BIG enews: Summer Edition 2012 - Issue 23



There are just three weeks to go to this year's BIG Event in York! If you get a last-minute urge to join us at the National Railway Museum on 25-27 July, there are still a handful of places left. In the article below, our Event Coordinator gives you four very good reasons why you should try and attend this year!

The Annual General Meeting will also take place on Thursday 26th July and ALL members are entitled to attend, even though they may not be registered for the Event. We urge all members to vote for those who have put themselves forward to sit on the Executive Committee for 2012-13 here. It'll only take a couple of minutes. Last year, our Secretary won her place only one point ahead of the other candidate so your vote really does make a difference!


Four good reasons to get to the BIG Event

Rachel Mason, Event Coordinator

Will you be joining us at the jolliest STEM engagement conference and social whirl of the year? Already 140-or-so have made the commitment to charge our empty glasses and our professional batteries at the National Railway Museum in York 25-27 July.

No? Not sure? Oh. Well, perhaps your boss needs to be convinced it’s worthwhile your going, or perhaps you’re waiting for the last moment before pressing the registration button; perhaps you’re just dithering and waiting to see if your pals are going too. Let’s see if we can convince you.

1. More than 45 chances to learn from your STEM neighbours in just three days: discussion sessions, workshops, shows, serious comedy moments, actually serious debate, deep penetrating massage of your professional muscles. Pick up tips on marketing, fundraising, intellectual property, comedy, training and new media. Then find your next job, ingenious hands-on idea, grant to apply for, friend in the business. Get the full programme here.

2. Be properly sociable. Not like a conference. Steam train rides, barbecue and comedy in Gagging for It will bring us together for Wednesday evening’s relaxing time. If you feel like you might be funny and want to test out your material on a willing, loving and supportive audience, then step forward. On the Thursday night sit down to dinner among the trains in the Station Hall, but don’t drink too much as you’ve probably already entered the science, maths, engineering demo you are most proud of in….

3. …the best demo competition. You have three minutes, a stage, a generous audience and a chance to cradle science communication's holy grail to your bosom – the best demo trophy stays with you for the year and shines like a beacon from your desk or dashboard, letting everyone know that you did the Very. Best. Demo. of 2012. View here for information and to register (no last minute entries, sorry).

4. Bend the ears of the funders – if you’ve got an idea (or even a fully worked up proposal) and you’d like to talk to funders before you invest more time, this is your chance to have a good old chat about it. Find out what you would need to do to increase your chances of getting your money by asking the people giving the money. Surgeries available with a range of funders by appointment when you get to the Event, or by contacting me.

If you’re waiting for the last minute – don’t! The Event is filling up fast. You know who you are.

It’s a girl thing? It’s a culture thing…

Wendy Sadler

Last Friday the EU released a ‘promotional’ video called ‘Science: It’s a girl thing’ apparently aimed at promoting science to girls and women. The twittersphere went crazy with most people thinking (hoping) it was a spoof and venting hatred at the approach. If you haven’t seen it you should take a quick look here. (This is on the Telegraph page as the official ‘girl thing’ page seems to have removed the video…)

It is pretty awful. But to me the most shocking thing really was – well – how shocked everyone was. Don’t get me wrong, I am not defending the approach they have taken which is patronising and over simplistic. But let’s be honest – they are advertisers. When was the last time you saw any adverts that represented what real people look like? The only company I have seen tackle it with any degree of seriousness is the ‘Dove’ real bodies campaign where they have at least used models of different sizes in their advertising. But they are still models!

It is a depressing fact about this world we live in, but many studies hav e shown how people make judgements based on appearance alone and how attractive people earn on average more money than those considered unattractive, What a horrible fact that is, but sadly many young people aspire to the world of celebrity, and let’s be honest you don’t get an awful lot of unattractive celebrity role models either.

I can still remember with horror the moment that a big funder of a role model campaign told me - with no shadow of apology - that we should lose one of our selected role models because she was unsuitable on camera (eg overweight and wearing glasses – you couldn’t have had a more passionate and emotive presenter, so it wasn’t what she was saying, only how she looked). I think a little bit of me died that day, but I’m proud to say we stuck our ground and fought to keep her in. Small victory against a much bigger problem.

As a community we strive to embed STEM as part of popular culture – well I hate to say it but popular culture decrees you should be less than size 10 and attractive to be aspirational to others. And it isn’t only women, though the criteria are different. We shouldn’t sit back and accept it – but science is not unique here. If we are saying that science has some kind of moral high ground where it is intelligence alone and not attractiveness that gets you ahead then how can we prove it? As a woman I know that I am judged mainly on what I do, but also how I look when speaking at conferences and presentations. So are men – but perhaps to a lesser degree. Or maybe they just have a more generic uniform so fashion is less of an issue. Either way, I reckon if I spend a modest 10 minutes every day putting on make up for work it wastes me around 40 hours a year. Imagine what I could get done with 40 hours to spare.

So – I should just stop wearing make-up and brushing my hair (I have two kids, it’s a distant memory that my hair saw more than a brush in the morning!)? Not long before the whispers start that you have ‘let yourself go’ or are ‘looking tired’. Very sad - but true.

I wish I had the answer. Scientists and engineers come in all shapes and sizes. Role model campaigns generally don’t. How awful would it be if we moved from a position where girls say ‘I’m not interested in that’ to a place where they start saying ‘I’m not pretty enough to do that’. I think this is one area where STEM promoters should strive NOT to go along with the ‘popular culture’. Let’s try and promote ourselves as a sector where acceptance of difference is the norm – not one that aims to fit in with the shallow nature of the celebrity world.

Read more of Wendy Sadler's blog, "Confessions of a Science Communicator" here.

Cardiff Science Festival Returns!

Rhys Phillips and Sarah Vining

Cardiff Science Festival returns to the capital of Wales after a seven year break! Following a successful festival in 2005, a group of active volunteers in the fields of science, engineering and outreach have been busily working over the last twelve months to prepare the first of what is intended to be an annual event. And we really have been busy - pulling a festival together with almost zero budget and a committee made up of the busiest people on the planet hasn't been a trivial matter. So how have we done it?

After an initial meeting last summer, we decided that the easiest way to make this first year work would be to pull the various organisations in and around Cardiff that already put on great scientific events throughout the year together. The committee grew to include representatives from all of the major science and engineering organisations and institutions - the IET, the RSC, the IOP, the British Science Association, Techniquest, Science Made Simple, SciEnts, Cardiff University, Skeptics in the Pub, Science Cafe... the list goes on.

With each group involved agreeing to organise or host one event, we already had a decent looking starting programme and the original intention was for a two day festival in a handful of venues in Cardiff Bay. However with a committee full of people active in the science communication world, we all had other ideas to bring to the table too.

More events kept being added to the list with the end result being that this July, the city of Cardiff will play host to more than 40 different scientific events over 7 days in nearly 20 venues.

Events include an evening of Cardiff based science bloggers talking about their passion, a guided tour of a state of the art lightning laboratory, several events exploring the relationship between science, engineering, design and art, Engineer's Question Time, late night events at Techniquest, a whole day of schools activities, I'm a Scientist live on stage, Bright Club, a special family Sci-Screen to tie in with the new Ice Age film, Matt Parker and Timandra Harkness in Nature Fail, a science fiction Ceilidh, the first ever Welsh Science Showoff, a large exhibition hall and plenty of science busking.

It promises to be a fantastic week full of great events and activities - Cardiff will be the place to be between 9th and 15th July. Hopefully we will see many of you there - until then, you can get more information by visiting our website or following us on Twitter @CdfScienceFest


In the Zone

Huw James

Have you heard that the UK is hosting something called the Olympics? It’s relatively hard to get away from, and if there’s anything that us Science Communicators are, it’s resourceful!

I’ve been lucky enough these past few months to be right in there with the best of them working on a couple of exciting projects that are part of the Wellcome Trust’s In the Zone initiative. It aims to engage the public with the science of how their body works during sport, activity, movement and rest. In the Zone is designed in a few different strands, all of which have been going down a storm across the UK. There’s obviously the free science investigation kits that have been sent to every primary and secondary school in the UK that are jam packed with physiology demos and equipment for all ages, alongside curriculum-linked teaching resources and experiments. And another is the huge touring exhibition from At Bristol that’s travelling the country at the moment.

We at Science Junkie have been looking after two of the strands linked to In the Zone this year. All summer we’ve been out on tour with the guys n gals from ClassRoom Medics to deliver a pop up interactive sport science experience at the Bang Goes the Theory and Blue Peter Roadshows plus a whole host of other events across Great Britain!

The other arm of Science Junkies' In the Zone activities is a training session designed to help people from a plethora of backgrounds use the free science investigation kits and encourage them to engage their own public in physiology based fun! Science Junkie, alongside STEMNET, have been running these sessions over the past few months from Nottingham to Cardiff and Aberdeen to Southampton. The best thing about it is, it’s been with scout and guide leaders, sports and PE coaches, youth workers, science teachers, researchersand science communicators who all share an un-relentless passion for engaging the public in science. And all with the aid of the science investigation kits from the Wellcome Trust! The work shop gives an insight into public engagement, the different types on interactions and demonstrations and most of all, gives confidence to the participants and links all these amazing people together to get them in the zone for public engagement!

We’ve been genuinely excited about showing people these super cool In the Zone boxes in 2012. Every single school in the UK has one and now 200 people UK wide are like Physiology Ninjas, taking them into schools, scout groups and I even heard one person genuinely say, their local ice cream van, to get people thinking about their bodies during sport, activity, movement and rest. Find out more here.


The Crest Project

Ellie Chambers, British Science Association

Young students aged between 11 and 19 across the UK are undertaking wonderful project work in STEM each year. Many of you as STEM communicators will be helping facilitate young people exploring STEM through practical, fun and engaging activities.

Not only can students have a great time and develop their own personal understanding about STEM through these projects, for many where there is a practical ‘project’ element, they can also achieve a CREST Award. The Award helps give a tangible recognition of their work, and their personal learning growth that they can use in their UCAS applications and record of achievement. It also allows them access to a community of other likeminded young people in the CREST Alumni Network, where further competitions, opportunities and events are highlighted to them to help continue their journey.

Who is already linked to the CREST Scheme? There are over 20 schemes and activities successfully linked, including the Science Museum’s Club Box Kits, Smallpeice Trust’s Engineering Experience courses, OPAL’s surveys for schools and Practical Action’s Squashed Tomato challenge

Colin Wilkinson, a CREST Local Coordinator in the North East, describes below what he sees as the benefits of working with CREST:“For most CREST co-ordinators, CREST is part of what they do, whether in their job or their own business and is often tied into other schemes and activities. There are two things that make CREST amazing for me: First is meeting students who’ve completed projects, and when they look back on them, can see where they started and are amazed at how far they’ve come. CREST is an opportunity for students to sample the ‘wonderful things’ that make up a life in science. The excitement of discovery or of solving problems is enormous. Knowing you did it is even better, and for me, being a witness to that realisation is amazing! Another great aspect of crest work has to be working with teachers, and helping them to see how CREST can work in their school. For a teacher who’s a bit worried about taking on CREST, helping the teacher see it can be done with what they have available and that it’ll enrich their students’ learning is enormously rewarding”

If you work on a project where students investigate any aspect of STEM, speak to your Local CREST Coordinator to see how you can link your activity to CREST locally and allow the students to take up the Award. CREST contacts across the UK can be found here or if you have an event or opportunity that you think our CREST Alumni might be interested in, please do get in touch.


Being Curious at Life (#curiousatlife)

Andy Lloyd

Members who attended the 2010 BIG Event in Newcastle may remember a session called “Rethinking the Interactive Gallery”. In that session my Centre for Life colleagues and I shamelessly asked for advice for the forthcoming “Curiosity” zone, and you were all immensely generous and helpful. Since then we have had quite an adventure – we set up an exhibits workshop, looked at the current thinking in learning research and trends in exhibit development, and borrowed a project management model from the software industry. Throughout all of this we have tried to keep in mind our core philosophy:

Science is a process, a way of thinking and a structured form of exploration. Fundamentally it isn’t a body of factual knowledge (even though that is the easiest part to test). Fortunately, interactive exhibitions are very good at promoting process, stimulating exploration and building self-confidence and thinking skills. What they aren’t necessarily so good at is information transfer, but there is no shortage of information in the world today and most of it is accessible to most people most of the time. Science centres don’t need to be a primary source of information, but they can equip people to navigate all the other sources.

So, what did we do? Some of you may have been keeping up to date on the project, as Lizzie Ellis has been blogging here. Each exhibit, whether a novel idea or inspired from elsewhere, has gone through a development process to enhance their openness and the social interaction. Thanks to the generosity of our friends at the Exploratorium, we applied the new adjective they created (“APEyness”) after publishing their research into Active Prolonged Engagement. We tested many prototypes, with early versions scrutinised by our “Curiosity Advisors” who were recruited from Life’s 8-13 Science Club.

The final element in the project grew from an idea that’s been floating around for several years. How could we create a link between the physical and online versions of the exhibits without falling back to an “information transfer” model? Our answer has been to use each exhibit as a starting point for exploring the web.

A gallery trail, called “QRiosity”, uses QR codes to link to specific pages on our website that reference an exhibit and link to curated content from elsewhere (videos, make and take projects, games) to encourage our visitors to keep exploring after they visit us. We were uncomfortable with the “walled garden” approach, locking people into one site, which goes against the spirit of the web. You can see it here. Creating the trail, and curating the initial external links, was the work of a very talented student, Camille Cocaud, who joined us from the science communication Masters programme at Stendhal University, Grenoble. Camille approached us after attending BIG’s Little Event and has returned to France to take up an exciting digital media job in Grenoble.

Has it worked? At the end of May we opened the zone, containing 14 multi-user exhibits and a further 14 AV displays, and the informal reaction seems good so far. Most people can cope with the lack of information labels, but not everyone (so we have more work to do explaining ourselves). The design, intended to move away from the child-friendly bright colours of old, seems to appeal to adults and children alike. Our Explainers are adapting to a role more akin to that of a gym instructor than a teacher, as befits a gallery that warrants multiple visits.

We are slowly receiving links to things people have created on a gallery. We will be evaluating the space all summer and we have an anthropologist on board who will be using the gallery as the basis of her PhD research. Just as we have benefitted from the generous advice we have received from the community within BIG and beyond, I hope that we are able to learn something useful and interesting for others.


Biomedical Picture of the Day

Anthony Lewis

A new website has been launched to promote greater understanding of the basic science behind medical practice. BPoD reveals an image-a-day with byte sized stories by professional science writers. The resource is targeted at non-scientists, aiming to make science fun and accessible to a broader audience, while simultaneously demystifying the scientific method.

“Beautiful and bizarre” were the words chosen by The Observer to describe BPoD’s pictures. It is a visual exploration of the medical research landscape. It will raise the profile of research that impacts daily life in the most fundamental way, but may not otherwise come to the public eye. It is a free educational resource that will build in strength as the archive grows, and shows off the beautiful side of biomedical science. Every image featured includes a link to the original journal publication, encouraging readers to further investigate the research. The site celebrates our relationship with nature and technology in the human endeavour to increase global health and wellbeing. You can visit it here.


On the hunt for Ingenious ideas

Manisha Lalloo

The Royal Academy of Engineering is looking for new projects to fund through Ingenious – our grant scheme for creative public engagement with engineering projects.

If you have an imaginative idea that could help engineers to communicate their expertise and passion for engineering to a wider audience, we want to hear it. You could be an engineer interested in running your own project, or a science and engineering communicator keen to explore ways to provide public engagement training and opportunities.

Ingenious has funded over 90 projects to date, from museum events to online podcasts, and school workshops to art-engineering collaborations. The scheme has provided opportunities for over 1,000 engineers to take part in thought-provoking activities and to gain skills in communication and public engagement.

Ingenious’ aims are to inspire creative public engagement with engineering projects; stimulate engineers to share their stories, passion and expertise in innovative ways with wider audiences; develop engineers’ communication and engagement skills and to create debate between engineers and people of all ages to raise awareness of the diversity, nature and impact of engineering.

If you’re an individual or an organisation with an Ingenious idea, apply now for funding for up to £30,000. Further information and application form can be found on the Ingenious website. The closing date for applications is 21 September 2012.


Bioinformatics goes to school

Louisa Wood

At the European Bioinformatics Institute, we have a lot of data and we’re not exaggerating. One of our passions is making this information accessible and useful. The EBI provides a whole host of resources and tools that let researchers benefit from this treasure-trove of data and make meaningful connections to support their research. We also believe that these same resources offer huge potential for exploration of biology at an educational level and so for the past three years, we’ve run an annual training course to help teachers to get to grips with biological data and how to use it in the classroom. The use of biological databases gives students the opportunity to use real scientific data and analysis tools to visualise and learn about biological concepts.

As participants on our course, secondary school teachers from around Europe spend two days based in our institute (look, no labs!), meet our researchers and hear about their latest research work. We know that the teachers find this this connection immensely valuable as in addition to updating their background knowledge, these sessions give them real examples of research and its application to take back to share with their students. There’s also a significant hands-on component where we delve into the data and resources to show the types of questions that can be explored using web-based activities. At the end of the course, the teachers take away new knowledge, resources and inspiration for the many ways biological data can provide a new way to engage their students with biology.

If reading this makes you want to know more, full details of this year’s course can be found on the course webpage, Biology 2.0 - making sense of biological data will be held from 25-27 November at the EBI near Cambridge, UK. Alternatively, if you have educational projects that you think could be enhanced by a bioinformatics component, we’re interested in collaborative projects to bring this aspect of biology to as many students as possible so just get in touch to discuss ideas.


Free entry to UK Science Centres

Don't forget that your shiny BIG membership card allows you free entry to selected UK Science Centres and Museums. It’s that time of year for getting out and about and exploring so take advantage of this popular membership benefit and enjoy a bit of interactive science. For a full and up-to-date list of participating Centres click here.


BIG People

Name: Bridget Holligan

Job: Head of Learning, Science Oxford

A typical day at work consists of: More time than I would wish sat at my computer, meetings about Science Oxford’s plans for a new science centre, giving presentations, running teacher training, looking after the occasional school group in our discovery zone, piloting new workshops with pupils, facilitating discussion with teenagers, writing articles …

What got you into this career? A university lunch time presentation leading to a Masters in Science Communication (Imperial College) followed by three very formative years at the Exploratory science centre in Bristol with great people like Martin Glancy and Mike Coles.

What is the best thing about your job? The variety, the people in my team, the pupils we work with and the science and scientists we’re able to connect to. Oh and I’ve been here long enough now to have a lot of autonomy and some flexibility which counts for a lot too.

... and the worst? Writing reports, contract bids and grant applications, ticking boxes for faceless people in government departments … (there are other things too but it’s probably not best to mention them in a public article!)

What is your favourite meal? Too many to mention but I do love scallops, crab, purple sprouting broccoli and puddings in general.

What is your favourite smell? The coastal outdoors.

What talents do you possess? Well beyond the sort of stuff you put on a job application I don’t really. I’m a lapsed scuba diver, science show presenter (exploding bubbles anyone?) and clarinet player.

What talents would you like to possess? Anything would do really! Something with the power to affect people emotionally maybe – a great singing voice or story telling ability perhaps?

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life? Samantha Morton or Emily Watson please.

Which living person do you most admire and why? Well there’s lots of people I don’t know well enough to know if I admire the whole package or not, so I’m going to say ‘my mum’ who will always take action if she thinks she has a chance of affecting something for the better, even if it’s really tough going.

Most beautiful place on earth? Again, too many to mention, but a special place for me is the bit of the North Cornwall coastline around Polly Joke beach, a few miles south of Newquay.

What is your Motto for life? I don’t have a motto, live seems to complicated and full of compromise to be covered by a motto.


With best wishes from the BIG Executive 2011-12…

Andy Lloyd, Chair
Savita Custead, Vice Chair
David Porter, Treasurer
Ashley Kent, Secretary
Brian Macken, General Member
and Sarah Vining, Administrator

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