BIG enewsletter - Summer 2011 edition – Issue 19

As the weather warms up, so does conference activity for the annual BIG Event with registrations flooding in.  Attendance is at its highest ever with almost 150 people coming over the course of the 3-day event. We are thrilled to hear we'll be joined by our Chair, James Piercy who, despite grappling with injuries from his serious car accident, has pulled together a show for the programme.

Since our last enews, we were delighted to be in the position to offer 7 bursary places, paying registration fees for the Event, along with limited travel and accommodation support to BIG members in the first five years of their professional career. A quarter of delegates will be attending the Event for the first time this year and we look forward to welcoming them all into the bosom of our blossoming community!

If you get a last-minute urge to join us in Bristol later this month, it's not too late to book one of the few remaining places.

Sarah Vining

Let’s TWIST again

Justin Dillon and Heather King, King’s College London

Women hold only 12% of the top science positions in Europe and yet gender diversity is essential for creativity and innovation. A new EU-funded project aims to challenge some outdated gender stereotypes with the help of science centres across Europe and beyond.

Towards Women in Science and Technology (TWIST) is a collaboration involving partners from the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Israel. The project co-ordinator is Sheena Laursen from the Experimentarium in Copenhagen. Some well-known institutions are involved in TWIST including NEMO in Amsterdam and Teknikens Huis in Luleå, Sweden’s most northerly science centre. The UK partner is King’s College London who are responsible for the project evaluation.

The three year project received €2.75m under the EU’s Science in Society programme and the partners will use the grant to create an exhibition and a series of events running over the course of the project. The exhibition contains a video database of candid interviews with women scientists and engineers. It will also be the home of ‘Twisty’, an innovative virtual puppet controlled by an explainer using a sophisticated electronic glove that the partner science centres will use to engage with visitors. The programme of events hosted in each institution include debates, ‘scientist speed-dating sessions’ and activities designed to test and challenge implicit assumptions.

More details of the TWIST project can be found on the project website.

A Chain Reaction

Dr Chris Lennard, Founder, Cambridge Science Centre

I joined BIG back in April. Why? Because my market research kept pointing me here: "If you want to know about exhibits ...", "… public engagement techniques ...", "… the real dirt on running a science centre ...." join BIG. So I did! The Cambridge Science Centre team formed in April 2011 and has been working pretty hard getting stakeholders on board and doing some "best-of" science centre and outreach research. I'm really looking forward to extending that personal network further at the BIG Event in July.
Cambridge offers a rather special opportunity to create a science centre built on the city’s rich science cultural heritage. We want to set up a small space in central Cambridge where people out shopping or just touring around can easily 'stumble upon' science. That means getting started in a pretty small space, probably around 200 sqm of exhibit area in addition to a
small creative lab and project space. I think that space constraint is actually an opportunity: we're picking up some hints from The Exploratorium Tinkering Studio to address the 12+ Key Stage 3 children and the Science Gallery on the importance of hosting focused short-run themed exhibits.
Our first year of operation, assuming success in fundraising, will start 2012 with doors opening on our first major exhibit during the Cambridge Science Festival. We do want a Cambridge flavour to what we exhibit, but we still need to build our themed floor around known techniques for demonstrating science fundamentals. This is one area where we’d really appreciate some insight and potentially exhibit supply help through the BIG network. In addition, and a little bit closer in time, we're showcasing our vision for the Cambridge Science Centre to the public in the Guildhall on October 23rd 2011. It’s going to be a pretty spectacular day (assuming we
can get the staggering get-in / get-out logistics sorted!) with a wide range of hands-on experiences leading up to a huge Chain Reaction. The Chain Reaction will be part pre-built and part built by the public from the science they learned on the day. A little before doors close at 4:00pm someone (hopefully an important someone) is going to push the ‘start’ trigger, you can guess at the rest …
If you have some Chain Reaction logistics experience, or some hands-on exhibits we could borrow or hire for October 23rd, please get in touch. 

Collective Memory Preview

Toby Shannon, Science in Society Officer

The British Science Association is proud to announce the launch of a new website for science communicators to share learning from public engagement projects. As someone who has done really interesting work in this area, we’d like to invite you to be among the first to add something to the new site.
The new website features a profile space for users, enhanced links with social media to publicise your projects and an embeddable widget that you can use on your website or blog to share your profile.
• Easily search through the archive of memories
• Read invaluable tips about planning, implementing and evaluating your projects
• Comment and discuss projects
• Get in touch with project contributors and make new contacts
The site also features the Collective Memory Blog which has regular entries about exciting projects, best practice and useful resources for public engagement projects.
We’re looking for users to add new entries to the site before the official unveiling in August – if you add an entry before 31st July 2011 you’ll be in with a chance to win a Flip HD camcorder (perfect for recording your own events!).
Please head along to the website and have a look around and add your ‘memories’ about your projects – any comments and feedback is also very welcome!

Chemistry around the Campus

Elizabeth Stevenson, University of Edinburgh

What’s that guy doing over there? He seems to have a flask with green liquid in it.  Now he’s added clear vinegar and the liquid has turned red! Wow!

That guy was one of our undergraduate students from the School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh who took part in activities, during National Science and Engineering Week to celebrate International Year of Chemistry.  I had a tremendous response from undergraduate students in chemistry who wished to learn some simple chemistry demonstrations and present them around campus. They braved blustery winds to ‘busk’ chemistry demos, in the central campus area where the arts and humanities students hang out. One of their audiences included three leprechauns and a moose!

The chemistry students had to work hard to attract their audience, moose notwithstanding. Let’s not forget that these arts and humanities students have made a conscience decision NOT to pursue science at Higher Education level.  However, our intrepid science communicators learned very quickly how to relate to their audience and present science in an accessible way to which non-scientists could relate.  The chemistry students themselves benefited from enhancing their communication skills and trying something different, as these quotes from them illustrate:

"The indicator demonstration brought back to me the initial wonder I remember feeling when I first was brought to chemistry all those years ago in the classroom".

"I learnt that the key to an effective demonstration was to quickly get a feel for who your audience is and adjust the level of detail you provide accordingly. This ensured that the audience stayed interested, and is a difficult skill to master".

It was a rewarding experience for me to train the undergraduates and watch their confidence and skills develop.

European Universe Awareness: Inspiring every child with our wonderful cosmos

Sarah Reed, Science Writer for European Universe Awareness

Astronomy is a powerful educational tool. Our awe-inspiring Universe captures the imagination of children, making it a great stepping-stone to introduce youngsters to science and technology. Indeed, many scientists can trace their interest in science to a moment as a young child when they were first introduced to the wonders of the cosmos. Furthermore, considering the vastness and beauty of the Universe and our place within it provides a special perspective that can help broaden the mind and stimulate a sense of global citizenship and tolerance.

This is the vision behind the European Union-funded educational programme European Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE). The programme aims to use astronomy to inspire children aged 4-10 years, especially those from underprivileged communities, to develop an interest in science and to be more tolerant of their international neighbours, with whom they share this small planet.

EU-UNAWE is currently working on many projects in order to fulfil this goal. The newest EU-UNAWE venture is an astronomy news service called Space Scoop. The idea behind Space Scoop is to translate astronomy press releases into child-friendly language, bringing the excitement of new discoveries to young children. Currently, Space Scoop is working with the European Southern Observatory, but the service will expand in the near future to include many other partner organisations.

Space Scoop is specifically aimed at children aged 7-10 years, but it could also be used as a resource to teach younger children, with the help and guidance of a parent or educator. We hope that teachers will print the latest Space Scoop and use it in the classroom to start a discussion about breaking astronomy news. You can find out more on the new EU-UNAWE website.

Hands in the Air for Online and Interactive Science Communication

Alison Cooper, STEM Ambassador

An audience of science communicators, together with panellists Professor Robert Winston, Professor Kathy Sykes and Paul Manners at the 2011 British Science Association, Science Communication Conference explored future challenges for interactive science engagement.
Professor Sykes outlined her aim: “It’s about helping people make choices and a mature relationship between science and society so that people from different backgrounds feel they can join in”.  Professor Winston emphasised: “Given that while communication is a two way process and broadcasting is one way it is surprising that the BBC hasn’t done more with online interaction".

The panel agreed on the important role for Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities.
Professor Winston raised concern about standards and need for a seamless transition from school education to university and community engagement. Professor Sykes instigated as show of hands, sympathising with an audience feeling affected by cuts: “It is hard to be a brave leader when things are uncertain and it takes a brave leader to say they believe in it.”
They concluded with a focus on the future: Paul Manners: “I am optimistic.  It is not predictable. People are getting a sense of what it means to them, we should allow this creativity”. “We are looking at how the system of engagement can work together, rather than making it complicated, with Science Centres working across boundaries.” Professor Winston: “Online is the one most powerful technology that will affect the future.  We need to look at new technologies particularly interactive ones, proving they have value and really work”.
Professor Winston’s wish for more interactivity was granted.  Along with Prof Sykes he threw his hands in the air as part of the BBC dance experiment at the Cheltenham Science Festival.  Computerised anonymous images of dancing people were used to identify characteristics of attractive dancing, eventually to be compared with established styles.

From my perspective as a STEM ambassador on this event, it was a fascinating combination, recruiting participants to real research and providing an entertaining educational experience.  I would love a workshop to consider practical aspects of doing this innovatively while maintaining rigorous standards of quality and ethics.

Museums offer new science sessions

Cathy Lewis

Museums in the South East are now offering an inspiring programme of school science sessions, thanks to the Science Links in Museums Education (SLIME) Network. The sessions, for both primary and secondary schools, link to a range of curriculum areas such as life processes and living things, materials, forces, how science works and environmental sustainability.

Funded by Renaissance South East, the SLIME network was formed in 2006 to provide science learning opportunities at museums in the region. In order to encourage teachers to see museums as places to study science, it produced the resource ‘Inspiring Science’ (available in pdf format), which looks at ways that primary and secondary schools can use museums to study science.

"Most teachers think of museums as places to study history or art, but they are  also fantastic places to study science and sustainability", says Sharon Bristow, Renaissance South East Learning Manager. ‘We helped museums in the network by providing funding and expertise so that they could look at their resources differently, and use them to create curriculum linked science programmes.’ Another important achievement of the initiative has been the Museums for the Future Toolkit. This free online resource for museums explores ways they can link with schools and communities to address environmental sustainability. Sharon says: "Teachers might find the case studies in the toolkit particularly interesting. They cover a series of pioneering initiatives where museums have set up school programmes on the themes of biodiversity, greener living and environmental planning. Hopefully they will encourage teachers to contact their local museum to see if they can offer similar programmes".

For example, the SEARCH Hands on Centre in Gosport worked with KS2 pupils, using its collection of stuffed animals, marine creatures and insects to engage pupils with a wide range of wildlife, and discuss the vulnerability of habitats. Then they worked with a creative ecologist to develop a post visit resource about biodiversity and conservation. Tunbridge Wells Museum opted to develop a programme about making buildings and organisations greener. It invited secondary school pupils to undertake an audit of the museum’s marketing materials, then challenged them to come up with more sustainable options. This has led to museum advertisements appearing on local buses, rather than printed leaflets. Other museums used environmental planning as their theme. Rochester Guildhall Museum teamed up with a secondary school to study archaeological evidence of a Roman settlement, and then considered how to create a sustainable plan for a contemporary riverside regeneration site. The Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham, took a different approach and used its funding to set up a focus group of museum staff and teachers. This resulted in the creation of a new permanent session for secondary schools about the science and engineering of climate disaster relief. It highlights the work of the modern Royal Engineers who must increasingly respond to environmental disasters.

Although the Renaissance programme is winding down, the SLIME network has been set up to be self supporting and will continue as an invaluable forum for museums in the South East. Sharon Bristow adds: ‘We hope that the work we have done will lead to increasing partnerships between museums and schools, working together to develop inspiring, hands on science learning.’

Teachers can download ‘Inspiring Science’ and the ‘Museums for the Future Toolkit’, as well as other resources, from the website.


research2practice: an easier way to access the latest educational research findings

Justin Dillon, Heather King and Elaine Regan, King’s College London

It’s hard keeping up-to-date with research relevant to learning in informal contexts: it can be difficult to access the journals; the papers are written in a language which is sometimes daunting; and it can take a long time to read a 30 page paper. But help is at hand. A brand new website, research2practice, provides open access to research findings distilled into 400 word briefs written by people familiar with the needs of the out-of school science sector.

The project is funded by the US National Science Foundation is a collaboration among researchers affiliated with the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) and the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. It is an experiment to see if current peer-reviewed educational research can be made available, accessible, and useful to informal science educators. A team of researchers from the San Francisco Exploratorium, the University of Washington and King’s College London have looked at 10 peer-reviewed journals from the last two years and have selected those that offer something of interest to informal science education (ISE). The database of briefs can be searched in two ways – using a set of keywords or just by looking for any particular word or phrase. New research briefs are featured on the site’s homepage. As well as the 150 research briefs, the project team has produced a set of synthesis papers which attempt to provide some historical context, and references to seminal books and papers, that relate to particular topics that we have identified as important in the ISE field today. These ‘Hot Topics’ include ‘Communicating Climate Change’ and ‘Expanding Access’ and are a mixture of specially commissioned papers and existing reports from experts in the field.

Users can create bookshelves containing the articles that they are particularly interested in. Other users can browse these bookshelves to see what research other people are finding useful. So, for example, BIG members can find out what’s on the bookshelf of leaders at the New York Hall of Science. There’s even a glossary of terms such as ‘nature of science’ and ‘Community of Practice’.

To answer the question about whether or not current research can be made accessible and useful to informal science educators we need your help.  We need your feedback on the idea of the site, on the format of the site, and on the content of the site.  We ask that you please take the seconds required to register so that we know who is visiting the site, and for what purposes.  We will send you a very short survey at the beginning of the summer to ask further questions, and if you are willing we might ask if we can call you to talk about the site. 

We appreciate your help in this process, and we hope you encounter interesting, thought-provoking, and useful ideas as you browse the site.


Famelab is back!

This autumn the U.K.’s biggest search for science communication talent is on...

Are you working in or studying science, technology, engineering, medicine or maths in the UK?  If the answer is yes, and you can break down the barriers of science, all you need to do is head to one of our regional HEATS and tell us something wonderful about science in just three minutes.  Or, simply upload a video entry from the comfort of your own desk. You could win cash prizes, International speaking engagements and Master-class training in science communication.

FameLab’s Alumni now travel the world presenting science on radio, television, on stage and in schools.  You could join them by visiting here

FameLab was set up in 2004 by Cheltenham Science Festival in partnership with NESTA.  In 2007 the competition was adopted by the British Council as one of its flagship science engagement projects first in a South East Europe pilot and then expanding to include 20 across Europe, Asia and Africa.


A Day in the Life of...

Name: Elin Roberts

Job: Head of Public Engagement, Centre for Life

A typical day at work consist of: Today includes: A trip to B&Q for last minute props. Watching a Science Explainer presenting a new show. Arranging a pilot for our Brownie Science Investigator sessions. Shortlisting CVs for interview. A ‘science through storytelling’ CPD for teachers in a local primary school. Sorting props for an impromptu demo. Hosting our ‘Best Demo’ Competition for our Science Explainers to see who gets to come to the BIG event this summer. I’m writing this over lunch.

What got you into this career? I was one of the very first visitors to the first Techniquest in an October Half Term (mumble mumble) years ago. When I got the opportunity to do the MSc in Communicating Science there I jumped at it. The rest, as they say, is history.

What is the best thing about your job? It’s not your average 9-5 job.

... and the worst? You don’t get to go home at 5 o’clock.

What is your favourite meal? I love North African flavours. A favourite summer roast is Harissa roast chicken with chickpea flatbread and a huge bowl of salad. Overall I fear I have too many favourite meals...

What is your favourite smell? I have a rubbish sense of smell, but the smell of the sea in the evening after a hot day is lovely.

What talents do you possess? I’m an OK storyteller, a second-rate writer and third-rate photographer. I can split banana lengthways into three segments using only my tongue. I’m more than adequately proficient at untangling string. I somehow cope with struggling to recognise anyone thanks to some weird form of self-diagnosed face-blindness.

What talents would you like to possess? I’d love to be able to recognise faces. I’m forever introducing myself to people I’ve already met.

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life? I’ve no idea. Ask another.

Which living person do you most admire and why? Phew, that’s easier. My wonderful Nain. She is an amazing and admirable woman. A 102 and is still a delight to talk to. If I take after her in the slightest way, I’d be happy indeed.

Most beautiful place on earth? I loved the scenery around Yangshuo in China. Tall peaks rising from misty paddyfields and the river Li. Sublime.

What is your Motto for life?
Life: It’s better than the alternative.
Teach children to make and they learn not to destroy.


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