Looking back over a hugely successful start to this nationwide tour, we've got the Director's Cut of just what got peoples' pulses racing with In The Zone - the Wellcome Trust's major initiative inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tuesday lunch time was quite a sight as At-Bristol came rolling into the NEC with a campervan, huge trailer, two 4x4s, two inflatable tents and a team comprising of actors, technicians and science communicators. How big was this exhibition going to be?! Well if you can picture 5 TV studios, a running track, live stage shows and all the bits in between then you get the idea! Still, it took just one long day for the At-Bristol team to set the stage ready for the launch.
It's a good job At-Bristol designed and built this exhibition as, with somewhere in the region of 3 miles of cabling, it's a complicated and ambitious set-up and there's nothing like this anywhere else to copy from! Our visitors and members that helped pilot In the Zone in half-term, including Sir Steven Redgrave (!!), provided invaluable support in advance of this first event - thank you!
Lights, camera…action! In the Zone finally opened to excited queues of some of the brightest young scientists and engineers on the planet at Big Bang on Thursday last week! At-Bristol's team of science communicators…..sorry….floor managers, got straight into character getting the cast members around the studios and ready for the Director. To entertain the masses, we had live shows running from the outdoor broadcasting stage bringing to life the science of our amazing human body relating to sport and movement. Everyone was scrabbling to get on the stage, become part of the cast and take part - the cheers and applause was heard throughout the NEC!
Studio 1 was casting for the Sports Spotlight on Power, with the cast leaping on force plates and watching themselves in slo-mo. We were taking photos under the skin with vein viewers in Studio 2 before asking the cast to get their pulses racing in an uphill handlecycle race through the Alps in Studio 3. With reactions tested in Studio 4, the final filming was for the 10 metre dash. A busy few days of filming saw nearly 5,000 'cast members' star in their own documentaries during the 3 days of broadcasting at the Big Bang Fair. Half have already logged on to getinthezone.org.uk to review their footage and share their showreels. Among those getting In The Zone were World Champion gymnast Beth Tweddle and even HRH Prince Andrew checked out a live broadcast from our team.
To meet the demanding filming schedule, the At-Bristol crew found themselves out in the fair talent-scouting for In The Zone. With lots of exciting investigations exploring lung capacity, pulse rates and even the body's conductivity, we made sure everyone was primed and ready to get In The Zone. From grinning grannies to beaming babies, everyone was excited to see their showbiz smiles on camera and we even grabbed Dr Yan from BBC's Bang Goes the Theory! In fact, if you've got what it takes to star in your own TV show and want to get In The Zone to explore more about the amazing human body, the Director is waiting for you at 12 future events - find out when the TV studio is near you here.
CUT….that's a wrap!