At-Bristol Science Centre

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Behind the scenes: UK's first digital 3D Planetarium!

Blogging science to life

Wed 19 March 2014, Jennifer Garrett

We’re going behind the scenes to find out what it takes to build the UK’s first ever digital 3D Planetarium! 

 planetarium build

Since our exciting news in February 2015, we’ve been busily upgrading our Planetarium to transform it into the UK’s first ever digital 3D Planetarium! Originally known as the Orange Imaginarium when it opened in 2000, the Planetarium is an iconic part of Bristol’s harbourside. Since it opened, we’ve inspired over 1 million visitors with astronomy through our presenter-led shows!   


The renovations began by building a new area next to our Planetarium entrance to house our 3D goggle washing station. Our new shows will use ‘active’ 3D technology, enabling you to fly through the rings of Saturn and journey to distant stars!

Next, we undertook the huge task of taking out all the old seats, pulling up the carpet from the floors and removing the old sound system from the walls. 

star ball out

Dismantling our much-loved Starball was a milestone for the project, as was filling the 5-metre-deep pit in the floor in which it sat! This space has now been made available to a new row of seating. 


Credit: Lee Pullen

Specialists have travelled all the way from Italy and America to fit the new visual and audio systems. In place of the Starball will now be a digital 3D projection system which will display a 360° image on the dome. The new shows will be displayed in ultra high quality (4K resolution) from two projectors, with an eight-channel surround sound audio system, creating a truly immersive experience!

The extensive building works and expert installation of high tech systems have happened while ensuring all our exhibits, and everything else in the building, have kept on running. We’ve rerouted lots of important systems, added over 5 kilometres of cables and doubled the size of our computer server room to get the best out of our brand new kit. 

Floor up

As well as redeveloping the Planetarium and upgrading our technology, we’ve been busy refreshing the Space gallery. 


The entrance has been renovated in the style of the International Space Station. Here we will prepare you for your departure into space, as you perform a spacewalk and find out all about how to survive a space mission! 

Space gallery graphic

As an educational charity, the project has been made possible by support from a variety of organisations and partners including Bristol City Council under the “Bristol Is Open” project. As part of this we have created a new, separate entrance giving access out of hours, opening up the Planetarium to new opportunities as a state-of-the-art data visualisation facility.

From 24 April you will be able to discover the universe from the comfort of your seat. Watch this space for more behind the scenes action!

Planetarium coming soon

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Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Blogging science to life

Wed 19 March 2014, Heather Nichol

When I wake up, my day starts with a hot, steaming cup of tea. The first sip is always the best. Yet, this morning I found myself musing over the age-long argument, milk first, or last? I’ve heard that the answer can be found in the cup you drink from. Traditionally, tea was served in thin china cups that would crack under the heat of boiling water. To preserve the delicate tea cups milk was poured in first, dutifully followed by the boiling tea that had been brewing away in a teapot. But, there must be more to this tea-drinking story?


Milk is rich in protein and as all scientists know, proteins change when exposed to heat. Dribbling cold milk into a boiling cup of tea causes these proteins to denature, changing their physical structure. The proteins unfold and link together forming lumps of denatured protein and the characteristic “skin” that floats on the surface of your freshly brewed cup. Pouring scalding tea from the pot onto fridge-cold milk slowly and inoffensively lowers the temperature of the tea, ensuring your cup stays below the critical protein-denaturing temperature.

However, this gloriously glossy white fluid has another scientific trick up its sleeve. When you add milk first the temperature of your tea lowers and curiously keeps it warmer for longer. According to Newton’s cooling curve, the rate of heat loss is inversely proportional to the temperature difference between the tea and the air. Milk sitting at the bottom of your favourite cup gradually lowers the temperature of the boiling tea. This reduces the temperature difference between the tea and the air, thus slowing the rate of heat loss from the tea into its surroundings.

milk in tea

How you like your tea is a matter of opinion. When asked I usually respond with a firm, “milk first”. But the truth is, at home I never do. I always put milk in last and my tea tastes just as good. Modern life has changed our traditional tea drinking from a finely-brewed art to a rushed cup in the office before the next meeting.

So does it really matter? On my quest for the perfect cup of tea there was one instruction that appeared to be sacrilege in the British tea-making process and a rule that must be followed by all tea-lovers out there. Never brew a teabag with milk at the same time! The process of brewing tea involves pouring boiling water onto tea leaves or a teabag. Boiling water has lots of kinetic energy and the water molecules move around pretty fast, bouncing off one another. Add loose leaf tea or a teabag and the water molecules start bouncing off the leaves, increasing the rate of diffusion and the release of the teas natural oils, aromas and caffeine. Milk stops this infusion of goodness and leaves you with a weak and disappointingly milky blend. Whether you like to brew your tea in a teapot or pour the milk in last, that morning brew is a small cup of steaming science.

This British Science Week (13 – 22 March), British Science Association are encouraging people in offices, staff-rooms, community centres and their own homes to take part in an every day science experiment: investigating their perfect cup of tea. Find out more about #PerfectCuppa.

Find out more about Heather and the Live Science Team!

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How to calculate pi by throwing sausages | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 27 February 2015,

Did you know it's possible to calculate the number 'pi' by throwing sausages? Ross & Kerina take maths to the kitchen & show you how to try this adaptation of the 'Buffon's Needle Problem' at home.

How to calculate pi by throwing sausages

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How to test your knee-jerk reflex

Blogging science to life

Fri 13 February 2015,

Heather and Beth put their tendons to the test as they explain what causes your leg to kick out when you tap you knee, and show you some more tendon tricks to try at home.

You can also check out more body-based fun for yourself here in Medical Lab, now on in the Live Lab!

How to tesst your knee-jerk reflex

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Triple win at the South West Tourism Excellence Awards!

Blogging science to life

Fri 13 February 2015, Jen Forster

Last night, we were lucky enough to be in the finals of the annual South West Tourism Excellence Awards, and went away with a hat trick of awards – for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year, Sustainable Tourism Award and Venue & Business Tourism Award!

Robbie, Caitlin & Sarah holding the 3 awards

Robbie (Live Science Team), Caitlin (Visitor Services Team) and Sarah (Venue Hire Team) holding the awards!

A group of us from teams across At-Bristol science centre went to the super swanky awards do at the Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mare, and were treated to entertainment and a delicious 3-course meal before the awards got underway. The room was packed with finalists from across the South West, from hotels, B&Bs, pubs, visitor attractions and more – so it was great to be amongst the cream of the tourism industry for our region.

In the Greenhouse!

In our Greenhouse!

With hearts a-racing as the finalists were read out, we were absolutely delighted to win Silver in the Sustainable Tourism category, Silver in Venue & Business Tourism category and Bronze for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year!

Big name winners on the night included Glastonbury legend Michael Eavis and chef Nathan Outlaw; Michael Eavis was given a special award for outstanding contribution to tourism in the region while Nathan Outlaw won top honours for the Taste of the South West.

It’s always lovely to win stuff, but it’s even nicer to win stuff when you know how hard various teams from across the company have worked during the year – we’ve had some big events and launches happening in At-Bristol over the last 12 months, so fantastic to be rewarded for it!

Ape-ing around!

For full information on the South West Tourism Excellence Awards click here.


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How to make a motor | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 16 January 2015,

Motors are used in everything from cars, to planes, to robots - and it's easy to make one for yourself at home. Nerys and Sarah of the Live Science Team show you how to make a simple motor using only a battery, a wire, a magnet, and a screw.

How to make a radioactive image

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LEGO® Robotics – comes to At-Bristol!

Blogging science to life

Mon 19 January 2015, Eddie Peacock, Formal Learning Communicator and Robot Whisperer


After three very successful pilot workshops last year, we are now ready, and so are the robots. With many students due to attend the workshop this term, we are sure they’ll have as much fun with the robots as we have had, but don’t just take my word, these are the words of the students from the pilot sessions “this is the best school trip ever!”

Favourite parts of the workshop went from “controlling the robots and playing with them”, to “completing the final challenge!” One of my favourite parts has to be transforming one of the students from human to robot, for our human/robot demo – it always gets a real good laugh.

LEGO workshop

When asked what they learnt “programming robots, and making them avoid obstructions” was a common answer. Many groups also developed a real bond with their robots. “My favourite part was playing with Echo (one of the robots) and programming him” stated one student from St Andrews C of E in Gloucestershire. “If I needed to design a robot I will make it look like my friend Echo.”

When the pilot workshops were over, one of the students said “take good care of Kilo the robot”. To be honest I think I am starting to develop a bond with the robots myself, which I guess is easy after spending time bringing them to life!

During the workshop we look at how robots can be sent to extreme places and the jobs they do. The students were asked where they would send their robots, and here are some of our favourite answers:

“Our design would be on the desert because it is really hot and the robot would need to avoid all the animals.”

“Our robots job would be to explore Pluto and find out if there was any life on it.”

“My robot would look like Echo, and I would make it go to the desert to get some water.”

LEGO workshop

If I could send a robot anywhere it would be to the bottom of the ocean to discover strange new sea creatures. Where would you send a robot and what job would the robot do?

Visit us at if you would like to find out more about this workshop, or phone our bookings team at 0845 345 3344 (8.30am – 5.30pm, Mon-Fri, excluding Bank Holidays).

We hope to see you in LEGO® Robotics soon!


IET Logo

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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How to make a laser microscope | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 16 January 2015,

Microscopes allow you to see the world invisible to the naked eye. Will and Robbie of the Live Science Team show you a simple experiment with a laser that you can try at home to search for life in a droplet of water.

How to make a radioactive image

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How to make a macro-lens | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 9 January 2015,

Macro-photography allows you to take your camera and zoom-in to see what the world looks like up close. In this video, Ross shows you a few cheap options to make use of lenses you may already have and how to hack a laser-pointer and the camera on your phone to make your own macro-lens.

How to make a radioactive image

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What would you like for Christmas?

Blogging science to life

Tue 16 December 2014, Hannah Mulvany

Looking for a one-stop shop for your Christmas presents? Look no further than the At-Bristol gift shop! From classic Christmas gifts with a cosmic twist to DIY science projects, there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained over the festive period.

So to help you choose, we asked 12 of our lovely staff members what they would like from the gift shop for Christmas. After a LOT of deliberation, some head scratching, and even some beard twizzling, here is the selection of gifts that came out on top:

Jen Forster, PR Manager

“I would get gift membership*. It is amazing value for money and means you have unlimited access to At-Bristol, which is great when you have to entertain a three-year-old!”

There are lots of different money-saving membership options, whether you are a student, family or solo science enthusiast!

Jen Xmas

Lucy Whigham, Duty Team Leader

“I would love this talking Paddington Bear because it is cute and funny!”

The talking Paddington Bear toy is part of the new Paddington Bear range that is a magnificent new addition to the gift shop.

Lucy Xmas

Ben Bennett, Visitor Services

“I would get this Test Tube Spice Rack. It’s a really different gift and I love that it gives each different herb a symbol, similarly to elements in the periodic table.”

The gift shop has a wide selection of other culinary curiosities – perfect for any budding chefs in the family!

Ben Xmas

Sini Liponen, Facilities Coordinator

“I’d love to open this Food Face Plate on Christmas Day! It’s fun and colourful and would definitely appeal to kids – I’m a child at heart!”

As well as our more advanced kitchen accessories for the masterchefs in your family, we also have some gifts for the lucky people who get to sample their culinary triumphs!

Sini Xmas

Hannah Mulvany, Communications Officer

“I love bubbles and I love science, so this is pretty much the perfect present for me! There are loads of different bubble-making activities inside, so it would keep me entertained for ages!”

There are plenty of science-themed games and activities in the At-Bristol shop that will amaze and inspire over the Christmas period.

Hannah Xmas

Stuart Kemp, Visitor Services

“This Starship 4 mug reminds me of when I was a little nipper... I’d love to open this on Christmas day!”

Fancy evoking some nostalgia with your relatives? This mug and many others in the collection can be yours for the bargain price of £2.50!

Stuart Xmas

Caitlin Campbell, Visitor Services

“Stories in the Stars by Susanna Hislop would be the best present for me! Just like the Planetarium, my favourite part of At-Bristol, this book combines my love of storytelling, myths and science.”

Do you have a friend or relative who is a bit of a bookworm? The At-Bristol shop has an amazing selection of books that are sure to bring a smile to their face on Christmas Day!

Caitlin Xmas

Robbie Kornitschky, Live Science Team Member

“I was bought Magic Plastic as a child when I visited At-Bristol. I remember being amazed by it because it seemed so sci-fi at the time!”

Looking to spread your love of science around your loved ones? We could have the perfect gift for you! You never know, you might even create such an interest in science that the recipient will return to At-Bristol as an employee in the future!

Robbie Xmas

Sophie Jerrome, Visitor Services/Ice Rink Staff

“People keep coming in and buying these glittery stars for their 5-year-olds, but I really want them!”

Give your home that Planetarium-style feel this Christmas with the awesome array of cosmic goodies in our shop!

Sophie Xmas

Eva Kozdeba, At-Bristol Cafe Manager

“This cup is amazing! I love coffee so it would be great to have something to drink out of that is so colourful and light! I like that it isn’t made out of plastic and I haven’t seen them anywhere other than in here.”

If you’re wanting to be environmentally-aware with your presents this year, we have a large amount of recycled and eco-friendly gifts in the gift shop so you can help others be more ‘green’ this Christmas!

Eva Xmas

Tracey Louise Clark, Visitor Services

“I like using my phone in fun and interesting ways and this Ani-Mate Mini Movie Maker Kit would enable me to make amazing animations using my phone. It’s a really interesting gift and is a similar concept to Animate-It, one of my favourite exhibits in At-Bristol.”

FEAR NOT! At-Bristol might be closed between 24 and 26 December, but you can create your own mini science centre at home with a selection of items from the shop.

Tracey Xmas

Richard Bravery, Live Science Team Member/Venue Hire

“I’d get Bart Simpson’s Manual of Mischief so I can play pranks on my brother over Christmas!”

If you have any family members who fancy themselves as a bit of a prankster, why not give them another string to their bow this Christmas? Although, you could give them a taste of their own medicine?!

Rich Xmas

* The ultimate gift: At-Bristol membership!

Why not treat yourself or a loved one to a gift membership to At-Bristol for Christmas? Valid for a whole year from the first usage, membership will entitle the recipient to unlimited entry to At-Bristol and other ASTC-affiliated science centres around the world, free Planetarium shows, fast-track entry, 10% discount in the award-winning cafe and many other jaw-droppingly good perks. Best of all, the recipient will get 10% off in the gift shop so they can treat themselves whenever they visit! You never know, you might receive one of the above items as a thank you! Here’s hoping....

Find out more about gift membership here.

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