Blog posts

Behind the Science: The Planetarium

Blogging science to life

Tue 30 April 2013, Written by: Heather

How does a planetarium work?  Ross explores Behind the Science in our latest video:

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Any Question Answered: Where's the end of the Universe?

Blogging science to life

Fri 12 April 2013, Written by: Heather

From the personal (why does hair turn grey when as we get older?) right through to the cosmic (where's the edge of the Universe?), no question is too big or small for Ross Exton to answer!

If you want Ross to answer your question next, then leave us a comment here, visit us on Facebooktweet us using #abAQA, or fill in a News and Views card in At-Bristol!

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CSI Harbourside: Investigators Needed!

Blogging science to life

Wed 10 April 2013, Written by: Heather

Police have issued a statement confirming that they are still looking for clues to help solve the ongoing case of Harold Andyman, an engineer who was found dead in the Jungle in At-Bristol this Valentine’s Day.  Andyman had been working alone on the science centre’s phase-change storage tank, completing some essential maintenance on this hi-tech heating and cooling system before he came to an untimely end at ambient temperature.

Investigators have released details of three suspects being held in connection with this case:

1. Kevin Assad

Assad worked for the contractor who installed the phase-change tank back in 1999.  At the same time as the tank was built, Kevin’s nephew was declared a missing person. Could it be that Andyman came too close to revealing something – or someone – that Assad wanted to remain hidden? 

2. James Chatterley

James is Harold’s manager and – awkwardly – the husband of his lover, Agatha Chatterley.  On the night of the incident, Harold had been working alone on the tank, a practice strictly forbidden under the company’s guidelines.  Did James conveniently “forget” to send a second member of staff with Harold?  Was this a crime of passion – or of lax Health & Safety considerations?

3. Kate Mata-Jones

Kate is an active eco-campaigner and runs some local sustainable guest accommodation, competing with At-Bristol to achieve the elusive Gold Sustainable Tourism award.  Sources suggest she was bitterly jealous of At-Bristol’s cutting edge sustainable technology and could well have been driven to foul play in her quest to win that coveted Gold award…  However, her sister Gloria has worked for At-Bristol for a number of years.  Surely no sibling would stoop so low as to sabotage her sister’s livelihood?


Of course, it could well be the case that Harold was the unfortunate victim of a tragic breach of Health & Safety law – until the circumstances surrounding his death are fully understood, we simply cannot be certain. 

Police have found no leads so far and so are appealing for help to crack this most mysterious death.  Specifically, they are looking for people to: 

  • Gather evidence from the scene
  • Analyse DNA and fibres
  • Examine fingerprints
  • Work alongside experts to unravel the mystery

Crime-busting can be a strenuous business so potential investigators should rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities to take a break from the forensics lab, including: 

  • a fully-licensed bar
  • hundreds of hands-on science exhibits to explore
  • live music
  • trips to the stars in the Planetarium*
  • American cop staples in the café – think donuts, chilli dogs, and mac’n’cheese

Any modern-day Marples who think they’ve got what it takes to solve this shocking crime should gather together their friends, purchase their tickets, and report to At-Bristol between 6.30 and 10pm this Thursday.  Trenchcoats and twinsets are encouraged, although attire suitable to be worn beneath contamination suits is highly recommended.

For more information, super-sleuths can visit the At-Bristol website or call 0845 345 1235 (9am – 5pm).

CSI Harbourside is the third in our After Hours series of adult evenings.  These events are suitable for over eighteens.

Tickets cost £7 (£6 concessions) and group rates are available.

* Planetarium shows cost a supplementary £1 and can be booked in advance over the phone, or in person on the evening.

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Spring Night Sky 2013

Blogging science to life

Tue 26 March 2013, Written by: Ross

Take a virtual tour of the Spring Night Sky, including the constellations Boötes, Leo and Ursa Minor, as well as the visible planets this season. Discover more about the planet Saturn and its rings, and pick up some top tips on how to find it for yourself...

If you've got any astronomical questions then put them to us via Facebook, Twitter or the comments box below - or you could even come and join in with a Spring Night Sky show in the Planetarium!

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World Water Day Blogfest: Part 2

Blogging science to life

Fri 22 March 2013, Written by: Heather

Today is the 20th World Water Day... follow the conversation by using #GreenBristol!

As we blog about water and sustainability here in the Science Learning Centre, just across the corridor in the At-Bristol labs, groups of 10 to 11 year olds are busy discovering more about water in all its guises in our Water Cycle Workshop for schools.  This workshop, like all the others in our Education programme, is written and delivered by our Learning Team, and aims to give students the chance to build on what they’ve been looking at in the classroom by taking their learning into a lab environment.  Studying the changing states of water helps to reinforce the idea that the Earth always has the same amount of water, but what matters is whether it’s in the form of arctic glaciers or rising sea levels.

Demos involving dry ice and supercooled water never fail to elicit a collective WOW! – and it’s this kind of reaction that we’re hoping will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, faced with finding solutions to the complex challenges surrounding water resources, flooding and climate change. 

Here in the room with us today are Bristol Hydrogen Boats, whose ferry is undergoing final tests before undergoing her maiden voyage as Bristol’s first-ever hydrogen-fuelled boat.  It’s exactly this kind of innovative technology that we’re hoping our younger visitors will be inspired to go on to develop in the future – in fact, we even have our very own portable exhibit which enables people to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, and then recombine them to release energy, with only water vapour as a by-product.

Alongside our formal education programmes, workshops and learning resources, many of our hands-on exhibits encourage our visitors to see water in a different light, whether watching ice crystals form – and disappear – under your very nose, or even running in a giant hamster wheel to power a huge water pump.  Our World – no more waste was a brand-new opening for At-Bristol last summer; funded by the SITA Trust, this exhibition engages our visitors with environmental issues surrounding Earth systems, including water.  Water, in all its forms, is key to our climate: our Changing World exhibit uses real-time data to show what’s happening across the world: you can track the ebbs and flows of sea ice around the North Pole, follow ocean currents, and watch as the changing seasons affect the planet’s crops and vegetation.

Track water across the globe


So, just why do we take educating our visitors about water so seriously?  We know that, here in the UK, as we experience increasingly extreme rainfall patterns, we need the technology – and people – to develop ways of coping with river flooding and rising sea levels.  On a global scale, around a tenth of the world’s population don’t have access to safe water*, and the ever-increasing impact of climate change on devastating droughts and flooding means it’s more important than ever to understand the science behind these problems, and develop the technologies to solve them.

*source: Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group, 2012, and Unicef Child Mortality Report, 2012

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World Water Day Blogfest: Part 1

Blogging science to life

Fri 22 March 2013, Written by: Heather

Today is the 20th World Water Day, and what better way to celebrate than by getting together with members of the Bristol Green Capital Group to share the ways in which we work to use water sustainably in our second Green Blogfest... follow the conversation by using #GreenBristol!

You might already be aware that At-Bristol has the city’s largest solar panel array on its roof, producing 49 megawatt hours of electricity a year, and that it uses the UK’s only phase-change storage tank to heat and cool the building; however, did you know that we’re just as keen when it comes to using water sustainably too?

Here in At-Bristol, we use some revolutionary (and some not-so-revolutionary!) technology to ensure that spending a penny needn’t mean spending a fortune in water bills!  We’ve adapted all our toilets to reduce the amount of water used per flush by a third, and the good news is, it’s easy to do the same at home.  You can get a free water-saving pack from utility companies, including our fellow bloggers Wessex Water and Bristol Water, or you could just pop a filled plastic bottle in the cistern to reduce the amount of water needed to flush.  We’re even cutting-edge when it comes to urinals – we’ve opted for the waterless kind – and taps: motion-sensing ones in some of our public toilets ensure we don’t waste a drop of water. 

It’s not just in our public-facing areas that we’re working to save water either: as well as our café, which is open every day, we also cater for around 200 private functions every year, from weddings to business breakfasts – that’s an awful lot of food that needs to be prepared (and cleaned up!).  Our commercial kitchens are fully equipped with a range of water-saving features, such as trigger taps and hi-tech grease traps, which use enzymes in the same way your stomach does to break down fats, avoiding blocked-up sewers.

Outside, Millennium Square’s water features were created by award-winning designer William Pyre and are a perennial favourite when it comes to summertime, but – as with everything in At-Bristol – they’re more than just a pretty face!  We use the rainwater collected across the Square in our cleaning machines, which keep our outside spaces looking spotless.

Millennium Square's water features 

On top of the building, Brian (At-Bristol’s very own robotic peregrine falcon) has a tough job keeping pesky seagulls off our hardworking solar panels.  Luckily for him, he also gets to enjoy the bucolic charms of our green roof!  This unassuming patch of greenery on top of At-Bristol is in fact a haven for wildlife in the middle of Bristol’s urban centre, and as well as insulating the building below, it absorbs rainwater which would otherwise run off into sewers, and any excess transpires through the plants’ leaves or simply evaporates.  Today might be a typically grey day full of Brizzle drizzle – but just think, at least our plants are happy!

At-Bristol's green roof

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Building Build It!

Blogging science to life

Tue 19 March 2013, Written by: Ruth

 Our latest project takes shape at The Look Out, Bracknell

Did you know that the exhibits and activities you use when you visit are designed and built in At-Bristol by our Exhibitions workshop? And it’s not just our own centre we build exhibits for: we’ve recently sold exhibits to other science centres and museums in Europe and Asia! Our latest project was a little closer to home though – an interactive construction site for The Look Out Discovery Centre in Bracknell.

The Look Out wanted to provide a new area for their younger visitors and had an atrium space that was in need of some redevelopment. They wanted to create a space where groups of children could work together to build a house. Despite being aimed at visitors under eight years old, they didn’t want it to resemble a soft-play area. It needed to be as realistic as possible to provide a vibrant learning environment.

Giant blocks and a scaffold to climb

Our designers took this brief and made it a reality – no mean feat when you consider the dangers involved in a real building site. The finished design uses over 1,000 giant building blocks, a fully scaled scaffold and a roof you can climb to reach 3m high!

 Laying the foundations for our interactive house build

Installing it in the middle of a forest in Bracknell during the snowy weather just after Christmas was chilly work for our team. Bobble hats and gloves became essential wear as they set to work constructing our half finished house build. Once the skips were installed and we had untangled everyone from the metres of netting it was time to wheel in the dumper trucks and hang up the safety helmets.

Ready for the workforce at The Look Out

On its first morning open to the public, young builders flooded in. Our miniature construction site was a hive of activity as they worked together to build the walls of the house, donning their yellow safety helmets, deciding on the windows and doorways, ordering bricks from the labourers, and delivering tiles up the scaffold.

Build It! arrives in At-Bristol on 23 March

If you’ve visited At-Bristol recently some of this may sound familiar. You may have spotted a scaffold taking shape on our first floor. That’s because we are now installing our very own Build it! Work is well underway: the scaffold frame is up, the wooden rafters are being varnished and the wheelbarrows are being assembled.

Build It! will be opening on 23 March.  Over the same weekend, we’re also going to be welcoming a very special guest: Bob the Builder will be making personal appearances throughout the day on 23 and 24 March.  Let’s hope the Dads step aside and let the little ones have a go!

Many thanks to Ruth from our Exhibitions team for writing this blog!

Come on down to see Build It! in action from 23 March.  Meeting Bob the Builder is included in our admission price.


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Design your dream house and WIN a Build it with Bob construction set!

Blogging science to life

Wed 13 March 2013,

To celebrate the launch of our new under-eights’ exhibit, Build It!, we’re giving budding builders, architects, designers and engineers the chance to design their own house and win a fantastic ‘Build it with Bob’ construction set!

Build It! is our brand-new interactive construction site, complete with hard hats, scaffolding and giant building blocks.  Opening on 23 March, little ones can set to work to create their very own grand design - if on a slightly smaller scale! 

To be in with a chance of winning a ‘Build it with Bob’ set, you need to design your dream house – the more imaginative the better!  Entries can be drawn by hand or using a computer, and will be judged by At-Bristol’s Exhibitions team, who are currently putting the finishing touches to Build It!.

Each construction set contains everything you need to design and create your own structures, including real bricks, cement, blueprints and lots more.  Once complete, the construction can easily be demolished by soaking it in water, so there’s no limit to the amount of designs you can build!

Over the same weekend, we’ll also be welcoming a very special visitor: Bob the Builder!  He’ll be taking a well-earned weekend off from all his hard work to visit At-Bristol and we can’t wait to meet him!  He’ll be making personal appearances at intervals on 23 & 24 March.  Seeing Bob the Builder is included in our admission price.

Entries should be emailed to, or posted to: Marketing, At-Bristol, Anchor Road, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5DB, by 21 March – please include your name and email address or phone number on all entries.

Have fun creating your designs, and good luck!

Terms and conditions:

  • Competition closes at midnight on 21 March 2013
  • Winners will be notified by email on 22 March
  • First prize is a ‘Build It with Bob’ construction set
  • Runner-up prize is a set of M.Y building bricks
  • Prizes will be available to collect from At-Bristol from 23 March

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Celebrating Women in Science

Blogging science to life

Fri 8 March 2013, Written by: Steph, Bonnie and Nerys

Here in At-Bristol, we’re passionate about making science accessible to everyone – girls and boys alike! To celebrate International Women’s Day today, we asked three of our Live Science Team members which female scientists have inspired them:

Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock was a guest speaker at a recent BBC training day that I attended for women that are experts in science. Her infectious enthusiasm for science is hugely inspirational. The best communicators are people who are not only knowledgeable, but passionate about their subject. Maggie has overcome everything she was told she shouldn't – female, black and dyslexic – and in turn acts as a fantastic role model for everyone who has even the smallest interest in following a science related path.  – Steph Hoddinott

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

“If we assume we’ve arrived, we stop searching, we stop developing”.  This was stated by British astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.  She was an integral member of the team who discovered the first radio pulsars, a significant astronomical discovery of the twentieth century.  As one of the few women actively studying science in school during the mid-twentieth century, Burnell is a pioneer in the realm of women in science. – Bonnie Buckley

Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner was a 20th century Austrian nuclear physicist. She made significant contributions to the discovery of nuclear fission – a process that can be used for power generation as well as for weapons. Although Meitner was the first person to spot the potential destructive power of this new discovery, she did not want to see it used as a weapon and refused a job working on the development of the atom bomb during World War II. Element 109 of the periodic table is named Meitnerium in honour of Lise Meitner and her contributions to science.

These scientists are not just role models for women; they are role models for everyone. Their research and their discoveries affect all of us, male or female. Science is for everyone. Whether male or female, we can all learn science, we can all do science and we can all enjoy science. – Nerys Shah

Thank you to Steph, Bonnie and Nerys for writing this blog – and for continuing to inspire our visitors every day!

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Any Question Answered: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Blogging science to life

Wed 6 March 2013, Written by: Heather

Ross Exton answers your questions, including the classic: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

If you want Ross to answer your question - no matter how big or small! - next, then leave us a comment here, visit us on Facebook, or tweet us using #abAQA.

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