Techniquest celebrates 25 years

Tuesday 1 November 2011, 15:30

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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This November, Techniquest - one of Cardiff's best known and best loved visitor attractions - celebrates 25 years of existence. It is an amazing achievement for what is now the longest running purpose-built science centre in the United Kingdom.

Techniquest is keen for children to engage with science

Techniquest, the brainchild of Professor John Beetlestone and several other colleagues on the staff of Cardiff University, was founded in 1985. Wales, and Cardiff in particular, had always had its fair share of museums and art galleries, but an establishment specialising in science was something different.

From the beginning Techniquest had the avowed intention of helping people from all walks of life - adults and, in particular, children - to engage with science and not view it as something alien or outside their knowledge and area of interest.

Never intended to be a series of static exhibits in glass cases, this was to be a hands-on experience. The interactive exhibits and science programmes were meant to appeal to both eye and instinct, and to draw people into an exciting and innovative world.

Techniquest first location

Techniquest was originally located in the centre of Cardiff

The original site for Techniquest was in the centre of Cardiff, in the old gas showrooms opposite Cardiff Castle. This was only intended as a temporary home and in 1988, three years after its founding, Techniquest moved to Cardiff Bay. This new site was a prefabricated industrial complex and soon over 100 exhibits were open to the public. From this base Techniquest also began its programme of educational visits for schools.

Techniquest moved to Cardiff bay in 1988

In 1988 Techniquest moved to Cardiff Bay

In 1995 the centre was again on the move, this time locating to its present site. The firm of ABK Architects designed Techniquest around the core of an old heavy engineering factory and the first purpose-built science centre in the UK began its work in earnest. As well as offering a wide range of exhibits and experiences at its Cardiff base, Techniquest gradually developed and now also offers exhibits and science programmes to museums and visitor attractions around the world.

Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry visited Techniquest in 1994

Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry visited Techniquest in 1994.

It is estimated that over 200,000 people visit Techniquest every year - and that's not counting the Wrexham branch of the enterprise.

The hands-on, interactive nature of the centre provides a perfect learning environment for children and adults alike, so much so that in 1999 Techniquest exhibits were awarded Millennium Product Status by the Design Council of the UK. The centre also offers a planetarium and a science theatre for use by children during the school holidays.

Wales has always had strong links with the field of science, breeding men such as the meteorologist Inigo Jones who emigrated to Australia in 1874 and became interested in the weather while working on the family farm in North Queensland.

There are so many others, men like Evan Pierce, the doctor who fought a cholera outbreak in Denbigh and became medical advisor to Queen Victoria. Then there was Alfred Wallace, born in Usk. He was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and was actually acknowledged by Darwin as the co-founder of the theory of natural selection. Robert Recorde is well known and highly regarded as a mathematician, a man from humble beginnings in Tenby who published the first English language book on algebra and is now recognised as the man who invented the equals sign.

In more modern times Dr Lyn Evans, born in Aberdare, recently became the leader of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. Built by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the collider lies beneath the French-Swiss border, its aim being to simulate and recreate the conditions that existed one fraction of a second after the "big bang" that brought life to the planet.

Other Welsh scientists of note include people such as Sir Granville Beynon, operating in the field of physics of the ionosphere, Professor Diane Edwards (the investigation of fossil plants) and Dr Pam Lewis (nuclear magnetic resonance). There are many, many more.

Techniquest, with its innovative and exhilarating approach to a subject that might otherwise appeal only to a limited few, has undoubtedly stimulated an interest right across the country. Twenty five years have been well spent - here's to the next!

Keep up to date with all the latest news and events celebrating 25 years of Techniquest on their special anniversary website.

Take a look at our Techniquest gallery on the BBC Wales website.

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