At-Bristol Science Centre

Blog posts

Volunteers' Week: Meet Cherrie Kong!

Blogging science to life

Thu 4 June 2015, Jennifer Garrett

To celebrate national Volunteers' Week, we caught up with our fabulous volunteer Cherrie Kong!

Cherrie

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I'm a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, usually studying cardiac muscle. In my spare time I draw, run and walk. 

How long have you been volunteering for At-Bristol?

About 3 years!

Why did you decide to volunteer with us?

I'm very interested in science, teaching and communicating science to the general public. I also tend to have great fun learning with children, so At-Bristol really pulls all of these things together.

What do you like about volunteering?

I enjoy being able to meet with and talk to different people in a safe and friendly environment. At-Bristol is also very good at including volunteers in lots of opportunities, and I'm grateful to be a part of that!

What’s been your favourite moment so far? 

I like it when young children explain to me how the things in Live Lab (or anywhere) work!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of volunteering? 

Definitely do it! At-Bristol has flexible commitment (which is very useful), the staff and other volunteers are friendly, and the activities are educational and fun!


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Volunteers' Week: Meet Ben Quick!

Blogging science to life

Wed 3 June 2015, Jennifer Garrett

To celebrate national Volunteers' Week, we caught up with our fabulous volunteer Ben Quick!

Ben

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I'm currently on a ‘gap year’ taking a break from my studies and living in a different country, as I’ve lived in France most my life! My days are mostly taken up with work, reading, and as many social activities as I can possibly cram in. 

How long have you been volunteering for At-Bristol?

Since last July, so almost a year now! I remember that I took a plane from France to start my gap year and the day after I was in At-Bristol already, first thing I did here. It set a very high bar for everything else!

Why did you decide to volunteer with us?

It all started with me thinking "I should do something productive”. So I typed "volunteering in Bristol" into Google, saw At-Bristol near the top and thought "woah, that looks fun, where's the sign-up button?" 

What do you like about volunteering?

I love the atmosphere! Everyone's so friendly and relaxed, yet also excited and enthusiastic so I fit right in. The activities are so awesome, interacting with kids and their families is awesome, the flexibility is awesome, and I love the variety too! I’ve been round Millennium Square offering dried crickets to bystanders, I’ve done a ‘taste lab’, face painted toddlers, made a community allotment and visited the Bristol Robotics Lab to help interview scientists! Seriously, what's not to love?

What’s been your favourite moment so far? 

Apart from giving crickets to strangers (what can top that?!), it's probably been receiving compliments from parents after interacting with their kids. It's really heart-warming, and does wonders for self esteem!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of volunteering? 

I think the main thing would be to go for it, don't worry about it, just get stuck in and see what happens! Go in with that mind set and you can make wonders happen.


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Volunteers' Week: Meet Chloe Baber!

Blogging science to life

Tue 2 June 2015, Jennifer Garrett

To celebrate national Volunteers' Week, we caught up with our fabulous volunteer Chloe Baber!

Chloe Baber


Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I have just finished my degree at UWE in Bristol where I was studying Education, hoping to be a primary school teacher or a counsellor for children.

How long have you been volunteering for At-Bristol?

I have been volunteering for At-Bristol for a year and a half now!     

Why did you decide to volunteer with us?

I have grown up with trips to At-Bristol with family or school and it was easily one of my favourite places! I was in my second year of university and wanted to do some volunteering and found that At-Bristol were looking for volunteers and applied straight away. 

What do you like about volunteering?

I love being able to sign up to the shifts I’d like to volunteer at, most of the time I sign up to the Live Lab activities. The buzz at half term and holidays is great, I love how a lot of the parents are as excited as the children with the activities, it shows the centre is for any age! 

What’s been your favourite moment so far? 

One of my first few shifts I volunteered at a Toddler Takeover, the studio was transformed into a disco room and for an hour I was DJ-ing for a mass of toddlers, so much fun!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of volunteering? 

I would say go for it! Volunteering is a great experience in itself, and At-Bristol you are with the loveliest people and helping families with fun scientific activities all day! You don’t have to have a lot of science knowledge to join, just a willing to learn more and get stuck in! 


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Volunteers' Week: Meet Gill Shire!

Blogging science to life

Mon 1 June 2015, Jennifer Garrett

To celebrate national Volunteers' Week, we caught up with our fabulous volunteer Gill Shire!

Gill

Gill with Mayor George Ferguson on 1 June, collecting her award for Volunteers' Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I am 65 years old, been married for 39 years and have one son who is 31. I left school with GCSEs and gained ONC in Applied Physics whilst working for Imperial Tobacco. Most of my employment has been in science based companies or education, whether it was seconday, futher education (FE) or special needs. I trained as a science technician with Imperial Tobacco at Ashton Gate where I was employed for 16 years in the Physical Chemistry and Physics laboratories. After having our son, I went to work with special needs students in Knowle and then went on to FE with City of Bristol College at Hartcliffe, Marksbury Road, Brunel Technical College and finally at City Centre site, assisting and teaching over 16s and up to 65 year olds. I continued my education whilst at City of Bristol College and eventually gained a Teaching qualification. I have been employed by several different schools in Bristol and have recently retired from Bridge Learning Campus in Hartcliffe.

How long have you been volunteering for At-Bristol?

I have been volunteering with At-Bristol for 8 years and have enjoyed every moment of it! Now I have retired from my full time post at Bridge Learning Campus, I hope to volunteer a little bit more during the week.

What’s been your favourite moment so far? 

When after volunteering on a Brownie science day, 180 of them, several of them sent in thank you notes to all volunteers. I thought that was very gratifying.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of volunteering?

I would tell new volunteers to "pace themselves" as it can be a very tiring day, especially if it is raining!


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Is time travel possible?

Blogging science to life

Fri 29 May 2015, Beth Cotterell

Beth Cotterell from Live Science Team explores the physics of time travel! 

If you could travel to any point in time, where would you go? Would you go back and witness the time of the dinosaurs, attend an Edwardian ball to find your Mr. Darcy, or see if you could hop on board a space flight to another planet in the future? Time travel captures our imaginations because it contains endless possibilities for adventure and holds the answers to many of our questions. But is it possible?

laser

Technically we are all travelling through time at a rate of one second per second, but to go further in either direction is tricky. Let’s start with travelling to the future.

To travel forwards in time, you simply need to move fast. Special relativity states that the speed of light is a cosmic speed limit, nothing can go faster than light. But as we get closer to this speed, strange things start to happen: time itself slows down.  A person in a spaceship travelling away from Earth at close to the speed of light, will experience less time passing than the people back on Earth. This means that if we send a twin up in this spaceship, when they come back they will be much younger than the twin who stayed at home! Or maybe, they will return to find only the ruins of their civilisation, as what was only a few years for them, was thousands of years back on Earth. The problem with this method of time travel is it only works one way, there’s no going back.

Travelling back in time is a bit harder. One possible option is to use a wormhole, which is a theoretical object in space that acts like a tunnel between two places. In theory, these two places could be at different times to each other, so you could go through the entrance in the present and come out of the exit in the past! One disappointing feature of this kind of time travel is you can only go as far back as the creation of the worm hole, so no visiting the dinosaurs with this one.

Credit: S. Terfloth

Stephen Hawking suggested that an obvious argument for the impossibility of travelling back in time is the lack of tourists from the future. Surely if time travel has been invented in the future, we would have met some curious historians who have come to see our time for themselves. Hawking went one further and constructed an experiment to prove that visiting the past is impossible: he threw a party for time travellers and didn’t send out the invitations until after the party was over! No one came to the party, which means either Stephen Hawking is really unpopular in the future, or travelling back in time is impossible.

So, our question was “is time travel possible?”, and my answer is yes. Thanks to the laws of special relativity, whenever you travel in a train, plane or automobile you are experiencing time slower than those walking around you! It may be only a tiny fraction of second that you are skipping by, but it is time travel nonetheless. It may seem insignificant, but this time adds up and becomes very important in GPS satellites, whose clocks run “too slow” because of this effect. 

Though visiting the distant past or future may be contained to the pages of science fiction for now, scientists are expanding our understanding of the Universe and making new discoveries all the time. Who knows when we will come up with our own blue police phone box and go exploring. Until then, my Mr Darcy will just have to wait.


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Will humans ever become cyborgs?

Blogging science to life

Tue 19 May 2015, Joel Sanderson

Joel from our Live Science Team explores whether humans have become cybernetic organisms...

The traditional view of a cyborg is a person that has been modified with electronic or mechanical features, which would usually require some kind of invasive surgical procedure. Perhaps an eye has been replaced with an infra-red camera, or the mind is half a computer that can understand any language on the planet.

CATE

Despite the possible advantages, if these modifications were widely available I still don’t think that most of us would be opting for them. Technology that requires invasive surgical procedures that might permanently alter our bodies is not, I imagine, appealing to the majority of people.  

However, I do think that most of us are cyborgs of a certain sort, we just don’t realise it.

Think about the kind of things that cyborgs can usually do in science fiction. Perhaps they can see in the dark or read people’s vital statistics, like a heart rate, just by looking at them. We don’t have circuits and wires running under our skin or through our skulls, but a lot of us do now have the ability to do previously unthinkable acts of science fiction via our smart phones.

Nokia smart phone

Imagine that you can see in the dark. You could assess landscapes before you get to them and have a pre-planned route to a specific location. You could look through cloud to see the location of stars. You could tap into the collective consciousness of your species to find out the answer to almost any question you can think of, and talk to people who aren’t in front of you. Yet all of these things can be achieved through a smart phone with the appropriate application.

Phones can ‘look’ at people’s faces and, through detecting tiny variations in skin tone associated with blood flow, can monitor a heart rate. A smart phone can monitor your movements in bed and wake you up at an appropriate time during your sleep cycles so that you feel more refreshed. People can input the data from their gym sessions to allow applications to plan their progress in a given endeavour, pushing them to get better, faster and stronger.

So although we aren’t soldering each others eye sockets or having the latest titanium limbs fitted at the local ‘body’ shop, we are now living lives that are massively augmented. Through the external modules of technology that we call smart phones, I think we have already become cyborgs. Just not in the way that science fiction predicted.

Find out more about Joel and the Live Science Team!

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How to make a barometer | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 15 May 2015,

The British are obsessed with the weather. Before you know it, a sunny picnic can turn into a flooded bog. So, how can you predict the weather to know if you need to pack an umbrella? In this video, Kerina and Sarah of Live Science Team show you how to make a barometer to measure changes in air pressure.

How to make a barometer

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How to make a pink pixel

Blogging science to life

Fri 1 May 2015,

Why is pink an imaginary colour? What is a pixel? How do you recreate the universe with 53 million microscopic mirrors? Find out all this and more in our latest video with Ross & Nerys of the Live Science Team!


Pink Pixel

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Happy birthday Hubble!

Blogging science to life

Wed 29 April 2015, Will Davies (Live Science Team)

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of what might just be the coolest camera ever built, and certainly the coldest. Happy birthday to the Hubble Space Telescope, in the chilly reaches beyond our atmosphere. It’s been a source of amazing images of deep space for over two decades, and each sight is as breathtaking as the last. Let’s take a moment to reflect on this reflector, from a troubled start to years of wonder, and even glimpse at what the future holds. 

Hubble Space Telescope

Named after American astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble (1889–1953), the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) wasn’t the first of its kind. The prospect of space-based optics had been suggested as early as 1923, long before manned rocketry took off. It took constant pressure from Dr. Lyman Spitzer, who had written about the advantages observations from orbit would have over terrestrial telescopes, to start outlining a mission in 1965. 

Such things don’t come cheap and funding the mission faced hold-ups and outright cancellation. Promotion of astronomers, astronauts and a public campaign won back only half of their original budget. This meant a downsizing of Hubble’s primary mirror from 3 to 2.4m which, while still sizable, lowered the limit of how much light could be captured significantly. 

Grinding of Hubble's primary mirror at Perkin-Elmer, March 1979

After years of delays, rising costs and having to invent new equipment to build the equipment that HST would carry, a launch date was finally set for October 1986. Then, in the January of that year, the Challenger space shuttle suffered a catastrophic joint failure, causing the death of all seven astronauts aboard. The shuttle fleet was grounded, and all launches cancelled.

Eventually, after more than 20 years of design, redesign, cancellation and some $2.5 billion, on April 24th 1990 the STS-31 shuttle mission launched from Kennedy Space centre in Florida. Aboard it, at last, flew the The Hubble Space Telescope.

STS-31 shuttle launch

Which didn’t work. The mirror mentioned before is the most important part of a reflecting telescope, and having exactly the right curve to the mirror to focus all of its reflected light requires a carefully engineered correcting machine. Unfortunately the correcting machine was incorrectly assembled (even NASA suffers the astronomical equivalent of post-IKEA anxiety). This led to a focussing error on the mirror of one edge being misaligned by 0.00022cm, so a set of corrective lenses were installed. As imperceptiable as this sounds, it made a big difference. Just take a look at these before and after images:

Hubble image before and after correction 

So, by now you’re probably wondering if all the time and trouble was worth it. I mean, what does 25 years and $2.5bn get you? How about:

  • Set the estimated age of the universe at 13-14bn years
  • Found 3000 galaxies from the smallest, darkest corner of the night sky
  • Which altogether means about 500,000,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe
  • And that since the big bang, rather than slowing down, the universe appears to be accelerating outwards 
  • Identified that black holes make up the core of pretty much every galaxy
  • Recorded the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter

And it’s not even done exploring yet! Though at 25 years old HST is no spring chicken in terms of technology. Replacement or upgraded parts can only do so much to boost its observational ability. Which is why construction is already underway for a new generation, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Not a direct successor JWST is more finely attuned to the oldest and furthest bodies in the universe. Until such a day as it’s called back home to Earth, HST will be up above with a careful eye watching, exploring and discovering.

Happy birthday Hubble! 


Coming soon... look out for our display of the Hubble Space Telescope 25th anniversary image in our foyer. 

Find out more about Will and the Live Science Team!

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The Energy Tree

Blogging science to life

Mon 27 April 2015,

Last week we launched The Energy Tree in Millenium Square with Demand Energy Equality and Bristol Drugs Project, as part of Bristol’s European Green Capital 2015 celebrations. The Energy Tree has grown out of a shared commitment to hands-on learning, the need to reduce energy consumption and to equal access to clean energy for all. 

Watch our film documenting the project and the people who made it:
Energy Tree

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