At-Bristol Science Centre

Blog posts

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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Cosmic competition time!

Blogging science to life

Thu 16 April 2015, Jennifer Garrett

Get ready Bristol! The UK’s first digital 3D Planetarium is preparing for launch, and we would love you to join in with the celebrations!

Planetarium logo

Our staff and volunteers got creative and made some cosmic space helmets to celebrate launch day! Could you do any better?

We'd like you to make your very own homemade, super space helmet! The best will win a family ticket plus Planetarium show* for the launch weekend on 25 & 26 April. 

Group space helmets

You will get to try out the new Planetarium for the very first time! Discover the universe from the comfort of your seat – fly through the rings of Saturn, journey to distant stars, and tour our Solar System in the UK's first ever digital 3D Planetarium! Brand new shows include presenter-led Seasonal stargazing (in a choice of 2D or 3D*) and Space Explorers (2D) show for under 6s.

Home made space helmet

How to enter

For a chance of winning, send us your photos:

Terms and conditions

  • Only one entry per person
  • Family ticket permits entry for 4 persons, with a maximum of 2 adults
  • Competition closes midday on 24 April 2015
  • The winner will be notifed by 5pm on 24 April 2015
  • Competition not open to At-Bristol staff or their direct family members
  • We promise not to share your details with anyone else!
  • Unfortunately 3D technology is unsuitable for under 6’s due to health restrictions

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How to test the soil in your garden | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 27 March 2015,

Soil is essential to life as we know it on planet Earth. This week, Robbie and Joel show you a simple activity to try at home to investigate what kind of soil you might have in your garden.

soil testing video

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Alien Tours: an out-of-this-world view of At-Bristol

Blogging science to life

Sat 28 March 2015, Jennifer Garrett

We caught up with our robot tour guide to find out about Alien Tours, why aliens are here and what you can get up to...


Hello, nice to meet you! Could you introduce yourself?

Greetings human spawn of the Earth. I am Cybernetic Android Tour Enhancer, but you can call me CATE for short. May I complement you on your excellent appendages? Your thumbs are particularly wonderful... I’ve just downloaded a compliment function, it’s still settling in.

Oh... thank you! So what brings you to At-Bristol?

I was sent here as a virtual programme and have built myself out of Earth parts. I’m programmed to deliver tours and explain this quaint little planet, you locals call ‘Earth’. Life forms from all across the galaxy are welcome to join the tour to explore the wonders of hominid life.

Robot aliens

Are you enjoying life on Earth?

In order to appreciate Earth to the fullest, I have programmed myself using an Encyclopaedia. I found it in a skip along with my left eye and third thumb (it’s a spare just in case). I don’t why anyone would throw away a CD-ROM, terribly useful. Today I learned about ancient Egyptians, Echolocation and Encyclopaedias... I must confess I was confused up until that point.  

So how do these tours work?

I take intergalactic travellers around the exhibits and will guide you around the oddities of life on this planet, and explore the history and function of Earth. The wonderful thing about At-Bristol is there are lots of exhibitions that explain your world. While we’re on the tour we may even see some humans!

RoboChef, CATE and Alien

Can anyone come?

Anyone can pay two and a half earth pounds for full size intergalactic travellers and one pound fifty for younger space travellers. Currency exchange points can be found on the dark side of the moon.

To wrap up, here are 5 quick-fire questions:

  • Favourite hobby? Downloading human programmes. Today I learnt rhetorical questions, metaphors and high-fives.
  • Pet hate? I couldn’t possibly hate pets, from what I’ve learnt they’re meant to be adorable.
  • What do you miss most about your planet? Telekinesis, and the night life.
  • What do you do on your days off? Recharge, literally.
  • Best part of your job? It’s my life’s purpose.

Aliens have landed in At-Bristol, and you’re one of them! Our robot tour guide will take you around At-Bristol to explore the planet Earth and the humans who live there, all through the ‘eye’ of an alien! From 30 March to 12 April visitors will be able to dress up in alien costumes* and follow our expert robot tour guide around At-Bristol to learn about the bizarre species ‘humanity’.

* Cost: Adults £2.50, Children £1.50 (in addition to standard admission)


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How to scramble an egg INSIDE its shell | Do Try This At Home

Blogging science to life

Fri 27 March 2015,

There are hundreds of ways to cook an egg, this week Ross shows you how to use shoelaces, a tennis ball and plenty of physics to scramble an egg INSIDE its shell! Will he get egg on his face?

Golden egg

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Fairtrade for Sustainability - The At-Bristol view

Blogging science to life

Thu 26 March 2015, Written by: Nicole

Here in At-Bristol Science Centre we’re lucky enough to be able supply and use Fairtrade goods in a variety of ways, whether in the catering choices we make in our café and events menus, in the shop products we sell or the procurement process for our hands-on science activities.

It’s part of our commitment to sustainable business practice which aims to limit the negative impact of our choices while educating and inspiring others.

These Fairtrade choices mean that as well as providing our visitors with higher standard products we’re also able to work with local Fairtrade suppliers and producers in various collaborative, innovative (and often tasty) ways!

Spring kitchen

One such project is one of our latest Spring Kitchen activities in our new Food! exhibition, using Divine chocolate as part of a chocolate tasting masterclass. As well as and kindly donating the chocolate Divine also lent us a chocolatier for the day during Fairtrade fortnight. David popped in to help our visitors and Live Science Team learn the journey from bean to bar and the important role the senses play ready for the launch of our Spring Kitchen - needless to say we had a number of willing volunteers!

These Meet the Expert sessions are important for us and our visitors, creating an important learning experience through interesting conversation and by getting hands-on. During the International Fairtrade Conference week (4-5 July 2015) we’re delighted to be welcoming Ghanian teenagers to our venue to talk to school groups about the life of a chocolate grower.

Our commitment to being a sustainable venue affects all our practices even down to the procurement of the wood for our events terrace, which is Fairtrade certified! Changes such as these have seen us winning the Best Fairtrade café gold award to the second year running and we also managed a gold award for our conferencing services.

Finally we continue to increase the number of Fairtrade products for you lovely lot to get your hands on in our shop. This Spring we’ll add herbal teas, chocolate spreads and herbs and spices to our range including delicious Shaun the sheep Easter eggs – so choosing Fairtrade has never been tastier!

We can’t wait to host and play a part in the International Fairtrade Conference 2015 – only 100 days to wait!

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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

Thu 19 March 2015, Heather Nichol

Heather Nichol from Live Science Team explores the physics of time travel! 

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. 

Pouring milk

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.

Find out more!

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