BIG enewsletter
Spring 2011 edition – Issue 18

Since our last enews we’ve all been shocked by the news of the terrible accident involving our Chair, James and his family.  Although he’s making a good recovery it’ll be some time before he’ll be back to work (bar the occasional visit to BIG-chat).  In the meantime I will be stepping into his impressive shoes until the BIG Event in July.

Many of us are recovering from a busy National Science and Engineering Week.  I hope it’s been successful for you and I think we all have our fingers crossed that we can continue to be busy as the new financial year arrives.  None of us really know what the next year will bring, so it’s all the more important that we are able to help each other through BIG.  It might be as simple as information (e.g. is schools’ behaviour towards visits or outreach changing?) or something more substantial.  This network belongs to all of us, so let us know if there’s more it could do.

Finally, ahead of the BIG Event we will be electing the new committee for next year.  In the last couple of weeks we’ve had some discussions on BIG-chat about representation, triggered by blogs about London-centric activity and national bodies touring the regions.  Are any of you interested in representing your peers?  Start thinking now, and look out for the call for nominations in the coming weeks.

Andy Lloyd

BIG money gets bigger – but what to spend it on?

Rachel Mason, Treasurer

You’ll remember, a little while ago BIG boasted about the small surplus of money it has created over the last couple of years as a result of a steady increase in membership and from involvement in a couple of projects with other organisations.

You’ll also remember that we asked you to tell us what you thought we should spend the money on. After all, BIG is not in the business of making a heap of money and so any we have is to be put into supporting the members.

Now, don’t get excited. We’re not talking about tens of thousands here, but rather just a few; enough for a new kitchen, but not a two-storey extension with patio out the back.This is what you said you’d like. There was no overarching thing you want BIG to splash out on, but four particular areas where many members felt the money would be useful. You would like more free skills days, a bursary scheme for the BIG Event and support for members to attend other conferences too, and you’d like BIG to pay for speakers and trainers. Some of you would rather we saved for a rainy day, but the good news is this surplus is additional to any emergency money we already keep simmering in a high interest (it was until lately) account. So here’s what we plan to do in response:

BIG Event Bursaries: for the first time BIG will offer a few bursaries which will pay registration fees for the BIG Event and give travel and accommodation support. The bursary scheme will be open to members who have not attended the event before and recipients will be expected to give something back to BIG in return. See the article about this below.

Speakers and Trainers: in order to keep up our efforts to give BIG members a chance not just to share skills, but also to learn from other fields, we are looking out for some good speakers and/or workshop providers for the BIG Event who will do just that. It is hoped that this will refresh the conference and bring in some new faces at the same time. If you have any splendid ideas in this area, please get in touch with

Attending other conferences: we’d like to raise BIG’s profile and do everything we can to ensure that it has a voice where its individual members might feel they have none. This is something we have been talking about for a while. So, BIG is considering attending conferences and joining other useful organisations and advisory panels with this in mind. We haven’t made any decisions yet, but are looking at the options. Your thoughts on this matter would be gratefully received.

In short, your suggestions are in the pot and bubbling along nicely. With any luck, the injection of funds will result in more members and we can then consider your other, slightly more risky (and loopier) recommendations. Thanks for your contributions so far.


Announcing The BIG Event Bursary!

BIG is offering 3-4 lovely bursary places which will pay registration fees for the BIG Event and give limited travel and accommodation support to BIG members who are in the first five years of their professional career and have not attended a previous BIG Event.
Criteria for assessing applications
1.  Applicants must be BIG members with membership beginning no later than 11 April 2011
2.  Applicants must be within the first 5 years of their professional career in the STEM engagement sector
3.  Applicants must not have attended the BIG Event before
4. Applications will be scored 1-5 on the following attributes:

  • Demonstrable commitment to professional development
  • Demonstrable commitment to the STEM engagement sector
  • Level of positive impact of attending conference on applicant's personal and professional development
  • Relevance of work experience

Other assessment considerations
Special consideration will be given to applicants from smaller organisations and to applicants who adopt a cost-effective approach to their travel and accommodation costs. BIG is a not-for-profit organisation supported by its members and squeezes every last drop out of every last penny to support them.

What will you have to do in return?
Submission of an article (approx 400 words) for BIG’s enewsletter related to your conference attendance is a requirement of the bursary scheme. Expenses will be issued on receipt of the article.

Download and complete the application form.

Application deadline: Friday 29 April

BIG Event 2011 - a year for building skills, networks and best practice

Savita Custead, Event Coordinator

This year's Event has a strong focus on practical skills and learning for delegates, and we hope that everyone will take something directly back to their work. If you haven't registered yet, don't miss out on:

- Expert skills training by external trainers (free within the registration cost) including Using your Voice, Improvisation Skills, and two newly confirmed sessions on Effective Engagement with Audiences (including dealing with nerves, and using dramatic techniques) and Networking for Beginners (make the most of the BIG Event – or any other meeting!)

- A review of the most cutting edge work in science communication, including a review of commercial science theatre shows, and an accessible overview of the latest
pubications in science communication with the authors (including how you can work with academics to publish the findings of your own work)

- Sessions for anyone involved in partnership working, including best practice for working with volunteers, scientists, businesses and corporates, and national science centre projects.

We look forward to seeing you in July. Keep your eye on your emails or BIG's Facebook page for details coming soon of our amazing social events, and our Keynote Speaker!


Audiences – can you handle them?

Debbie Syrop, science made simple

It was a textbook example. Historian David Starkey arrogantly insulted the disaffected youth sat in front of him in Channel 4’s latest reality offering, Jamie’s Dream School. Is it surprising that the students didn’t engage with his fascinating history lesson?

Building a good rapport with the audience matters. Your science show may have the best demonstrations, illustrations and explanations in the world, but if the audience don’t like you, it’s in vain.

Hopefully our presentation style is not so confrontational. Nevertheless, as part of BIG’s commitment to provide regional training opportunities, a group of presenters from across the country got to grips with their audience handling skills at Thinktank, Birmingham. The training day was led by Rob Broderick, a top improviser, stand-up comic and compere. Together with James Hancox, Rob performs as Abandoman. Winners of Hackney Empire New Act of the Year 2010 and The Musical Comedy Awards 2010, they create hilarious musical sketches at lightning speed live in front of their audience. If anyone knows how to create a good atmosphere it’s a comic and improviser. They rely on the audience to provide suggestions and direction to the show. They need to know how to warm up a quiet crowd and how to keep control of a rowdy rabble. Ultimately they need to create an environment of trust and bonhomie, so that everyone leaves with a smile on their face.

Rob is a pro and his wide smile and sunny Irish lilt quickly put everyone at ease. The workshop was extremely practical, using exercises and group feedback to encourage everyone to develop their skills. There was a surprising number of tools and techniques to apply in our own presentations. We spent time expanding our emotional range, practising using open questions and improving our storytelling. We also learnt ways to get things back on track when they went off.

The ability to quickly establish and build a connection with your audience makes the difference between an instantly forgettable presentation and something with more lasting impact. It also has the benefit of being a lot more fun for the presenter. We all left the workshop with a renewed excitement for getting on stage and, naturally, a big smile.


Animation as a tool for science communication

Rob St John

New and easily shared online technologies such as digital animation offer numerous possibilities for communicating scientific information in a clear, concise and engaging manner.

A key aim of the BioFresh project - is a European Union FP7 project describing the distribution, status and trends of global freshwater biodiversity - is to raise policy, public and media awareness of the importance of freshwater ecosystems.  Following the success of the BioFresh blog and Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities, our most recent communication effort has been a four-minute animation introducing the status of freshwater ecosystems and their threats.

The BioFresh communication and dissemination strategy, run by Paul Jepson and I at Oxford University, draws from policy network concepts and emerging trends in science communication to implement innovative ways of communicating scientific concepts.

Debates about science communication are evolving rapidly, with a move from a knowledge deficit model of communication to one which encourages dialogue between scientific, public and policy communities.  There is also increased focus on using new technologies such as smartphones, citizen e-science and social media to encourage this dialogue and engagement.

We’re also interested in the largely untapped insights and opportunities offered by the creative arts in communicating science (particularly through hope-based messaging) and in helping foster an environmental ethic in the public.

By experimenting with creative ideas such as the animation in this constantly evolving field, we hope to not only raise awareness of freshwater ecosystem issues and the BioFresh project, but also to contribute new perspectives to the current debate on how science should be communicated.

We’d welcome any feedback, comments or ideas from the science communication community on our work.  I can be contacted through

Weather Labs: New Schools Activity from Planet Science

Ruth Hendry

Planet Science has created Weather Labs, a brand new and exciting set of resources for school students and teachers.

For the first time across the UK, forecasts for a 1km radius around any postcode will be available in two-hourly time slots. By offering a set of specially written advice kits on producing forecasts in various media, Planet Science helps to give young scientists the tools to communicate confidently using exclusive and high quality data.

Weather Labs puts the attention on the scientific processes behind recording and understanding information, predicting events accurately and making statements based on data. In conjunction with the forecasting service Weather Central, Planet Science has brought together partners, including Manchester University and Science made Simple, to provide additional resources including podcasts and video.

Using the weather data, schools are supported not only in becoming good communicators of data, but also producers of scientific knowledge. Planet Science is running a large collaborative research project as part of Weather Labs, in which schools can check the high-resolution forecasts against actual observations for the precise locations. 

We hope that schools across the UK will join in with this new and innovative activity. In doing so, students will gain knowledge of how weather is forecast, accuracy of weather forecasting, data handling, scientific method and good communication of science.

Feedback is always welcome, so if you have any suggestions for how to build on or improve Weather Labs, they would be greatly appreciated. To find out more and join in with Weather Labs, visit:

Ingenious Women

Kayleigh Messer

The UKRC has recently run a project called Ingenious Women aimed at training 20 female engineers in communication and media skills to raise the profile of women in engineering.

This was part of the Ingenious grant scheme provided by The Royal Academy of Engineering.

I was lucky enough to be chosen along with a group of excellent engineers from a large number of applicants. We come from a variety of fields including motorsport, chemical, civil, building services, computing, rehabilitation, energy, environmental, aerospace and automotive – basically as far and wide as engineering reaches! Some absolutely fabulous people were involved as media mentors who gave us lots of insight along with the practical skills taught in the training sessions.

During the course of the project we have all learnt a great deal, from how to handle TV and radio interviews to skills in communicating and giving presentations. We have learnt about how social media can be utilised and we have also gained a valuable support network. The project has given many of us the confidence to communicate our passion for engineering, so although the project is officially over now, hopefully this is only the beginning and the Ingenious Women will all carry on promoting engineering as a career and encourage other young engineers. Many thanks to all involved in making Ingenious Women such a success!


Catastrophe – the ultimate revision distraction

Charlotte Van den Bogaert

Revision season looms and for those hunting the occasional distraction a solution is at hand. Whether you seek the perfect excuse for procrastination, are taking a well-earned break, desperately wanting to release pent up stress or needing to find some STEM motivation, take time out and relish the opportunity to cause a Catastrophe!

Catastrophe is an interactive game that focuses on injecting fun into the engineering learning experience. Players have the opportunity to test a number of iconic structures to destruction as they battle to beat the clock. Whilst fun is the order of the day a more serious message lurks in the background – playing Catastrophe provides an opportunity to develop an intuitive understanding of how buildings stand up. Piloted at the recent Big Bang Science Fair it was an instant hit with students and teachers alike.

The aim behind Catastrophe was to create a game to excite school children about structural engineering, but it has been an instant hit with the grown-ups!

Catastrophe is the latest edition to the continually expanding suite of free, high quality resources available on the Expedition Workshed ( to help people learn about civil and structural engineering. Aiming to both inspire and educate the engineers of the 21st Century, Expedition Workshed content ranges from interactive structural models, videos of material failure, archive videos about great

engineering projects, interviews with the best engineers of our era, build it yourself kits and examples of practicing engineers sketching. The game is one of a series of Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 engineering teaching resources being developed by educational company Think Up (, specialists in designing creative, high-impact stimuli to support STEM learning. Eventually the whole suite will be available through Expedition Workshed, together with support and lesson plans for teachers.

Expedition Workshed has been highly praised by the likes of Sir Duncan Michael, past Chairman of Arup, and Professor Roger Plank, President of the Institution of Structural Engineers, for its potential to inject much-needed change into engineering education.

Make learning fun by playing Catastrophe at:

A Nomad Scientist

Tom Weller 

At Nomad Scientist we create new ways of teaching science focussed on thinking like a scientist. We put learning to communicate science at the core of our sessions, because when you teach you learn more and science progresses by communication. We strive to stay right at the cutting edge of science education.

The children were so excited to see the Nomad Scientist in school for the first time! Nomad Scientist is a success at its launch during National Science and Engineering Week with its inaugural programme, “The Electron’s Journey”, which captivated and enthralled students with levitation and illumination and a compelling story that taught our students  the wide context of an electrons journey in materials.

We do Science Education the way Innocent do drinks, Apple do technology, and Ben & Jerry’s do ice-cream: with love, creativity and the benefit to our students always in mind. We work with schools to design programmes that achieve their aspirations and exceed their science enrichment and enhancement objectives. Planning sessions in partnership with the teachers ensures a legacy for the project and allows us to meet a range of pupil needs in a single class. We aim for co-delivery with teachers as we find this improves the effectiveness of learning, but we can also provide shorter off-the-shelf sessions!
Right now with every project booking we are doing a free science communication workshop for teachers – this helps ensure our legacy so that we facilitate a continuing culture of creativity in science teaching, taking us beyond a one off ‘wow-factor’ workshop. Our founder Dr. Tom Weller is an award-winning materials scientist, and a professional speaker & compere, his work has appeared on the front cover of Nature Physics and he was recently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. He will deliver the workshop on science communication, using skills he has honed leading a public speaking club for adults ( and teaching adults science and communication since 1998.

Tom is running this same workshop in West London for a limited time only at a reduced price to BIG members of £30 for a half day. If you are passionate about improving your ability to educate and inspire the next generation then get in touch:

Dialogue in Science

Jane Thomson

Would you like to facilitate discussions regarding controversial issues in science? If the answer is yes, then Dialogue in Science is the course for you.
The Biochemical Society has teamed up with philosophers to create a framework for guiding group discussions which stay focused and encourage participation. If you have 1 venue, 2 hours, and 10 - 30 delegates (who must be teachers, student teachers, science communicators or have experience of  outreach activities) and we will bring the course (and some cake) to you. This course is FREE for BIG members throughout 2011 and small grants may even be available for delegates who go on to use the techniques in schools.
Contact if you would like to host a Dialogue in Science course.


Volunteers required for Summer Science Exhibition

Emily Robers, Royal Society

The Royal Society is looking for enthusiastic volunteers for its Summer Science Exhibition from 5-10 July 2011.

Taking place at our headquarters in London, this is one of the highlights of the Society's programme of public events. It showcases the most exciting cutting-edge science and technology research and provides a unique opportunity for members of the public to interact with scientists and ask them questions about their work. This year we will also have a supporting programme of events including lectures, cafe scientifiques, family workshops and a schools show. With so much going on, there are lots of opportunities to participate in this high profile event through voluntary work placements. Get involved to learn new skills, meet some of the world's leading scientists, and have fun.

Roles include:

  • Exhibition and Event assistants - working with event organisers to coordinate event set-up/break-down, looking after high profile speakers, microphone handling, registering school groups, facilitating group visits to the Exhibition, manning the Exhibition help desk, and acting as a runner. (placements available from 4 - 10 July)
  • Digital team - Producer and Content creator roles - working with the Web Content Manager to plan, schedule and produce interesting and original content for the exhibition website, liaising with staff regarding access to speakers, interviewing speakers and exhibitors, creating and editing text, audio and video content from around the Exhibition. (placements available from 4 - 10 July, preferably whole period)

We can cover travel expenses up to £10 per day and will provide lunch and refreshments during the exhibition opening times. Benefits also include access to events and the Exhibition and a great experience, working at an exciting exhibition!

Interested? Please send a covering letter explaining why you'd like to volunteer and any relevant experience to by Tuesday 26 April. Please include details of your availability, contact details for two referees and let us know which of the above roles you would be interested in. Interviews will take place the w/c 16 May. Volunteers will be required to attend training prior to their placement.

A Day in the Life

Name: Savita Custead

Job: Director, Bristol Natural History Consortium / BIG Event Coordinator

A typical day at work consists of: speaking to people all over the country about the many projects I’m working on at any one time. And a lot of spreadsheets!

What got you into this career? I used to work for a science education company in Canada, and then thought I’d take a year abroad and do the MSc in Science Communication at Techniquest. 8 years later, I’m still in the UK...

Best thing about your job? The highs of a great event, meeting fantastic and committed people, getting to choose the wine for the BIG Event.

...and the worst? Pain, exhaustion and sunburn after outdoor events. And chasing invoices.

What is your favourite meal? I’m in Bristol – pie and pints!

What is your favourite smell? Freshly mown grass. Smells like summer!

What talents do you possess? I know all the words to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. I used to do some improvisation comedy also.

What talents would you like to possess? Marathon running. Drawing something other than stick people. Cider brewing.

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life? Danny Devito. He’s short and funny too.

Which living person do you most admire and why? Donna Brazile (American woman who ran Obama’s campaign). Mega impressive.

Most beautiful place on earth? The mountains in Switzerland (best seen from a cable car, ironically as I am afraid of heights!)

What is your Motto for life? Stop and smell the flowers.

With best wishes from the BIG Executive 2010-11...

James Piercy, Chair
Andy Lloyd, Vice Chair
Rachel Mason, Treasurer
Brian Macken, Secretary
David Porter, Ordinary Member
Savita Custead, Event Coordinator
and Sarah Vining, Administrator and Newsletter Editor

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