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Science communication in action: At-Bristol

Last Wednesday, a few summer students, recent PhD graduate Steph Flynn, and Natalie Fey, Picture It’s co-founder and editor, made the short trip to At-Bristol, a collection of science exhibits which is located in Bristol’s Harbourside area.

There are lots of summer students in the School of Chemistry at the moment, and we’re mostly doing projects that last between 8 and 10 weeks. Funding is either provided by Bristol’s School of Chemistry, or by external organisations like the Royal Society of Chemistry. To varying degrees, these projects involve time in the lab, in the library and out on trips, and as my project relates closely to science and education, I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to see some science communication in action!

Despite the fact that At-Bristol is only a ten minute walk from our desks, most of the group hadn’t visited before. We were impressed with the range of activities, and the consideration taken in simplifying some complicated science to make it accessible to children whilst still being accurate. At-Bristol aims to inspire curiosity in people, and make science accessible to all ages and groups. There is a particular focus on extending the experience beyond physically visiting the exhibits – we really enjoyed the ‘Explore More’ technology which allows you to view stored information from exhibits you’ve interacted with after returning home, thanks to a barcode on your entry ticket. At-Bristol also has a very popular Youtube channel with almost 20,000 subscribers.

Our visit lasted for about three hours, and took in the main exhibition and the planetarium, as well as the inevitable trip to the gift shop and café! Our very helpful guide in the planetarium told us that At-Bristol has the first 3D planetarium in the UK, and the show we viewed, Summer Stargazing, seemed very up-to-date and was clearly designed to be unique to Bristol. All the shots of the Earth started with pictures of Bristol before zooming out to increase the scale, and this personalisation, the sheer size of the curved screen, and the 3D effects all contributed to form a very interesting and engaging show.

Over the course of the show we learnt about the formation of comets, the smallest moon of Saturn which is hidden within the planet’s rings, and how to spot stars in the summer night’s sky. The programme appealed to the children in the audience as well as the adults accompanying them (and adults watching without children- like us!).

There are hundreds of exhibits to look at and interact with, so we’ve just highlighted a few – you’ll have to visit yourselves to discover the rest…

We each picked our favourite exhibit, so here are our top three:

Harvey loved the spinning table, where you can attempt to balance metal disks of varying sizes and thickness. He said “this is particularly effective as some persistence is required to get it right; perfecting the technique requires you to really think about the underlying physics of the problem.

Spinning table medium

Moving discs on a spinning table

Natalie’s favourite was the sheet of ice which, when viewed through two polarising filters, produces a beautiful ‘rainbow effect’. This is an elegant way of using a “change in perspective to show some exciting science in a familiar setting”.

Ice medium

Ice viewed through a polarising filter

Steph said that “the planetarium has got to be my favourite experience. With a high amount of audience participation, I really liked that the content was outside of a ‘run-of-the-mill’ planetarium show and provided fun facts for all age ranges, as well as interesting historical references”

I agree with Steph that the highlight of the trip has to be the planetarium. I’ve always been fascinated by space and our understanding of it, and the 3D show allowed you to engage with topics in an immersive way. Additionally, as we visited during the summer holidays, it was wonderful to see how excited the children in the audience were, and it reminded me of my first trip to a planetarium, which was a really inspiring experience.

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Constellations of stars in the planetarium

And as well as these favourite exhibits, here are a few more photos of our group enjoying ourselves – look out for the giant hamster wheel!

The Tinkering Space

At-Bristol’s newest exhibition: ‘The Tinkering Space’ (Natalie would like a wall of shadow cabinets at home, now…)


Spinning sand

Creating beautiful patterns on the sand table



There were great opportunities to learn about and try out animation, as Bristol is home to Aardman Studios


Outside view

The view of the Harbourside from At-Bristol; there’s always something interesting going on!

We had a great afternoon exploring At-Bristol, and it manages to be the type of place that appeals to those who have learnt a lot about science, as well as adults with no experience of the subject, and children of all ages. Highly recommended, and a record 304,000 visitors this year show that many other Bristol residents, as well as those visiting from further afield, feel the same about the science on offer.

See here for more information on tickets

Contributor: Eloise Hicketts (writing), Natalie Fey, Harvey Dale & Stephanie Flynn (photos, visitors).