From chemistry to outer space, transport to building, there are a number of science and technology attractions offering a wide range of workshops designed to suit every educational need. Angela Youngman details some fascinating destinations to explore
Leicester is the home of Britain’s National Space Centre. Linked into the University of Leicester space programme, it contains one of only two Soyuz space capsules on display outside Russia, as well as meteorites, space machines, astronauts clothing and numerous interactive exhibits. The learning centre has a special American style space mission simulator where groups can blast off into space, assuming the roles of mission controllers and astronauts in a bid to build space probes, whilst coping with life on Mars or dealing with unknown objects from outer space. Scientists at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre have studied the solar system for decades. At the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, students can view the Lovell telescope, find out about the Big Bank, black holes, the life and death of stars, as well as research that is currently underway. Visits can be tailored to every age range, from exploring light and dark with Key Stage One and Early Years, to engineering challenges seeking to construct devices to land safely on other planets, as well as gravity, forces, the sun and Advanced Maths and Physics work based on radio telescopes. The secrets of the solar system and astronaut training methods can also be explored at Liverpool’s Spaceport.
Here, there is a 360-degree immersive space dome show, a space travel simulator ride and numerous hands-on exhibits. A rocket-launching workshop provides the opportunity for keen groups to discover the best aerodynamic methods to get a rocket to fly as high as possible using compressed air. Back on Earth, an older form of transport can be studied at the National Railway Museum York where there are a host of famous trains, such as the Mallard to be explored. Over one million objects covering 300 years of railway history explain how trains work. Explore the different gauges and showcase trains of the future, with this museum housing the only Shinkansen bullet train outside Japan. An associated site at Shildon, near Darlington, houses the original Sans Pareil engine from the 1829 Rainhill Trials. This is the place to discover how the railways played a major part in the development of the Industrial Revolution. Magic tricks invariably capture the attention of any child, which is why Davenport’s Magic Kingdom offers a unique insight into science and technology.
The Davenports are experts in the field, as they have been involved in magic performances for four generations and have an unrivalled collection of magic related objects. Marvel at the Butterfly Girl or discover how a magician can appear to walk on the ceiling. Davenport’s Magic Kingdom demonstrates how magic appears to go against the laws of physics by actually using them. Examples of practical magic by Roy Davenport involve explanations of the science behind each trick. Chemistry and sports science could also be investigated during a visit to Davenport’s Magic Kingdom. Study the science of forces and motion, weather forecasting and aeroplane technology at RAF Cosford. Three wartime hangers contain 70 internationally important aircraft including a Lincoln Bomber – the world’s oldest Spitfire – the three ‘V’s (the Vulcan, Victor and Valiant bombers) and planes used by the Red Arrows. Unusual maths challenges are available among the Cold War displays, as groups can plot nuclear fall out zones. At the Ancient Technology Centre at Cranborne in Dorset, groups can learn about the use of tools, blacksmithing, rope making and felt making, as well as the construction of round houses. Educational groups can take part in workshops designed to study sustainable living via physical challenges such as building fences and hurdle gates, making fire and coppicing. Visiting Burlesdon Brickworks Industrial Museum near Southampton enables groups to discover the secrets behind brick manufacturing. Founded in 1897, the large manufacturing complex made millions of bricks and chimney pots – a story that can be followed through a series of displays and working equipment. In Mud Pies or Bricks, groups have to identify examples of good and bad bricks, what happens if bricks are made from the wrong material and the scientific changes that happen to bricks when fired. Then comes the opportunity to try your own recipe and make your own bricks. Groups create their own blend of ingredients to make clay for bricks, then they are fired and the results judged, welcoming a fun group activity. A visit to Burlesdon Brickworks Industrial Museum can be combined with the Rookery Farm Recycling Facility to discover how old materials can be made into new ones. The Museum of Science and Industry (MoSI) in Manchester is the ideal place to explore cotton manufacturing and modern fashion and textile industries. There is a learning programme covering all ages, from Preschool to sixth form.
With 3D and logic puzzles, hands on exhibits, mill engines and railway locomotives, this is the place where science meets industry. Not far away in Cheshire, Catalyst is an interactive centre focusing on chemistry and how chemistry products are used in everyday life. Students can learn about alternative energies, hydrogen power, build a towering tetrahedron, learn about the fabrics of the future, bacteria and its uses, discover chemistry at work and use forensic skills to solve a murder mystery. Catalyst also houses the Mersey Gateway Visitor Centre containing a variety of interactive exhibits. A workshop supported by the Institute of Civil Engineers encourages pupils to build their own 17-metre cable stayed bridge – if they can pass over it safely then they have succeeded. Science Museum, London, is renowned for its historic collections covering all aspects of the Industrial Revolution, transport, energy and sustainable technology, as well as consumer goods and manufacturing industries. Astronomy, physics, chemistry, natural history and mathematics provide a glance into the past and future. Science Museum, London is where the oldest surviving steam engine can be found, along with a working example of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine and the prototype of the 10,000-year old Clock of the Long Now. One of the more unusual artefacts on display is the Henry Wellcome collection dealing with medical history, medical instruments and practices from around the world. Schools have the opportunity to meet costumed characters such as Yuri Gagarin – the first human who flew into space, Isaac Newton to learn how his discoveries changed the world, and the opportunity to reconstruct a vintage style radio.
Technology of a very different kind can be explored at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. Special effects are very much a feature of the Doctor Who television series and workshops are hosted to explain the science and technology involved. Free toolkits allow groups to carry out product design tasks, before following the Doctor on an adventure through time and space. A visit to the original working Tardis is sometimes available whenever it is not needed for filming purposes. Tours of the Lotus Factory Plant at Hethel in Norfolk provides an ideal opportunity for students to discover how sports cars are constructed. The tour takes groups around the factory, where they can see how pieces of metal are combined into a high powered sports car, the checks that have to be made at each stage and the detailed production process. Engineering, motorsport and airspace are the centre of attention at Brooklands in Weybridge. This was the site of the world’s first purpose built motor racing circuit and the home of Concorde. Not surprisingly, the museum has an unrivalled range of motoring and aviation exhibits including a World War Two Wellington Bomber, Concorde, Hawker and Vickers/BAC built aircraft, giant racing cars, motorcycles and bicycles. The educational opportunities are wide ranging. All guides are extremely informative, providing detailed background knowledge. There are ‘Engineering Taster Days’ focusing on aerodynamics, themed tours and a Concorde Experience. Secondary schools can also book a session in the Concorde Simulator – an experience that will be extremely memorable for all students. The Clyde in Scotland has always been a big centre for shipbuilding and a visit to the Scottish Maritime Museum allows students to explore all facets of the ship building industry. Discover the secrets of the Propeller Workshop, the Tracer Analysts Office, the Wax Model Making Room, the Docks and inventions such as the Mumford Helicopter and Denny Hovercraft, which bring the industry to life. Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Jackson’s Tile Museum offers an invaluable insight into the way products were manufactured and created; while hands on exhibits at Enguinity enable students to generate power from water, pull a locomotive by hand, build an earthquake proof tower and use a giant x-ray machine to look at everyday objects in a new way