A Science Center Unlike Any Other
I’ve been to a lot of science museums over the years but none quite like this one. Today our group took a trip outside of London to the town of Bristol, England. There we visited the science museum called @Bristol. At this museum children are running around and playing with the exhibits and experiencing science firsthand. But what I find to be so incredible is what I’m told during our group’s tour behind the scenes of the museum. This is a museum that is really dedicated to being environmentally sustainable.
First, @Bristol is incredible because they have taken a rundown factory and reclaimed the structure. They have done an amazing job of creating an educational space while showcasing the historical bones of the building. When we go deep into the inner workings of the building we learn about the heating and cooling system. It is like nothing I have ever heard of or seen before. Within the museum there is a large tank that is filled with balls that look like they came from the ball pit at the local playground. But these balls don’t bounce and aren’t for the playground. They are filled with chemicals. When the balls are covered with water, the chemicals inside the balls go through a chemical change. This change produces heat. And the museum captures this to provide heat throughout the entire museum. This system is amazing and I can’t help but wonder how many other places are using this technology.
When we continue our tour outside, their commitment to sustainability is even more apparent. A trip to the roof reveals that the roof is a living roof and covered in grass and wildflowers. This helps keep the building insulated and provides oxygen to the environment. On one side of the roof is a composter which is used to recycle all of the food waste from the café located in the museum. Finally, we get a peek at some of the residents enjoying the green space: the colonies of bees that the museum houses. They have even installed a webcam so people can log on and watch the bees at work every day.
Coming down from the roof, we are led to an open courtyard or plaza behind the building where the museum holds outdoor functions. Our tour guide directs our attention to the drinking fountain on the wall. Something that we take for granted in America but it’s a big deal in Britain. This museum is so proud of its drinking fountain that they have a chalk artist there to create a design on the concrete ground around it to attract attention. We’re told that it is one of the first drinking fountains in the city. Why is this such a big deal? Why aren’t their drinking fountains all over the city? The reason is the building, not the city or county, has to maintain the fountain and pay for the water. Most businesses don’t want to go to the trouble.
The museum has also installed large planters in this outdoor space which normally would be filled with trees to provide shade. Instead they have planted carrots and other vegetables that they use in the café. Anything that is leftover is just given away. There is one tree on the plaza but it is not like any species of tree I have seen before. This tree is metal and contains large solar panels where the leaves should be. My first thought is that this is a nice art piece commenting on their commitment to the environment and sustainability. But when the guide explains the true purpose behind it, I wish every park in America had one. The solar panels are actually working solar panels. And if you follow the trunk of the tree down to its roots you will find that there are metal pipes. Inside each pipe are chargers for electronic devices. This tree, powered by the sun, allows people to enjoy the outside space while charging their phones and other devices. It is a fascinating and functioning piece of art.
This museum is truly unlike any other science museum I’ve ever been to.