|Location||Canon's Wharf, Bristol, England|
|Website||Official At-Bristol Site|
At-Bristol's stated aim is "to make science accessible to all." To achieve this, it displays interactive hands-on exhibits, produces shows and workshops for visitors from schools and for members of the public, and also has a planetarium.
At-Bristol is also host to the South West branch of the Science Learning Centres, and together they offer continuing professional development for teachers and other science communicators.
History and background
The project opened in 2000 as the successor to the Exploratory, a science museum and demonstration centre, founded by Richard Gregory  in the former terminus train shed at Bristol Temple Meads Station (later home to the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum). The Exploratory was a separate organisation and none of the exhibits or staff were transferred when Bristol's new museum opened in a city centre site as part of the regeneration of the historical Floating Harbour. The project was funded with £44.3 million from the National Lottery, Millennium Commission, South West of England Regional Development Agency, and a further £43.4 million from commercial partners (including a controversial donation from Nestlé) and Bristol City Council. The selection and design of exhibits were criticised by Gregory and other scientific adviser as being "totally inappropriate to the spirit of science". Goéry Delacôte served as Chief Executive from 2005 until 2012.
The centre is situated on the former Canon's Wharf. Wildwalk and the IMAX cinema occupied a modified 19th century former lead-works building, and Explore occupies a 1906 railway goods shed measuring 540 ft by 133 ft (165 m by 41 m). The goods shed was one of the first buildings to use reinforced concrete and both buildings are Grade II listed buildings. The buildings are located around Millennium Square - also part of the regeneration — and Pero's Bridge, a footbridge across the harbour which links it to the Arnolfini art gallery, Bristol Industrial Museum and Queen Square.
The centre is popularly known as @Bristol, due to the appearance of its logo. This features the word "at" surrounded by a partial circle, reminiscent of an @ symbol. However, the official spelling is At-Bristol, which is how the name appears on the web site and promotional material.
The exhibitions are themed into various areas, some of which are permanent features, others change on a periodic basis. Exhibition areas are sometimes intended for specific audiences, such as 'Jet Set Go!' aimed at under-7s or 'Inside DNA' a touring exhibition aimed at teenagers and older. There are different current exhibition areas:
- All About Us - This opened in Spring 2011 and has 50 interactive exhibits which allow visitors to discover how amazing the human body is.
- Real Brain - As part of the All About Us exhibition, At-Bristol has an exhibit that displays a real human brain. Real Brain has been produced to give visitors an understanding of medical science research.
- Animate It! - this exhibition was developed with Aardman Animations. Visitors can make their own animated films (2D and 3D), see a film set from Wallace & Gromit's 'A Matter of Loaf and Death', or make Morph spin in a Praxinoscope.
- Flight zone - Understand more about what factors affect flight and build your own flying object. Includes the Bernoulli Blower.
- All About Our World - Allows visitor to discover the world around us through investigation. Includes Icy Bodies, Giant Bubbles and the Turbulent Orb.
- The Planetarium - seasonal presenter-led star shows for over fives, and 'Little Stars' show for fives and under
- Tiny Explorers - Exhibition areas for the under eights, these include storytelling and dress up. Currently they have Jet, set go! and Fossils and Funnybones
- Investigate - Lots of mini science experiments
- Move It - The first large area when entering the museum, Move It deals with forces ( in the exhibit Naturally Newton) and flight (Dreams of Flight).
- Your Amazing Brain – The second large section on the ground floor, this area deals with the human brain, in particular optical illusions and memory.
- Curiosity Zone – Incorporating most of the upper level, this area deals with sound, light, force, magnets, and also includes a mock television studio.
- Space – This area includes a small exhibit about space travel, and the large Planetarium, in which 4-6 demonstrations are given daily.
- Live Science Zone – Visitors can watch live shows, join in debates, try the hands-on exploration stations or keep updated in news and views.
At-Bristol has its own exhibition workshop on site. Many of the interactive exhibits on the exhibition floor have been made by the workshop team in house, including the distinctive 'Hamster wheel' of the 'Wet Move-it' exhibition. In recent years there has been a distinct change in style from the mechanical hands-on exhibitions of 'Wet Move-it' to more computer based exhibitions such as 'Inside DNA' and the Aardman Animations linked 'Animate It!'.
At-Bristol is housed in a former railway goods shed, which was renovated to house the centre. The renovations included the addition of a large glass atrium to the North of the building, and stainless-steel sphere to the south, housing the planetarium. The architect behind the renovation was Chris Wilkinson.
The building includes a eutectic tank, which is a 10 metres (33 ft) high transparent tube filled with thousands of balls containing eutectic salts. As the temperature within the building rises, the crystals within the balls melt, taking in the heat and cooling the building. As the building cools, the salts crystallise again, giving out heat. In this way, the tank helps keep the temperature within the centre constant.
The centre housed animals, including butterflies, crabs, chameleons, frogs, finches, partridges, piranhas, seahorses, scorpions, snakes, spiders, tarantulas, triggerfish: in total over 150 species from all major animal groups.
The botanical house was split into two distinct sections: Plants on Land, which traced the development of plants from simple mosses through to complex flowering plants; and Tropical Forests, which showcased plants from tropical continents, including a cycad which produced a rare, bright red cone 45 cm (18 in) tall and 80 cm (31 in) in circumference in 2003.
Following Wildwalk's closure, all animals and plants were re-homed to other zoos and natural history venues. Some elements of the exhibits from Wildwalk have been incorporated into Explore.
Since opening, the theatre received over 1.1 million visitors, and screened 70 films.
The longest running film, and thus that with the highest attendance figures, was Cyberworld 3D.
Closure of Wildwalk and IMAX
At its opening the centre consisted of Explore, which contains features on mechanics, sound and light, computer science, space and the human brain; Wildwalk, a science centre comprising two artificial rainforests, aquariums and other ecology-related exhibits; and an IMAX theatre.
Wildwalk and the IMAX Theatre closed at the end of March 2007 due to lower popularity with the public, running cost and a lack of funding and government support. Despite At-Bristol's insistence that the government should have supported Wildwalk, the science centres that were established by the Millennium Commission in 2000 were intended to be self-financing, once established. This proved difficult for some of the 18 centres established in 2000, with The Earth Centre, Big Idea and Wildwalk all closing within 10 years.
Explore rebranded to At-Bristol in June 2010, and continues to operate, and the Wildwalk building has been converted into an aquarium by Blue Reef Aquarium, with the IMAX cinema being used to show nature and wildlife films. The Aquarium owners took the decision to stop screening IMAX films in November 2011.
Since opening, At-Bristol had an annual operating deficit of around £1.5 million to be filled by fundraising. Though the charity had no problems securing short term funds and grants to cover this when the centre was set up, enabling them to run the three attractions for just over six years, by 2005/2006 most of these had either decreased greatly or ended altogether.
This left only two options: close the whole centre, or close Wildwalk and IMAX, enabling existing funds to be channelled exclusively to Explore. As Explore was most popular with visitors, whereas Wildwalk and the IMAX theatre were most expensive to run, it was decided that the second option was viable, and in this way Explore could become financially viable in the future.
The Regional Development Agency worked alongside Bristol City Council to find new uses for the buildings. The University of the West of England expressed an interest in taking over the buildings to use for public outreach work with schools.
In April 2008 it was announced that the Wildwalk building was to be converted into an aquarium and that the IMAX will be used to show nature and wildlife films. The £4 million plan by Newquay firm Blue Reef Aquarium, intended to provide a site for tropical marine and freshwater creatures, which opened in October 2009.
As a charity, At-Bristol fundraises to do work that is not necessarily profitable, but fulfills their vision 'to make science accessible to all'. This work includes specific projects, outreach work to groups who are unable to visit At-Bristol, and bringing hard to reach groups to At-Bristol. These groups include community groups, low-income schools and hospitals. Much of this work is made possible by the work of volunteers who have been part of At-Bristol since 2006
There are rooms and roof terraces above the exhibition space that are used for private hire. These have been used by organisations such as Sky News, the BBC and FameLab as well as other conferences, meetings and events. These spaces have also been used for weddings and civil partnerships. At-Bristol also hires out the exhibition floor, Planetarium, Millennium Square and Anchor Square.
The Exhibitions team also has an 'Exhibition Services' arm, which provides exhibitions and/or exhibits for sale or hire, for other science centres, museums and visitor attractions.
Since its inception sustainability has been a key part of the At-Bristol project. The At-Bristol building (formerly Explore) is an example of low-energy design with a phase-change storage tank enabling air source heat pumps to heat and cool the building using only night surplus electricity, whilst the former Wildwalk building uses water from the nearby Harbourside for cooling.
At-Bristol joined the 10:10 project in 2010 in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint. One year later they announced that they had reduced their carbon emissions (according to 10:10's criteria) by 12%.
Since 2010 At-Bristol has been on an intense sustainability drive to improve its performance in all areas of sustainability whilst also ensuring that the subject is included in its educational and promotional work. In 2011 At-Bristol was awarded a Gold Green Tourism Award and a West of England Carbon Champions Carbon Champion Award and in 2012 a Silver South West Sustainable Tourism Award.
March 2012 also saw At-Bristol's environmental performance being improved further with the installation of a 50 kilowatt peak solar photovoltaic array to produce electricity for the building from the sun.
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- "Science attraction will harness power of sun". Bristol Evening Post. February 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to At Bristol.|
- Official At-Bristol Site
- The Exploratory (archive site)
- Director of At-Bristol's response to a critical article in Nature (original article is only available on pay or subscription)