Blogging science to life
Thu 14 June 2012, Written by: Zoë
It’s the time of year again when At-Bristol descends upon the Cheltenham Science Festival, helping entertain visitors with interactive fun until it closes on Sunday.
The At-Bristol team are in the Discovery Zone, where the attraction’s in-house science communicators are bringing science to life with hands-on activities and experiments such as a vein viewer – yes you can really see your own veins using near-infrared light, a Proscope which allows you to see your skin, nails and hair magnified and Power Lab where you can monitor your own heart beat using an ECG (Electrocardiograph).
You can also explore the fantastic world of forces with At-Bristol’s portable exhiblets - discover all about the force of pressure and electrifying effect of electricity!
So far, hundreds of school kids and teachers have had a go at the various activities and are loving seeing their veins and looking in their ears with the Proscope! So if you’re coming along to Cheltenham, make sure you come and find us and say hello!
Blogging science to life
Tue 12 June 2012, Written by: Sarah
On my previous visits to At-Bristol, I’ve always wondered what the huge black cylinder is in the far corner of the exhibition floor, looming over the exhibitions like a giant statue or battery. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that it is, in fact, exactly that – a battery. It’s a eutectic, or phase change, tank containing thousands of purple plastic balls that change from solid to liquid and back again at certain temperatures, storing and releasing energy as they do so and heating and cooling the At-Bristol building.
This is just one of the many things I learned whilst on a tour of the building at At-Bristol, delving deep in to the murky maze of pipes that make up At-Bristol’s heating and cooling systems and learning about how At-Bristol has become a beacon of sustainability. After the tour had finished, I realised something had been niggling at me – their building system has helped them to achieve a level of sustainability through energy saving methods that are still unique today. Why has no other building in Bristol attempted to do the same?
It seems that when it comes to making a building sustainable, At-Bristol has the answer. But in order to make the whole city sustainable, a universal solution may not be the best. Chris Dunford, At-Bristol’s Sustainability Officer, makes a good point – “our building runs on night-time surplus electricity; if all the other buildings in the area started to do the same, then the electricity would no longer be surplus.” At-Bristol’s building system was also installed at the resurrection of a derelict building, and most buildings and businesses would have to work with the building system they already have. It would be almost impossible to tear down a building and start from scratch, installing the complex network of machinery and pipes required to run a building on electricity alone. It’s about choosing the most sensible solution for individual buildings to improve their sustainability.
Chris’ building systems tour being enjoyed by staff and volunteers now also forms part of the workshop “Sustainability on all scales”
But all is not lost - the team at At-Bristol is determined to get everyone else on board with sustainability, through exhibitions, tours and workshops. The new exhibition, Our World – no more waste (supported by the SITA Trust), demonstrating how in the natural world nothing is wasted. The exhibits will use real time data to show climate change on an interactive globe, and include a timeline that leaves the building and snakes out on to Anchor Square. The interactive timeline will become a 3-D model of a valley, showing the evolution of life on Earth and will show creatures reacting to visitors and the environment. The brand new workshop “Sustainability on all scales’ is also getting schools to think sustainably, giving Key Stage 4 students the opportunity to explore the building systems in detail and design engineering solutions around sustainability issues.
At-Bristol is reminding us that it’s not just about what their building can do, and encouraging businesses to change their attitudes as well as their boilers. It’s about getting everyone involved in making smaller changes, so that we can have a positive impact on the environment as a community.
Thanks Sarah for that great blog!
On 12 and 14 June, we're hosting behind the scenes tours of our super green building as part of Bristol's Big Green Week. Book your tickets and join us!
Blogging science to life
Wed 18 April 2012, Written by: James
I did this with a rose at school and wanted to see if it would work with a daffodil after seeing the dissection when visiting At Bristol. I asked the lady doing the daffodil dissection whether the daffodil would change into two different colours and she said she was not sure and maybe I could try it at home.
My flower experiment
Can you make a daffodil two different colours?
I thought it would go Purple.
- Two cups
- Red and blue food colouring
- Two large paper clips
- Fill cups with water and add red food colouring to one cup and blue to the other
- Cut up the stem of the daffodil by 6cm
- Place half of the cut stem in the red food colouring and secure to edge of cup with paper clip
- Place the other half of the cut stem in the blue food colouring and secure to edge of cup with paper clip
- Leave over night for best results.
Half went red and half went blue.
The daffodil went two different colours but they did not mix to make purple. Therefore, the capillaries do not join and my prediction was incorrect.
This was my 5th visit to At Bristol and this time I looked at my veins, weighed the brains, made a fossil, did an animation, played with the large magnets and iron fillings and spun discs on the revolving plate. I always find it an interesting place to come and have fun. I am looking forward to returning in August to experiment more.
We loved your experiment and can't wait to see you again! :)
Blogging science to life
Mon 16 April 2012, Written by: Phil
What is it like to be the Chief Executive of At-Bristol? My name is Phil Winfield and I started in the job on 2nd April so I haven’t been here long, but I am rapidly finding out!
I come from Winchester where I was managing INTECH Science Centre & Planetarium so I am not new to the world of science centres, but of course At-Bristol is a special place and so I have a lot to learn about the organisation and Bristol.
My first impressions are of a really friendly and enthusiastic staff team who have given me a very warm welcome – I have been introduced to most of them, but please don’t test me on their names! They are doing a great job making At-Bristol a vibrant place to work and visit.
Most of my time so far has been spent getting to know how the organisation works and who does what, but because it is the Easter school holidays it has been great to get out into the exhibition and see lots of visitors interacting with the exhibits.
One thing that always amazes me is the different ways that visitors explore the exhibits. Having been involved in exhibit design I know that it is easy to be fooled into thinking that visitors will behave in a certain way – in fact the only thing you can be sure of is that visitors will all behave very differently and usually in ways you don’t expect! So it’s always good to watch visitors having fun and having what I call ‘light bulb’ moments when they are inspired or excited, as they discover something new.
There has been a lot going on over the Easter holidays with special ‘live science’ experiments and science shows in the exhibition, plus activities in the Millennium Square - we have been really busy.
Rainy days bring more visitors and Easter Monday was especially busy with over 1700 people here; so imagine my surprise when on day 5 in the job I was asked to do an interview with ITV about our Easter so far. I am pleased to say that it went well which is a relief - saying the wrong thing on TV after 5 days in the job would not be good!
I still have people to meet and of course a lot more to learn, but at least I am starting to escape from my office which is the best way to get a feel for the organisation.
I am also very keen to get to know Bristol better; it is such an exciting and diverse city with lots going on, I would really like At-Bristol to be at the heart of things as we develop and grow what we do for schools and the general public.
In the meantime I am still finding my way around, so if you see someone looking lost that could be me, please be kind enough to point me in the direction of At-Bristol!
Blogging science to life
Wed 11 April 2012, Written by: Zoë
At-Bristol is one of the best places in the city for star spotting – not of the celebrity variety (although we do have a number of famous faces through our door) but of the kind up in the sky.
On Monday 30 April, At-Bristol is joining forces with Exmoor Dark Sky Discovery to bring you an adult-only (16+) evening event: Urban Stargazing. The night will include lots of star spotting, a Planetarium show, Telescope Clinic, talks and Q&A sessions with experts, plus a licensed bar so you can enjoy a tipple on the terrace whilst looking for the rings of Saturn - the night is going to be super-nova!
Urban Stargazing runs from 8.30pm – 11.00pm. If you already know your Ursa Major from your Dobsonian then there will be plenty to get involved with, and if you’re a complete beginner to astronomy then discovering the sky with Urban Stargazing is the perfect way to start.
If you already own a telescope but need a few tips then bring it along to our Telescope Clinic, run by the Exmoor Stargazers and Bristol Astronomical Society. They’ll also be giving advice to people considering buying a telescope, and will show you how to make the most of your local stargazing areas.
If the evening decides to be a rainy one, it won’t put a dampener on things as there’s still plenty to do with our waterproof activities! As well as Dr. Alapini’s presentation about exoplanets – mysterious worlds far beyond our own Solar System – and a Planetarium show, you’ll be able handle real meteorites and eat space ice-cream – a must-do for any budding astronomer!
The booking details are below, hope you can make it, and if not, feel free to forward it onto friends who might enjoy an evening of astronomy!
Thanks to funding from The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), we are able to offer reduced ticket prices for this event. Standard tickets are £6 and £5 for concessions and At-Bristol members. Please note that this event is not for under 16s.
Tickets are available via At-Bristol’s booking line: 0845 345 1235 (9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday excluding Bank Holidays), or from the At-Bristol Front Desk any day, 10am – 5pm. Tickets can be collected from the At-Bristol Front Desk in advance or on the night. Online booking is available (please note this incurs a 10% fee)
Blogging science to life
Tue 3 April 2012, Written by: Zoë
March madness was sooo last week…this week (and next week) is all about Egg-cellent Easter and all that is on offer in At-Bristol!
If you’re looking for a special treat, of the non-chocolate variety, then we’ve got loads for you to do both inside and outside the venue, so come and join in the fun!
Inside we’ve got Spring Unearthed; our brand new activities available until 15 April. Visit Live Lab for the chance to create your own cress head character or take part in a daffodil dissection! Did you know there are over 25,000 varieties of daffodils with colours ranging from yellow to pink! Find out all there is to know about the famous flower and see what is hiding behind the petals.
Spring Unearthed also gives you the chance to discover how fossils are formed, and even how to make your own! Discover the cycle of rocks as you become a geologist for the day, investigating how one rock can form another or find out how old a tree was on the day you were born using tree rings!
The adventure continues from 6 March to 28 May in our latest presenter-led Planetarium show Spring Night Sky. Get intergalactic as you sit back and discover what wonders you can find in the sky from your own back garden this spring.
For the younger explorers there is our Little Stars Planetarium Show designed especially for the under 5 astronomers. Join a member of the At-Bristol team as they lead you through a story that will take you out of this world and introduce younger adventurers to the spring night sky.
Outside, At-Bristol’s Millennium Square is also chock(olate) full of activity! On Easter Saturday and Sunday, Toy Story 3 is being shown on the Big Screen at 11am and 1pm both days so why not come down to watch the characters larger than life. If you fancy being more active, then Trunki are holding rather unusual Trunki races on Saturday (and possibly Sunday but that has yet to be confirmed) from 10am-3pm so if you want to race The Gruffalo, a fire engine or be a part of Team GB, this is your chance!
Ok, so what’s Easter without a bit of chocolate? Celebrate the Chocolate Festival by getting creative and doodling on one of the biggest canvases in the city – the At-Bristol building! On the 7 and 8 April, Drawn In Bristol will be on hand to inspire and illustrate the glass under the colonnade by the At-Bristol café.
Free hot drink!
Feeling peckish after all this activity? The At-Bristol café will be serving a variety of homemade chocolaty treats including chocolate & toffee muffins, chocolate chip cake, brownies and blondies to name a few! As a science centre, we know that chocolate can make you thirsty, so to add to the chocolaty treat, we will give you a free standard sized hot drink when you purchase any of our yummy chocolate creations!
If you fancy coming to At-Bristol, you can buy tickets by calling our bookings team 0845 345 1235 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm excluding Bank Holidays) or buy online
Blogging science to life
Fri 30 March 2012, Written by: Alex
In At-Bristol, February half-term is, to put it mildly, a bit busy. With around 2000 visitors a day, it’s the busiest week of the year. To help visitors have the best possible time, volunteers like myself are brought in to help run extra activities, like Make Your Own Robot in the Live Lab. This adds to the visitor experience and provides extra hands-on fun for everyone to get involved with!
In fact, it’s not just February when we’re needed. School holidays in the summer, October, Christmas and Easter breaks are all extremely popular times for visitors. So opportunities for volunteers to contribute are very common. Plus the opportunities don’t just end with holiday support, we can get involved in schools’ workshops, community days and outreach activities into the wider Bristol community.
The Live Lab activities are always a highlight for visitors, afterall who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to create your own robot friend, have a look at your own DNA and dissect a daffodil?! All these great activities mean the space can get pretty busy! At the end of a particularly manic day recently, a couple of members of staff even tried to apologise to me for how many people there had been. I thought that was very sweet of them. However, I would hear none of it. “I don’t come here to get bored” I said. So what reasons do I have for giving up my time?
To a certain extent, I romantically agree with At-Bristol’s charity mission of “making science accessible to all”. It’s about self-sacrifice in the name of a greater good and the chance to engage with the wider community and get science out there!
On the other hand, I’m also being quite selfish. I don’t just mean the free lunch, (although that is nice!). Volunteering, I’m told by endless careers advisers, “looks great” on my CV. So I fully expect my experience with At-Bristol to help land me a job someday.
It is also proving very useful for my Master’s degree in Science Communication at the University of the West of England (UWE). Compared to its counterparts at other universities around the country, the UWE course contains a lot of opportunities to try out practical skills, like demonstrations and presentations.
Nonetheless, even a highly hands-on course like the one at UWE is no match for real-world experience. Spending time in At-Bristol is all about “learning by doing,” and this applies to us volunteers as well.
For example, last August, I was volunteering on the K’Nex challenge, where visitors could use K’Nex construction pieces to make anything they wanted. A girl of about 11, complete with mother in tow, came along to the LiveLab, plonked herself on a seat and declared “I want to make a clock”.
Not knowing much (anything!) about how clocks are made, I was feeling a little apprehensive as I enthusiastically declared that this would be “no problem at all”. As we broke the problem down into chunks, working out what bits we would need to put together and in what order, I realised that improvisation on this scale simply can’t be taught.
Overall, it’s clear to me that by lending a hand in the Live Science Team, I get a lot more out than I put in. That’s how it should be. I really feel part of the team in At-Bristol, certainly much more than “just a volunteer”. And this makes me want to come back, to continue the cycle between being taught the theory on my course and putting it into practise on the venue floor and to get hands-on!
I can’t wait for the next occasion…
Thanks Alex! Look out for volunteers like Alex on your next visit to At-Bristol and say hi – they’ll be lots here over Easter!
Blogging science to life
Fri 23 March 2012, Written by: Chris
Looking back over a hugely successful start to this nationwide tour, we've got the Director's Cut of just what got peoples' pulses racing with In The Zone - the Wellcome Trust's major initiative inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tuesday lunch time was quite a sight as At-Bristol came rolling into the NEC with a campervan, huge trailer, two 4x4s, two inflatable tents and a team comprising of actors, technicians and science communicators. How big was this exhibition going to be?! Well if you can picture 5 TV studios, a running track, live stage shows and all the bits in between then you get the idea! Still, it took just one long day for the At-Bristol team to set the stage ready for the launch.
It's a good job At-Bristol designed and built this exhibition as, with somewhere in the region of 3 miles of cabling, it's a complicated and ambitious set-up and there's nothing like this anywhere else to copy from! Our visitors and members that helped pilot In the Zone in half-term, including Sir Steven Redgrave (!!), provided invaluable support in advance of this first event - thank you!
Lights, camera…action! In the Zone finally opened to excited queues of some of the brightest young scientists and engineers on the planet at Big Bang on Thursday last week! At-Bristol's team of science communicators…..sorry….floor managers, got straight into character getting the cast members around the studios and ready for the Director. To entertain the masses, we had live shows running from the outdoor broadcasting stage bringing to life the science of our amazing human body relating to sport and movement. Everyone was scrabbling to get on the stage, become part of the cast and take part - the cheers and applause was heard throughout the NEC!
Studio 1 was casting for the Sports Spotlight on Power, with the cast leaping on force plates and watching themselves in slo-mo. We were taking photos under the skin with vein viewers in Studio 2 before asking the cast to get their pulses racing in an uphill handlecycle race through the Alps in Studio 3. With reactions tested in Studio 4, the final filming was for the 10 metre dash. A busy few days of filming saw nearly 5,000 'cast members' star in their own documentaries during the 3 days of broadcasting at the Big Bang Fair. Half have already logged on to getinthezone.org.uk to review their footage and share their showreels. Among those getting In The Zone were World Champion gymnast Beth Tweddle and even HRH Prince Andrew checked out a live broadcast from our team.
To meet the demanding filming schedule, the At-Bristol crew found themselves out in the fair talent-scouting for In The Zone. With lots of exciting investigations exploring lung capacity, pulse rates and even the body's conductivity, we made sure everyone was primed and ready to get In The Zone. From grinning grannies to beaming babies, everyone was excited to see their showbiz smiles on camera and we even grabbed Dr Yan from BBC's Bang Goes the Theory! In fact, if you've got what it takes to star in your own TV show and want to get In The Zone to explore more about the amazing human body, the Director is waiting for you at 12 future events - find out when the TV studio is near you here.
CUT….that's a wrap!
Blogging science to life
Tue 20 March 2012, Written by: Jenny
At-Bristol was the centre of animated discussion during the recent event, Funding a green future: the feed-in tariff debate, in collaboration with Sciencewise-ERC.
Government funded Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) are payments available to any individual or organisation who installs a renewable energy system for the energy that they create. The scheme has undergone controversial changes in the tariff rates for new solar photovoltaic (PV) panel installations. And after the successful installation of our own renewable 50 kilowatt peak PV solar panel array last month, At-Bristol was a fitting venue!
With such controversial subject matter and the opportunity to debate the event was busy - with around 30 visitors keen to start!
Things kicked-off with a brief introduction to the evening by Sustainability Officer Chris Dunford, introducing the topic from the context of At-Bristol, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the science centre's innovative low-energy building systems. At-Bristol has won many awards for its sustainability practise, most recently silver in the Sustainable Tourism entry of the South West Tourism Excellence Awards.
Next was an informative talk from Kerry Burns, General Manager for leading solar supplier Solarsense. Kerry explained that more than 73% of the UK's energy comes from burning the non-renewable fossil fuels coal and natural gas. Less than 8% of energy supplies for the UK currently come from renewable sources.
The UK is the windiest, waviest place in Europe. It was suggested that we should utilise this in the production of renewable energy, so reducing the release of harmful amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Jo Stevens from Sciencewise-ERC introduced the discussion topics, which were fuelled with drinks and nibbles of course! The first question asked how best to move the UK towards more low-carbon renewable energy production with a sustainable infrastructure. The range of options included small, individual scale initiatives to large government-led projects.
It was suggested there was a need to increase awareness and that individuals should hold responsibility over their own energy usage:
"People should have more energy autonomy. Households and people on a cultural level need to buy into renewables. Empower the people".
It was also widely agreed that funding small businesses for research and development is needed to build and strengthen the renewable energy sector.
The next question focussed on the FIT itself and asked how to create a fairer tariff system that does not disadvantage people who do not own a roof, land or have disposable income.
It was suggested those that do not show a significant energy reduction over a period of time should have to pay a levy. However flaws in this approach were pointed out; it does not take into account those who already have very low energy usage or little ability to change the energy efficiency of a building:
"Some people physically cannot reduce their energy, so not everyone should have to pay".
Consensus was reached among discussion groups that availability of grants and community schemes to install their own small scale installations could benefit those who could not participate due to financial limitations, and would open up accessibility to the FIT scheme.
Chris Dunford then wrapped up the evening with some further questions to speakers. The opportunity for public dialogue around science and technology issues is important, especially for the future of renewable energy. Personally, I found the event thought-provoking and engaging and look forward to further dialogue events.
Many thanks to all those who participated!
Blogging science to life
Thu 1 March 2012, Written by: Nicole
At-Bristol volunteer, Jennifer Garrett, asks At-Bristol's robotic peregrine falcon to fly down off the roof for a chat about seagulls, solar panels and sunsets.
Hi Brian, nice to meet you! Firstly could you tell the readers what your role is in At-Bristol?
Hello! Nice to meet you too. My job is to keep seagulls and pigeons off the At-Bristol roof, which helps look after the roof and prevents people in the square below from being pestered by these birds. There are lots of ways to deal with nuisance birds, but like a scarecrow, I'm a more humane way [squawk].
How long have you been working on the roof and do you enjoy it?
Just over two years! I really like my job here, all the people are lovely and there's always something interesting going on in At-Bristol [flap, flap].
How is your role important to the science centre?
It is important to protect the roofs, At-Bristol has two green roofs, which are like small gardens in the city centre, and it's important to keep seagulls away from these. To start with, I was protecting the roofs and the people down below but now the most important part of my job is protecting At-Bristol's brand new solar panel array [preen].
So what are solar panels?
Solar panels capture energy form the sun. There are two types. Solar thermal, which is where the sun heats water in the panels and this is then used in a building as hot water or for central heating. Because of the way At-Bristol gets its hot water and heats the building this wouldn't work for us [squawk]. So, we are using the other type of solar panel - photovoltaic, or PV. These convert sunlight into electricity which can then be used in the building, or fed into the National Grid.
With the arrival of the new solar panels on the roof, why is your job so important?
Solar panels are expensive and sensitive pieces of equipment, so you don't want seagulls damaging them, but most importantly for every bird dropping on a panel this means less sunlight getting through and so less electricity is generated [ruffles feathers].
How do they work?
Imagine sunlight being made up of tiny packages of energy, which are called photons. Energy makes things excited [flap]. When the chemical in a PV panel is excited by a photon in sunlight an electron shoots out of the chemical. This creates a stream of electrons which flow out of the PV panel and down a wire. This flow of electrons through a wire is electricity!
So does this chemical get used up?
No, that's the great thing about photovoltaic energy [preen]. Because of the way electricity works, in a big loop, whenever an electron shoots out of the chemical there is one ready to take its place. So as long as the sun is shining photons will be hitting the panel and there will be an endless flow of electrons.
Why is At-Bristol installing these panels?
Getting energy from sunlight is a good thing to do because at the moment most of the energy humans use comes from burning fossil fuels, which one day will run out, and this releases carbon dioxide which is bad for the environment [ruffles feathers]. Whereas sunlight is a renewable source of energy, which means it will not run out and is a way of making electricity that does not release carbon dioxide. By installing PV panels At-Bristol is using renewable energy and reducing its carbon footprint [squawk].
To wrap up, here are 5 quick-fire questions:
Favourite hobby: Tweeting about my day on my twitter @brianrobofalcon
Favourite TV show: BBC's Earthflight, I enjoy reality television.
Pet hate: Seagulls!
What do you do on your days off: Fly over to Avon Gorge to see my friends.
Best part of your job: Seeing the sun rise over Bristol every morning, then set at the end of the day.
To keep up with the progress of the solar panels through the eyes of Brian follow him on Twitter: @brianrobofalcon - watch live footage of the installation here