Project What If

Project What If artist's impression. Credit: Kossman.dejong

We’re all about people's questions and curiosity – that’s what drives us. 

This May, we’re opening a bold new exhibition, Project What If. It will be the first major science centre exhibition in the UK all about the curiosity of a city. 

Project What If uses questions asked by real people to delve into the real world of science. Science can be creative, collaborative and inspiring. It has never been more important.


What if we built an exhibition with the people of our city?

Over the past three years, we’ve gathered over 10,000 questions from people in every postcode of Bristol. We've done this both in our venue and out in the city with our silver Curious Cube.  

With the help of some of our community partners, staff and volunteers we whittled the list down to just seven final questions. The selected questions are about themes like happiness, the universe, invisibility, illness and time.  

Each question will be explored through a cluster of exhibits in the Project What If exhibition space. We're calling these clusters 'constellations'.

Find out more about the constellations

'Each exhibition area uses high-tech, beautiful design to explore these very different questions in lots of ways, covering a huge variety of different disciplines and voices. We’ve worked with so many amazing people, from members and volunteers, to partners and schools, the question askers themselves and people who have never even stepped foot in our doors.

We want Bristolians of all ages and backgrounds to be proud of the gorgeous exhibition they helped create and for that exhibition to mirror the diversity and beauty of Bristol itself. We want everyone to feel a part of science and curiosity, at a time where it’s never been more important.” - Amelia Howarth, Projects Producer

Image: Dan Watkiss

We’ve been working away on the project during the COVID pandemic, though it has been a bit more difficult than we planned! New challenges have meant that we've often needed to work in completely new ways. 

We've continued to test out how we can bring the themes of the questions to life with you. It's important for us to know what they make you think of and how different ideas make you feel.  

So we've been running user testing sessions virtually with visitors, members and new faces to We The Curious. We’ve pooled the ideas that came from lots of different people, including researchers, magicians, skateboarders and students.


Image: Lisa Whiting

What if we could place people at the heart of science?

We've also been continuing to work with our community partners across Bristol through our MakeSpace project. Each partner is designing an exhibit, together with an artist, in response to one of our constellation questions. The exhibit will be made, and you'll be able to experience it when you visit Project What If. 


With Project What If we're aiming to open up science by putting people at the heart of it. Alongside the seven exhibit constellations, you'll also be able to get involved in two exciting features:

  • 'Open City Lab', a ground-breaking area where you'll be able to take part in real scientific research as it happens.  
  • The ‘John James Theatre of Curiosity’, a place to explore visitors' curious questions in new and unexpected ways. 

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A huge thank you to everyone that's contributed to this project

Project What If is supported by a £3m grant awarded by the Inspiring Science Fund – a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome. The support for the charity and new experience has been hugely successful in addition to this, with over £900,000 donated by other generous funders.

Key contributors to the project include:  

In addition to the support from the Inspiring Science Fund, Project What If has so far received generous support from:

  • John James Bristol Foundation
  • The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851
  • Garfield Weston Foundation
  • The National Lottery Heritage Fund
  • Stavros Niarchos Foundation
  • Innovation 4 Growth
  • Nisbet Trust
  • Charles Hayward Foundation
  • Britford Bridge Trust
  • Kirby Laing Trust
  • Medlock Charitable Trust
  • The National Lottery Community Fund
  • An anonymous funder and local individual donors


Inspiring Science Fund 

The Inspiring Science Fund, a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome, has invested £30 million in science centres across the UK, enabling them to revitalise their public offer and to develop more sustainable working practices for the future. 

New exhibitions and learning centres, alongside inclusive and creative community programmes, will inspire visitors to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in fun and exciting new ways.  


Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation. 


UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), brings together the 7 UK research councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England, working closely with its partner organisations in the devolved administrations of the UK Government. 

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund  

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.   


Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund