Britain has been the birthplace of a plethora of technological inventions and scientific breakthroughs, from military vehicles to the World Wide Web. James Day examines the UK’s attractions looking to pass on this knowledge to interested groups.
For me, the most fascinating science has always been that which is focused beyond our own world. The UK might not have the climate or space programme for its own equivalent of Cape Canaveral in Florida, but we do have the National Space Centre in Leicester, the UK’s largest attraction dedicated to space exploration and space science. The building is filled with rockets, satellites, martian surfaces and other amazing artefacts. The building also houses experts and a full Space Communications team. In the past the Centre has worked with BBC, CNN, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, National Geographic and many other media outlets, to provide content and location for news and educational pieces. The museum features six hands-on galleries, over 150 interactive challenges, the UK’s largest planetarium and details on the amazing past, present and future of space exploration. Two packages are offered for groups. The Mercury Mission Package includes entry into the galleries, free coach parking, fast track entry, a space crew briefing and free entry for the coach driver and organiser. This costs £8.50 per person, a saving of up to 35%. For an extra 50p per person, groups can opt for the Jupiter Mission Package, which adds the Planetarium show and 3D SIM ride. Group packages are also available for the site’s café. A wide range of school programmes are also available. For more information on these, visit the space centre’s excellent education website at education.spacecentre.co.uk
The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Manchester, has a vision to be internationally recognised for its creative exploration of how science, innovation and industry have created and sustained modern society. The museum explores where science and industry met and the modern world began. MOSI’s newest gallery, the Revolution Manchester Gallery, opened on January 29, 2011. The gallery is divided into six sections: Transport Revolutions, Computer Age, Engineering, Energy, Cottonopolis and Structure of Matter. Each tells a story running from the past to future, detailing major technological developments which have happened in the city. Visitors to the Revolution Manchester Gallery get a bar-code card that activates a series of games and challenges. By registering your card, you’ll become part of the Gallery when your photo is displayed on a huge digital sculpture, alongside the people behind Manchester’s revolutionary achievements. You’ll also be able to revisit your gallery experience through your own web page. Any size group is always welcome at MOSI, and talks or demonstrations can be arranged. Special offers for groups include discounted tickets to Special Exhibitions, plus free entry for the Group Organiser and a group welcome pack. On-site parking is available for minibuses (16-seat maximum) costing £7.00 before 0900hrs, £5.00 after 0900hrs and £3.00 after 1500pm, each of which must be reserved in advance. A convenient drop-off point is available for coaches. The museum will also plan an itinerary to suit your group.
Those interested in military technology may wish to pay a visit to the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME). The REME Museum of Technology, located next to the Arborfield Garrison near Wokingham, was founded to preserve the heritage of REME and promote a broader understanding of the functions of the Corps, its interaction with society and its role of technical support to the army. To this end, it has a large number of exhibitions and galleries, including vehicles, aircraft, paintings and uniforms. Its military vehicle collection in particular is amongst the largest in the country. The museum has plenty to see to warrant a lengthy visit, including an on-site café for refreshments. The café serves light lunches from 1000 to 1330hrs, Monday to Friday. Seating is available for 24 people inside and another 24 on the veranda, though more outdoor seating may be available in the summer months. General group rates are £4.50 per head for a group of 10 or more, or £6.00 per head with a guided tour included. The museum regularly hosts education sessions for visiting school groups between 1000 and 1400hrs. The museum is open from 0900 to 1630hrs Monday to Thursday, closing half an hour earlier on Fridays. It opens from 1100 to 1600hrs on Sundays, but is closed on Saturdays.
Being a self-confessed nerd, I couldn’t in good conscience look at science and technology without finding something related to computer games. For groups with similar interests to myself, the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge is a fine destination, with a variety of artefacts from the history of games consoles to general computing and information technology.
Established as a pioneering educational charity to tell the story of the information age, the centre has an excellent offering for school groups. It is the only museum dedicated to the social and historical impact of computers in Europe. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 1000 until 1700hrs (Sundays 1100 – 1600hrs). The museum welcomes school visits. Admission charges are £5.00 per student, with one free staff place for every ten students. School groups of 15 students or more are provided with a guided tour, which lasts for approximately one hour. Entertaining as well as informative, this presents an overview of computing history and acts as an introduction to the collection. On top of tours of the museum, schools are offered a selection of workshops to allow children to be become more involved with the subject. Learn to Program workshops last for one hour and are conducted in the Hauser Studio, which is kitted out to resemble a 1980’s classroom. Here, the museum has a number of specially modified BBC Micro computers ready for students to explore the basics of computer programming.
Using the tried and tested BBC BASIC language, students will be taught to write and understand simple computer programs. Crucially, they will learn how to break down a problem into logical steps. The museum also offers the ‘From Pong to Pokémon’ presentation, an exciting look at the history of gaming from the early 70s to the late 90s. Students explore the social, historical and cultural impact of iconic games from Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Elite through to Sonic, Mario and Pokémon. A free option is the BBC Domesday System. The museum offers students the opportunity to explore the UK as it was in the mid-eighties using the iconic computer of the era. The BBC Domesday System presents thousands of pictures and descriptions of everyday life in the UK. It has interactive video, newsreel footage and information about practically every town and village in the UK. The museum’s original Domesday System, along with its exclusive PC based version are available, allowing children to use the original system and make comparisons with the modern equivalent.
For those looking for something a bit more science fiction based, the Doctor Who Experience in Porth Teigr, Cardiff Bay, is an interactive journey where visitors step through a crack in time and help the Doctor escape from his foes, fly the TARDIS and come face to face with the monsters from the famous, long-running TV show. The experience features exclusive filmed sequences with Matt Smith and is packed with special effects for a full multi-sensory experience. After the action-packed journey with the Doctor, there is much more to see and explore. The world’s most extensive collection of original Doctor Who props and artefacts includes the entire collection of the Doctors’ iconic costumes from 1963 to the present day; the David Tennant TARDIS set and the Doctor’s arch foes through the ages. Specially created sets, images and interactive experiences allow visitors to discover first-hand what happens behind the scenes of the iconic television series, how the special effects are created and even how to walk like a Doctor Who monster. Group tickets are available, priced at £13 per adult and £9 per child aged 5-16, with children under 5 going free. Family tickets are available at £38 which cover two adults and two children. For every 10 tickets purchased, an 11th is added free. For schools, tickets are priced at £7.25 each. One teacher ticket is provided per 5 students for primary schools and per 10 students for secondary schools, with additional teacher tickets priced at £9.25.
Catalyst, in Widnes, Cheshire, is an interactive science centre and museum devoted to chemistry and how the products of chemistry are used in every day life. The museum aims to make science exciting and accessible to people of all ages and to inform them about science based industries and their role in our lives, past present and future. The centre has an educational focus and schools can visit during term time to take advantage of its curriculum based education programme. During school holidays everyone can take part in special events and activities. The museum boasts three interactive galleries with over 100 different exhibits to tug, tease and test. Visitors can also enjoy panoramic views across Cheshire from the rooftop Observatory reached by a scenic glass lift. For a hands on experience, Catalyst includes the Catalytic Discovery Lab, with activities such as ‘Spies and Codes’ and the ‘Catalyst Crime Scene Mystery.’ The site also hosts the Alchemy Theatre, where interactive shows with 3D and individual voting make each showing unique. Offers for groups include guided tours, hands-on workshops designed around the scout or brownie science badge, trail work booklets for children, free coach parking and reduced rates of £4.45 for adults and £3.55 for children and concessions. Workshops, films and guided tours add cost and must be pre-booked.