Blog posts

Welcome to our newest members of staff: Ursa and Leo!

Blogging science to life

Wed 4 September 2013, Written by: John

In 2009 At-Bristol decided there was sufficient interest from under fives and their families for a journey into space, and a new Planetarium show was needed. In November work began on Little Stars, a show especially for under fives, and this is now one of our most popular shows.

Little Stars

We contacted Hannah Broadway, a local illustrator, to ask whether she had any clients on her books who would be interested in a mission into outer space and might work with us on the show. Not an offer to be put out lightly! Hannah put us in touch with Ursa and Leo, and we realised immediately that they were the perfect pair to share an excitement with space and exploration of the world around us with our younger visitors.

At Easter 2010, Ursa and Leo jetted into space for first Little Stars show, discovering all sorts of colourful and amazing things in space, and a familiar star pattern of a saucepan which has guided and reassured stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere for millennia.

In 2011, a year after interest from toddlers was acknowledged with a programme of special days only for under fives, Toddler Takeovers, At-Bristol approached Ursa and Leo to work together on some new adventures, to be chronicled in a new storytelling programme. Ursa and Leo  have been on a lot of adventures in their time, but four in particular stood out, which At-Bristol knew would be relevant to toddlers as the themes were shared by the Early Years National Strategy. 

A night in a tent in the garden, punctuated with some strange noises and shadows became Lights On, Lights Off; an adventure in the woods with animals of air, land and water became Home Sweet Home;  the disappearance of a puddle and the subsequent quest to find it became The Missing Puddle; and the most sensory of all forests, home to a very forgetful royal family, became The Magical Forest.  Later in the year, when new staff joined our Live Science Team, At-Bristol offered an opportunity to work with Ursa and Leo and a new adventure with some unexpected sinking and floating became The Strange Bathtub.

Little Stars


Now, in September 2013, as we approach a fourth glorious year of Toddler Takeovers, we thought it a fitting time to acknowledge all of the love shown by our younger visitors for Ursa and Leo by inviting them to join us  as full-time members of At-Bristol staff.  We approached Hannah again, and she was delighted to be able to offer them the opportunity to join At-Bristol.

On 18th September Ursa and Leo will join us officially at At-Bristol, and we will welcome them with a Very Important Tea Party especially for our members and day visitors who are under five, and their parents and carers – but keep quiet, because Ursa and Leo don’t know we’re throwing them a party!

After that, Ursa and Leo will be around to say hello during storytelling every weekend and school holiday daytimes, and during Toddler time on Mondays. They’ll be around all day for Toddler Takeovers, and to meet schools in workshops like Go Explore.

Ursa and Leo look forward to meeting you soon!



Many thanks to John, Ursa and Leo's good friend, for writing this biography!

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The new school year is here...and is set to be the best ever!

Blogging science to life

Wed 4 September 2013, Written by: Chris

The new school year has arrived already and At-Bristol's education team is raring to go! We've giant rocket fans primed, colourful chemicals fully stocked and gallons of gloopy slime prepared!

Last academic year might seem a long time ago now, after a summer holiday full of Gromit-hunting and model-making, but we're still buzzing from an incredibly successful year for our schools' programme.

55,300 students visited us on a school trip last year! From Bristol Cathedral Choir School (1 minute’s walk away!), to Penryn College, Cornwall (53 hours’ walk away!), At-Bristol proved a really popular way to take learning outside the classroom and bring science to life!

Our experienced education team delivered an incredible 588 innovative workshops, ranging from animals to astrophysics. Our 3 classrooms were constantly full of classes enjoying lots of hands-on activities with our innovative tools, including our 3D Magic Globe, portable IR cameras… and not forgetting the infamous Mr. Stuffee! From scientific storytelling with unusual artefacts for Early Years groups, to DNA extraction and lively debates on genetic testing with A level students, we saw thousands of classes enhance their visit to At-Bristol with our workshops.

Gathering evidence in our Forensics workshop

At-Bristol's studio was overflowing with 183 lively science theatre shows throughout last academic year. John, Lee and Alice exploded more than 550 hydrogen balloons, winched 65 teachers to the ceiling and hurled nearly 100 melons off the roof of At-Bristol in the process of inspiring primary and secondary school audiences.

Inspiring live science shows

53 special theme days prepared the next generation of aeronautical engineers as they developed and tested flying machines in our High Flyers workshop alongside experts from Airbus, whilst secondary students kept the criminals at bay in our Forensics workshop, tending to our crime scene within At-Bristol's exhibitions. We also took some awe-inspiring photos with the Faulkes telescope in Hawaii with older students in our Earth & Beyond Day.

 The Dumbbell Nebula, imaged by students from St Luke's Science and Sports College, Devon

2012/13 is definitely going to be hard to beat… but the education team has been working hard all summer and At-Bristol has an even better education programme for the new term.

Our interactive construction site, Build It! has been a hit throughout summer with younger visitors. Now Early Years and Key Stage 1 visitors can explore this fantastic exhibition alongside a new story-based workshop. Wobble boards and flash floods pose exciting design challenges for budding engineers as they work together to test materials and build a house from the ground up! 

With In The Zone proving popular in summer term as a tool to explore health and exercise with secondary groups, we've designed a challenging new lab workshop to get students using restriction enzymes and gel electrophoresis to explore bacteria in real DNA samples.

Another seven new workshops and shows means there's something new and exciting for every year group in At-Bristol. Plus, we've even got an ice rink arriving in Autumn term, turning Millennium Square into a festive spectacular and making a visit here even more memorable!

The year ahead brings lots of curriculum developments and we'll be launching new workshops throughout the year, exploring computing, evolution and inheritance, and rotary flight.

In the meantime, our new full offer for schools is ready for you to browse using our interactive education programmes, and do keep your eyes open for paper versions arriving in schools in September.

Primary Education Programme        Secondary Education Programme

Our Bookings Team is here even longer to help with your school booking enquiries - call us on 0845 345 3344 from 8.30am – 5.30pm, Monday – Friday (excluding Bank holidays).

We're looking forward to welcoming your school very soon and making 2013/14 the very best year to visit At-Bristol on your school trip.



Many thanks to Chris, our Formal Learning Manager, for writing this blog!

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Top 10 reasons to visit At-Bristol!

Blogging science to life

Thu 15 August 2013, Written by: Jen

Top 10 reasons to visit At-Bristol

With so much to do in At-Bristol, it’s hard to pick only a handful of reasons to come, but here’s a starter for ten:
1.    We offer a full day out in At-Bristol – you can come and go as you please throughout the day with your wristband, so spend the morning with us, nip out for a stroll or lunch on the Harbourside, and come back for more fun!

2.    At-Bristol is suitable for all ages, so no matter how old your tribe is, you’ll find something for everyone. To name just a  couple, we run lots of special under fives activities like storytelling and Toddler Takeover days, and we also do adult After Hours evenings where you can re-live the fun of childhood, and play until your heart’s content!

Under 8s - credit Lee Pullen
(Credit Lee Pullen)

3.    The At-Bristol building is pretty amazing in itself – it was once a railway goods shed (you can still see much of the original structure inside) and is now one of the most innovative buildings in the UK when it comes to sustainability.

4.    We have hundreds of exhibits to play on – you can run in a giant hamster wheel, have a go at presenting the weather, test your reactions on In the Zone, create your own film in Animate It! , walk through a tornado and much much more.

Animate It! - credit Dave Platt
(Credit Dave Platt)

5.    Our Live Lab and Studio areas give you the chance to get involved and have a go yourself – watch some explosive live science shows, or take part in our latest Live Lab challenge.  

Explosive live science shows - credit JMP
(Credit JMP)

6.    A day out in At-Bristol is great value for money – not only are you supporting an educational charity, but included in your entry you get admission to hundreds of exhibits, live science shows,  Live Lab, two under eights’ areas and a free indoor picnic space. We are also fully accessible for wheelchair users, and have lockers, baby-changing and bottle-warming facilities.  

7.     Our staff are pretty amazing - did you know that we design and make all of our own exhibits here in At-Bristol? We also make exhibits for other science centres and companies – our Exhibitions team are a talented bunch! Around the venue, our brilliant Live Science team are on hand to help explain the science behind the exhibits, present explosive live science shows, take you on a tour around the solar system and more!  

Live Science Time - credit Lee Pullen
(Credit Lee Pullen)

8.    Our award-winning café is just the place to head for a breather – sit outside and enjoy the delights of Millennium Square in the sunshine, let your little ones play in the soft play area, and sample Uncle Kev’s delicious cakes (the tiffin is particularly tasty!).

9.    Take a trip to the stars in our Planetarium – sit back and enjoy a journey around the solar system in the presenter-led shows, and learn what to look for in the heavens with our seasonal night sky shows. We also do a special show for under fives called Little Stars.


10.    Our shop is the perfect place to spend pocket money and to buy quirky gifts – whether you’re looking for freeze-dried ice cream, science books or rocket sets, there is something for every budget in the At-Bristol shop.

These are just a few reasons to come and visit – share your own top ten reasons on Twitter or Facebook.

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Microwave, macro possibilities!

Blogging science to life

Thu 1 August 2013, Written by: John

If you’ve ever stopped to consider how a microwave renders chicken tikka masala piping hot, perhaps you haven’t unscrewed the cover to find out?  And once off, you probably haven’t been taken by an impulse to strip out the curious components and fashion them into a piece of alluring headwear?
Microwave, macro possibilities!

There are, of course, a number of hazards inside electrical appliances, not least microwave ovens, and it’s best to let someone experienced whip your cover off.
However, noting some safety precautions, and alerting the relevant adult that you are mothballing the appliance, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t exercise your curiosity.

At After Hours, our adult evening event on 6th August, we’ll be inviting you to explore your curiosity and safely take apart a selection of appliances to find out what’s inside. As well as microwaves, we’ve got a washing machine, a dishwasher, and some handheld appliances - so grab a screwdriver and see what lies within!

The microwave pictured contained a delightful component with a baby pink band around it and a woven metallic collar.  It is in fact the magnetron, the part that makes the microwaves that penetrate and heat your dinner. Although a little heavy to work as a fascinator, it would make a delightful candlestick or pendant necklace.

Microwave, macro possibilities!

The possibilities are endless. If headwear isn’t your thing, perhaps a lampshade? A washing machine drum functions superbly as a glitter ball.  Or maybe a musical instrument? Or a straightforward objet d’art?  We’ll provide sellotape and string, scissors and card, fluffy and glittery things, and some stiff wire. 

If you need to complete your creation at home with a turned wooden stand, or by welding on a handle, send us a photo of the finished creation.

March on, Makers!

Book your place!

Tickets cost £7 (£6 for Members and concessions).

Special two course meal: £7.50 per head

You can buy tickets online or call 0845 345 1235 Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm (excluding Bank Holidays).

*Planetarium shows cost an additional £1 and need to be booked in advance.

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Do Try This At Home: Gromit Model Making workshops

Blogging science to life

Mon 29 July 2013, Written by: Nicole

Watch Will, from Aardman Animations, squish, shape, mould and make a Gromit right before your eyes!

To try this yourself just book into our Make your Own Gromit model making workshops which are running throughout the summer holidays!

Model making workshops are on the following dates:

25, 27 July; 1, 3, 8, 10, 15, 17, 24, 25, 29, 31 August

At the following times:

11am - 12pm, 1pm - 2pm, 3pm - 4pm

Workshops cost £3 per person, in addition to standard admission and are recommended for adults and children aged 4 and over.

Book your Gromit model-making workshop

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Cheltenham Science Festival

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Fri 26 July 2013, Heather

Back in June we headed to Cheltenham Science Festival to show the Discover Zone what At-Bristol is all about!  Neil, our Lab and Projects Learning Officer, explains what we got up to...

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Kitchen Chemistry!

Blogging science to life

Fri 31 May 2013, Written by: Nicole

 We are thrilled that the Royal Society of Chemistry is supporting out exciting Live Lab programme, Kitchen Chemistry, throughout half-term.

We have been putting our favourite foods under the microscope as we investigate the chemistry behind flavour, discover why foods change when they’re cooked, and reveal how chefs use chemistry to combine surprising flavours and create exciting dishes.

Visitors to our Live Lab have been finding out the chemistry behind why popcorn pops, testing their sense of taste and making caviar-like fruit spheres that burst in the mouth!  A real show stopper experiment that demonstrates techniques used in the world’s leading restaurants. Showing that with some chemistry know-how anyone can make food fit for five star dining. The specialist catering equipment that we use was kindly donated by Nisbets.

The Royal Society of Chemistry have worked with the popular chef Heston Blumenthal to create experiments for secondary schools that explore the chemistry used daily in kitchens to prepare the food we eat.

See some of the Kitchen Chemistry experiments devised by the Royal Society of Chemistry

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Nerys Explains: Dry Ice

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Fri 12 April 2013,

Nerys Shah of the Live Science Team talks about her favourite things to do in At-Bristol and tells us all about 'Icy Bodies', from tiny chunks of dry ice skimming along the surface of water, to huge comets whizzing around our solar system.

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Toddler Takeover: Come Rain, Come Shine

Blogging science to life

Thu 16 May 2013, Written by: Heather

With all this changeable weather recently, it’s only fitting that this Friday’s Toddler Takeover is Come Rain, Come Shine – a meteorological-themed day full of hands-on play and simple science. 

Whether the forecast is for sunny skies or blustery showers, under-fives are sure to have a glorious day in At-Bristol!

We’ll be opening up our dressing-up box, which is full of everything the fashion-conscious toddler needs to stay looking good – whatever the weather!  Little ones can get dressed for a day at the beach or a rainy trip to the park – or mix and match wellies and shades for the ultimate in festival chic – then have their picture taken in our pop-up photo booth. 

Discover what happens to windmills and feathers when we switch on the wind machine, and, after experiencing some real clouds made with dry ice, little ones can get hands-on and craft their own out of tactile fluffy wool.

Plus, join Ursa and Leo for an interactive adventure across the globe as they travel from dusty deserts to humid rainforests, in search of the Missing Puddle.  There’ll be plenty of audience participation and simple science experiments in this special weather-themed Story Time.
Of course, there’ll also be plenty of opportunity for toddlers to play in our three dedicated under-eights’ areas, explore two floors full of hundreds of hands-on exhibits, and take a trip into outer space with a Little Stars show in the Planetarium*.

Don’t forget that all our Toddler Takeovers are also full of family-friendly facilities to make the day as stress-free for grown-ups as it is fun for children, from reduced entry prices to buggy parks and an indoor picnic area.  Plus, they’re a great way of meeting other local parents and carers!

Come Rain, Come Shine is our last Toddler Takeover before we take a break for the summer months, so it’s your last chance to bring your littlest ones for a day under-fives’ fun until we return in September!  You can book advance tickets here, or by calling us on 0845 345 1235 (9am – 5pm).

 *Booking required, 50p per seat. FREE for members.

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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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