Catalyst Science and Discovery Centre in Widnes is a tribute to local scientists past and present

Year 3 & 4 youngsters, Jake Ray-Black, Mia Taraldsen and Charlie Huyton from Little Digmoor Primary

Year 3 & 4 youngsters, Jake Ray-Black, Mia Taraldsen and Charlie Huyton from Little Digmoor Primary School, Skelmersdale having fun in the lab... - Credit: Archant

Catalyst Science and Discovery Centre in Widnes is not just a great day out for enquiring minds, it’s a tribute to local scientists past and present. WORDS BY CARL NAGAITIS PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Scientist Dr Diana Leitch has taken to her new role as a trustee of Cheshire’s Catalyst Science and Discovery Centre in Widnes like a proverbial duck to water. Proud to have ‘chemistry in her blood’, the acclaimed academic is passionate about promoting the education centre to the widest possible audience.

‘Catalyst is the only discovery centre in the UK that specialises in chemistry and that link is important to me having spent a career working in that field,’ said Diana, speaking from the home she shares with her chemist husband Dr. David Leitch in Didsbury.

‘We need to enthuse children about science and that’s exactly what Catalyst is all about. We introduce children, and adults, to the wonderful and exciting world of chemistry. After all, this part of the world has attracted some major chemical industry names over the years, providing a great many jobs for local people.

‘I became a trustee of Catalyst earlier this year because I believe deeply in what they are trying to do and I am confident that we can take the Catalyst message to many more people across the North West.’

The Catalyst museum was initiated by a number of companies in the chemical industry in partnership with Halton Borough Council. Starting out as a research project, it moved to its current location, a former soap mill in Widnes in 1986.

In fact, when researching her ancestry, Diana discovered to her delight, that her aunt, Alice Marsh, had worked in the Catalyst building in the late 1920s when it was Gossages soap works.

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‘My research into my family history has illustrated the many links that I have to the region, from the 18th century Weaver flat men whose boats carried salt from Winsford to other parts of the region, down to my father Clarence, also a chemist, who spent many years working for ICI.’

The new Catalyst building features a rooftop Observatory Gallery affording stunning views of the Welsh Hills, the Pennines, the Runcorn Bridge, the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey and is accessed by an impressive and thoroughly modern scenic glass lift.

Up here, when they can take their eyes of the views, visitors can make a pledge to the environment, build bridges, investigate a video microscope or browse through i-base, a computer terminal allowing access to an extensive photographic archive.

Recently a group of boy scouts were given permission to take their sleeping bags up to the observatory so they could literally spend the night under the stars.

Catalyst’s Scientific Gallery boasts more than 30 hands-on interactive exhibits allowing visitors to explore how chemicals are made and discover their uses, or investigate colourful crystals, light from gases or how solar power works.

Under-fives even get their own corner called Mini Molecules which offers activities specially designed for younger children.

‘Birth of an Industry’ is a fascinating exhibition exploring the development of the chemical iundustry from ancient times up to the 1940’s, with reconstructed scenes, archive films and computer quizzes designed to bring the past vividly to life.

This exhibit looks at the chemical industry from the early days of civilisation, to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the multi-million pound empires of the major chemical companies in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The World of Opportunities gallery is a unique careers resource, featuring young scientists who give a valuable insight into their jobs, the qualifications they needed and their career prospects via DVD clips and interactive displays. Would-be scientists, including chemists, could well find this very useful.

The Catalytic Discovery Lab offers visitors a real hands-on science experience thanks to activities such as ‘Spies and Codes’ and the ‘Catalyst Crime Scene Mystery.’ Although particularly popular with school visits, the whole family can join in during school holidays.

Catalyst’s Alchemy 3D Theatre attracted the funding for four bespoke films which are becoming very popular with visitors. The subjects of the movies range from recycling to sustainability and the development of new medicines.

‘Catalyst attracted 27,000 visitors last year, half of whom were children,’ said Diana speaking from the centre’s Observatory Gallery. ‘But we want to increase that number significantly because, quite simply, Catalyst has so much to offer.

‘In fact I can reveal exclusively to Cheshire Life readers that the Royal Society of Chemistry has recognised the value of Catalyst. They have just honoured Catalyst teacher Phill Day, by giving him the title of RSC Teacher Fellow, in recognition of his work within Catalyst in promoting chemistry to young people.’

Well done Phill and Catalyst!

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