Science Centres - Cutting-Edge Entertainment All Over Britain

By Anra Kennedy | 08 March 2002

According to John Durant of At-Bristol, 90% of the UK population lives within two hours of a science centre. We've selected a few of them for you here, so there's no excuse for not getting out there and visiting one of them!

It's time to don your safety specs and your white coat - science is where it's at.

No longer just the domain of nerds and geeks, science in the twenty-first century is exciting, it's fun, and it's all around us. From that first cup of coffee in the morning to your bedtime toothbrushing, science has taken over our daily lives. Ever wondered how the coffee is extracted from the beans? How do those push-up tubes of toothpaste work? Why is snow white? Do spiders have a sense of smell? Why do volcanoes erupt?

If you fancy finding out the answer to these, or any other technological queries, then you need a day out. All over the UK there are discovery centres, museums and planetariums brimming over with buttons to push and levers to pull in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Interactive/General Science

According to John Durant, Chief Executive of the At-Bristol Centre, 90% of the UK population lives within two hours of a science centre. So there's no excuse for not getting out there and visiting one of them. We've selected a few of them for you here, there's a list at the end of this section and links to sites that tell you more.

Think about science and museums - perhaps the first place that comes to mind is the Science Museum in London.

The Wellcome Wing is full of cutting-edge science - visit here to see regularly updated displays of new inventions - as they are invented!

A relative newcomer to the scientific scene, the Glasgow Science Centre will satisfy even the most persistently enquiring minds.

The Centre is billed as Scotland's flagship millennium project and is housed in three amazing, hi-tech buildings on the banks of the Clyde.

Set aside a whole day for the hundreds of interactive exhibits and suppress your vertigo for a trip up the Tower (stop press - it's shut for repairs - 05.03.02)

Belfast is booming at the moment, thanks in part to the W5 centre.

Opened in 2001 as part of the Odyssey Project, WhoWhatWhereWhenWhy has five exhibition areas, including one specifically aimed at the under-eights, all designed to set the visitor thinking about science in an imaginative and adventurous way.

Continuing the Celtic theme, Wales is not to be outdone when it comes to Science Centres.

Techniquest in Cardiff is an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of interactive exhibits, astronomy, workshops and special events. Under-fives are catered for with specially designed curiosity boxes and the Musiquest project provides a treat for musically minded visitors.

Halifax is home to Eureka! the UK's only interactive science centre just for children.

Grown-ups are allowed but the focus is very much on youngsters. There are lots of workshops, special exhibitions, and again, hundreds of those interactives, to answer all of those 'Why does...?' questions that parents and teachers are constantly fielding.

Hidden amongst those dreaming spires, in an old fire station, is CuRioXiTy, Oxford's hands-on discovery centre for future science professors. Take a school group during term time or visit with the family in the school holidays. If you're feeling energetic there's an interactive trail around the streets of Oxford, CuRioXiTraiL, to follow once you've exhausted the exhibits.

At-Bristol's all about nature, art, science and technology. Head for At-Bristol to find out how your brain works, what makes a tornado swirl and exactly how it is that TV programmes are made.

Cast yourself as the star of your very own show; morph your face with that of your favourite celeb or become part of a digital artwork. It's non-stop action.

Other excellent science centres to visit:

Eco/Environment

Ever fancied being around to see The Big Bang? How about an earthquake or a tropical rainstorm? At Our Dynamic Earth in genteel Edinburgh you can find out how it would have felt, without getting wet. Journey around the planet, experience the tropics and the polar regions, look out into space and pick up all the latest info direct from the scientists.

Life Interactive World in Newcastle is full of crazy characters there to lead you around the exhibits. Rumour has it those cheeky chaps Ant and Dec put in an appearance to explain the Secrets of Life. Don't let that put you off though; this is a wide-ranging and fun-filled visitor attraction that tells you all you could ever want to know about your body, so pay them a visit and get ready to rumble...

Northern Ireland's Ecos Centre makes full use of its surrounding parkland, basing many of the exhibits on the site's resources. Find out how they generate most of their own electricity; learn all the whys and wherefores of the environmental issues facing us in the twenty-first century through interactive exhibits and find out why you won't meet an ecos gonk.

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Powys has long been a leader in the eco-technology field. Explore seven acres of their forty-acre site to see cutting-edge alternative technologies in action. CAT sets out to solve the problems facing those of us trying to minimise our impact on the environment. This is the place to go if you need to install an eco-friendly sewage system or if you've always wondered how to go about erecting a windmill in your back garden.

Space/Astronomy

Where better to begin on an exploration of the skies than at Jodrell Bank Science Centre in Cheshire? Home of the famous Lovell Radio Telescope, the space centre houses an eight-galleried exhibition area, a planetarium and an arboretum. Alongside the interactive exhibits on the universe and its mysteries, see how artists use the magic of space as inspiration and satisfy your long-held urge to hug a planet.

Leicester's the setting for the National Space Centre: a futuristic world of hands-on exhibits deciphering the technology behind the space programme for all those of us who haven't quite got round to picking up our PhDs in rocket science.

Their rocket tower alone is enough to inspire the most down-to-earth visitor to reach for the stars.

One-Offs!

Catalyst in Cheshire is the ideal place to take all those aspiring chemists intent on blowing up their bedrooms with their home experiments. See how the experts do it, learn the history of chemistry and find out about all of the weird and wonderful applications of those white-coated research chemists' inventions. Time your visit to include one of the fab practical workshops too.

There's a little of the inventor in all of us. If you find yourself in Irvine, The Big Idea will inspire you to finally register your secret brainwave with the Patent Office. A science centre that celebrates the history and achievements of inventors, this 'living laboratory' sets out to provoke all of its visitors to expand their way of thinking.

The Colour Museum in Bradford is, as the name suggests, devoted to the science of colour. With exhibits on light, vision and perceptions of colour you'll be amazed at just how much there is to find out. Does a dog see colour? How did the Egyptians colour their fez hats red? What exactly is a spectrophotometer? Satisfy your curiosity with a trip to Bradford.

We all know that we have five senses, but how and why do they work? Have you ever had the urge to stick your head up a giant nose? Dundee's Sensation is a Science Centre with a difference. It takes the mechanics of the senses as a base from which to explore the world around us, using lots of interactives to keep the young and the young at heart happy.

Magna in Rotherham is huge all over. Huge building, huge pyrotechnics, huge exhibits. The multi-million pound science centre takes Earth, Air, Fire and Water as its themes, linking in the history and technology of the local steel industry.

Don't miss the firing up of the old arc furnace and watch out for the predatory robots from late March 2002.

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