Little Event Announced
Welcome to the Autumn edition of the BIG Newsletter.
In this edition, bursary winners reflect on their experiences of what most agree was one of our best events - do they agree?
Rachel Mason swaps running a centre for taking the kids to one - what was Jodrell bank like for her family? Exhibits are a key part of a centre and Richard Elam shares his knowledge of building a compact, travelling wind tunnel.
Just to show that we can be at the forefront of new developments, read about how an empty Nottingham city centre restaurant is to be transformed into the first science ‘pop-up’ shop.
And there's lot's more - including, following the BIG Event, our fabulous Little Event.
With the generous support of Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum again as the venue, the Little Event will take place on Monday 7th January 2013.
The Little Event is like the BIG Event – only little! Our one-day conference is aimed primarily at early-career STEM communicators who are keen to suck the knowledge and experience out of those who have been at it for ages. It is also an excellent opportunity to make professional and friendly relationships with others in similar work, or to update job-hunting skills for those hoping to take a next step in their careers.
The programme is still in the making, but you can expect to:
The programme makes use of the wealth of experience within BIG’s membership to support a classroom-sized bunch of delegates in their professional development. Places at the Little Event go fast so if you think this is for you, or you would like to send members of staff, please find out more or register here. You need to be a BIG member to attend the Little Event, so you will need to join first at an annual cost of £30.
Julia Thomas, Freelance Artist: "Even if you’re not a closet trainspotter, the idea of attending a conference at a railway museum and an interesting place such as York is appealing. Why? If the conference is rubbish, there’s still plenty to see and do. But it’s a reflection of how lively and interesting the conference was that I saw nothing of York and managed to snatch only a quick 20 minute wander around the museum!
We live in an information rich society with quick access to information being not only possible but expected and easy to do whether that be at work, at home or on the go. So it seems inevitable that the communication of STEM should turn its focus to capturing the imagination, stimulating curiosity, infecting people with the joy and wonder of science, and creating an experience. Maybe the sessions I chose reflected my own concerns within the field of ‘Art and Science’ but I came away from the BIG Event 2012 feeling there was a push and pull of making the communication of STEM subjects engaging and memorable versus the level of information content.
Getting that balance right isn’t easy but creating a feeling of discovery, as if that person is the first to have discovered the phenomenon they are experiencing, is to create something wondrous and may have a greater impact in the long term. As I reflect on what I experienced at BIG 2012, I get the sense that it wasn’t just a conference but a community, a community of passionate and creative people willing to share skills and experiences. I’m already looking forward to the BIG Event of 2013, wherever that may be!"
Adam Strang, science made simple: "So I went to York and found myself in a large shed full of trains. And in the corner of that shed was every science communicator I’ve met over the two years I’ve been in the UK. Plus about triple that number again of ones that I didn’t know. So far so good; this is a crowd where each new person you meet gives you one great idea and three great stories.
The main thing I wanted to get out of the BIG Event was to see what kind of things other people were doing and how they did them. On that front it delivered spectacularly. I saw awesome stem cell workshops that Edinburgh Uni is helping to farm out to research institutes around Europe. There was Centre for Life’s wordless chemistry show, which, along with stories about their Curiousity Zone, blew my mind with a completely different approach to engaging people.
And there was also Paul Jepson’s keynote, which took an excellent look at how effective different approaches were when dealing with important topics like environmental issues. There were heaps of other excellent sessions to see and people to talk to - far too many to list here. But for me, my first BIG Event sure did live up to the hype and then some."
Andrew Robinson, National Marine Aquarium: “The journey from Plymouth to York for the BIG event was not a short one. So was it worth it?
With three packed days of shows, workshops, activities and networking there definitely wasn’t much time to ponder over that question. Held in the fantastic venue of the National Railway Museum, I had the chance to meet some of the best STEM communicators in the country and learn from their wide range of skills. With a particular interest in science shows, the “Knowing when to keep your gob shut” workshop put a new light on the possibilities of shows with no words. As well as this, going on a journey “Back to school” was of great insight when having to deal with teachers and schools for outreach sessions (even if we did get told off for shouting out in class!)
One thing that will definitely stick in my mind though is the Best Demo competition. Having no idea what I was throwing myself into, I had a go myself and was amazed to see the wide range and styles of demos offered by fellow members. Coming 3rd I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you that voted! So was the journey worth it? The answer is undoubtedly yes!”
Hannah Little, Newcastle College: "I am used to going to conferences and I always enjoy them. I especially enjoy going to conferences in more tropical climates where pale academics, too used to the darkness of their offices, get high on all the vitamin D before turning into sunburnt lobsters. York is not situated in a tropical climate - but I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun at a conference than I did at the BIG event 2012. Which is just as well, because I had to take annual leave to go and it was worth every second of holiday I gave up.
Particular highlights include the stand up comedy by delegates and the best demo competition – at no other conference would you have such an enormous uptake for the challenge of being funny and engaging in front of a crowd - but I guess that is the nature of those working in science communication. It seems unfair to single out sessions which all somehow managed to teach valuable lessons with effortless enthusiasm and humour. We played with toys, we swapped stories, experiences and ideas, we discussed, debated, reflected and laughed.
Thanks very much BIG. It was a hoot."
Rachel Mason, Freelance Project Manager and BIG's Event Organiser
When I go to a discovery centre these days, I go as an actual visitor: I spend loads on nonsense in the shop, I don’t read the signs properly and I turn up primarily for my kids, not for myself.
So, this summer we all shuffled over to Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre to marvel at the mighty space telescope thingy. What an ace place it is. Lovelly, in fact. In the heart of posh Cheshire countryside Jodrell Bank has been around in a few guises in my lifetime and I was eager to experience its latest incarnation (reopened in 2011) as my parents would have in the 70’s – with a troop of little snots in tow.
Plenty to do, good value, good cafés - all as it should be. Jodrell Bank plays extremely well to its peculiar strengths: vistas to die for - whether you like your views industrial or pastoral, you’ll be well catered for here - daft big space stuff in a tranquil landscape; 50’s utility architecture and science research in situ. It is as appealing to the type who just likes to pootle around the arboretum as it is to the radio telescope glutton. As such, there’s a good chance that many of JB’s visitors couldn’t give a stuff about the research facility when they arrive but they sure do get an eyeful of it by the time they leave. Definitely for the grown-ups and for the kids but this brings me to the point of sharing my visit with you…
… what was that guff I was spouting about being an actual visitor? What nonsense, of course. Having jostled my way in for a free visit by wafting my BIG membership card about, I settled in to a spot of centre development naval gazing - just can’t kick the habit. Jodrell Bank visitors fall into two main categories - or so it appeared to me. The well-heeled couple of the Third Age and the well-heeled thirty-something couple with a young child or three, all mooching around in their family units in the sunshine-cum-fine-drizzle.
And here’s the chin-rubbing part – Family Unit. Are we making sure our facilities engage both the young and the old? I hear your response: “We’re trying; yes, I think so”. More importantly are we doing enough to engage the young WITH the old? You see when mummies and daddies visit centres, they HAVE to stay with the kids (yeah, yeah, obvious). But this means that if the little-people-engaging-things are physically separate from the big-people-engaging-things, then the big people will see none of the splendid stuff the centre has laid on for them and will spend a 2 hour visit sitting on a scaled-down chair finding the end of the Sellotape.
Now, don’t misunderstand me at this point; Jodrell Bank is no more or less guilty of this than most – I just happened to be there when I was thinking about it. In fact, the centre’s IOP-funded activity backpacks that we borrowed (free!) on arrival did a pretty good job of providing a focus for two kids and two adults on the topic in hand. Together. However – and this is a problem for many centres – the simple activities for the under sixes were so far removed from the rest of the exhibition that there is nothing I can tell you in this story about Jodrell Bank’s exhibits because I didn’t get to ‘do’ them.
I don’t have the answer to this folks (ooh, maybe I do but I can’t give everything away to BIG for free can I?). We all have to work with what we’ve got to deal with this but I just wanted to gently remind you that these two visitor types are not discrete – they represent one visitor unit. I’ll go back to Jodrell Bank without the pesky snots so I can actually visit by my actual self but most adults will not, so how is your centre ensuring that adults are engaged at their level WHILE their children are too? I often find in centres that my needs are not met because I cannot reach from my position in the kids’ corral. I can see the exhibits way over there, but I can’t get to them without Social Services getting involved.
Take a trip to Jodrell Bank – its success is its peculiarity. I like centres with their own personality and I like Jodrell Bank for having bags of this. It does really well to play to its idiosyncrasies and I hope its future projects nurture that. By the time you read this you’ll find that Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre has joined the list of centres supporting BIG by offering free or discounted visits to members. Check here to see if your centre does too.
Richard Ellam, LM Interactive
Over the last year I have been developing a very compact, powerful, wind tunnel as a travelling exhibit for a programme funded through the Institution of Mathematics and its Applications.
I've just delivered the first six (of eighteen) production examples and - although I say so myself - they work rather well. I’m sure there are lots of other applications for this device, so I think its time the wider STEM community knew about it.
My wind tunnel is unusually compact - its only 660 mm overall length stands about 450 mm high and is about the same width. The ‘tunnel’ part contains a 300 mm dia model aircraft propeller driven by a 35 watt DC electric motor which produces a maximum wind-speed of about 25 mph. The prop is protected from probing digits by upstream and downstream ‘egg crates’. The downstream egg crate acts as a flow straightener to cut down turbulence in the working section of the tunnel. The working section is a pair of perspex discs which run on rollers on the wind tunnel base to allow the angle of incidence of the wing section, or whatever, to be changed. The discs also constrain the airflow from spreading sideways. The wing is made from expanded polystyrene with balsawood leading and trailing edges, and the whole thing is covered in self adhesive vinyl, as used by sign-makers. This gives a nice smooth finish without excessive weight. The wing is carried on a counterbalanced aluminium parallelogram linkage which runs on ball races. A piece of elastic cord opposes the lift force generated by the wing.
And it works! The wing generates plenty of lift, and convincingly shows that you get more lift at higher angles of incidence, and that at a fixed low angle you get more lift as you increase the airflow. My customers seem to like it, too. Because the working section is removable you could have different experiments to try. For example: a wing equipped with manometers to explore the pressure distribution around an aerofoil, or a lift balance to compare the lifting properties of different wing sections, or a drag balance to investigate streamlining, or maybe a wind turbine to try the effect of blade length, pitch variation and whatnot on power output. I guess you could possibly use it to investigate the properties of bird wings, insects and gliding seeds, too. I’m sure there are lots of other applications, and that my readers members will be able to come up with an impressive list of them.
So there it is, a compact, effective, and not ludicrously pricey user friendly wind tunnel for all kinds of STEM activities. Hope you like it, form an orderly queue please...
Lyndsey Clark, Freelance Consultant
What do you get if you bring together some of Scotland’s pioneering engineers in the field of renewable energy with teachers passionate about active learning at a mining museum located in one of the finest surviving examples of a Victorian colliery?
The answer is “Engineering Scotland’s Energy Future” – a project funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Ingenious grant scheme and private sponsors to create a new and unique space at the National Mining Museum Scotland in Newtongrange near Edinburgh.
The space is dedicated to engaging primary school children with innovative engineering solutions for Scotland’s energy future and is located in the actual pre-fabricated building where wave energy research began at Edinburgh University. Relocated to the museum grounds and renamed ‘Energy Lab’, the building has been turned into a hive of active, hands-on learning for primary school pupils. The aim of the project is inspire the next generation of potential engineers with a display of wave power artefacts including a model ‘Salter’s Duck’ and a model ‘Pelamis’ wave energy converter, as well as interactive exhibits. The Energy Lab is supported by a teachers’ pack of follow-up activities and engineering projects designed to develop creative thinking, problem solving and team working skills and linked to the Scottish ‘Curriculum for Excellence’.
Engineering Scotland’s Energy Future was developed in a truly collaborative way with engineers who worked in the wave power group, and now work across the renewables industry as well as in academia, coming together with museum professionals, working teachers and active learning specialists to produce learning outcomes and a brief for the space and activities. Installation has completed and we’ve tested the space and activities with four lucky local primary 6 and 7 classes. After final snagging and feedback from teachers on the supporting activities, the space will be launched by museum Director Rowan Brown and the Scottish Government’s Minister for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop on 1st October.
Let’s hope that the Energy Lab can help inspire some of the children of the coal-mining areas of Midlothian to turn their creative problem-solving energy towards engineering a sustainable energy future for us all!
Rick Hall, Ignite!
An empty Nottingham city centre restaurant is to be transformed into the first science ‘pop-up’ shop in October.
The temporary shop, to be called 3-2-1-Ignition* and located in the Cornerhouse centre, is designed to bring science and technology to the general public in a unique pilot project backed by the Nottingham City Council’s Science City initiative and partners from education and industry.
The shop, developed by Nottingham based education company, Ignite!, is modelled on other shops in San Francisco and London where education workshops are linked to themed retail outlets – but this will be the first time a shop ‘selling’ science and technology activities will be set up in the UK.
The space will contain demonstrations of cutting edge science research as well as innovative technology such as programmable computers and 3D printers. Schools will be able to book workshops on topics ranging from Earth Sciences to the workings of the brain, and members of the general public will also be able to take part in hands-on experiments and activities as well as pick up information about the science-based industries, courses and careers available in Nottingham.
One particular feature of the 3-2-1-Ignition* shop will be workshops run by children from Lab_13 another Ignite! initiative where pupils manage their own science lab in school.
Director of Programmes for Ignite!, Rick Hall, explained, ‘the idea behind 3-2-1-Ignition* is to bring the latest developments in science and technology to the general public in ways that they will find exciting, amazing and fun. We want this pilot to grow into a new kind of Curiosity Shop, where people can explore and investigate their own science interests.’
The shop will be open from 15 to 31 October in the Cornerhouse centre, Nottingham, with normal shop hours, including some evening openings. The shop will also coincide with the Nottingham Games City Festival from 22-28 October. Information for the public about the shop, including schools bookings for workshops, is available here.
Michael Smith, Dundee Science Centre
To tie in with our summer exhibition ‘Robot: The Fantasy and the Reality’, we at Dundee Science Centre thought it would be a good idea to offer schools our robotics and programming ‘Robolab’ workshop.
The workshop has been on offer for a number of years now, and was always a very popular feature of our Science Learning Programme, but we decided to update for the summer. Out went the old robots, and in came brand new shiny Lego® Mindstorm® NXT 2.0 robots, complete with new user friendly software and all sorts of exciting extras.
The workshop has been used throughout the summer as an activity for visitors to the exhibition and has been incredibly popular (we’re still getting great reviews coming in over a month after it finished!). The visitors’ workshop had to be fairly basic but, with schools, we use the Lego® Mindstorm® colour sensor to give us an opportunity to discuss and reinforce knowledge of the senses, if robots can have senses and what the advantages might be to that.
Through kind support from the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), we were able to offer ten schools funded visits to the centre, to experience the Robot exhibition and the new Robolab workshop. We were also able to offer ten schools Robolab workshops delivered on outreach within their school. Additionally, the funding enabled us to deliver two full-day ‘Early Explorers’ events, in which both nursery and family groups of children aged 3-5 engaged with robotics and took part in simple programming.
Teachers have been very impressed by the emphasis on teamwork and problem solving that the workshop offers. It’s great to see the children really engaging with the challenge of the maze - they’re very excited to get it right and they are very calculating when they get it wrong. They always gave careful consideration to how best to move the robot, which direction and for how many seconds.
The children also have an opportunity to learn more about the types of careers available in the field of robotics or programming, through the involvement of IET members and STEM Ambassadors in delivery of the workshops. The workshops are proving just as popular with the professionals as they are with the pupils!
The robot exhibition leaves the centre at the end of September, but the Robolab workshop will continue to be offered to schools and groups.
Iona (with funding from the Royal Microscopy Society, 14 microscopes and a bag of wigs headed north for Orkney Science Festival.
Day 1 – Van packed and we are off. Goodbye Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh - hello open road. Spirits are high and the waves under the ferry higher, but after travelling 310 miles North, we make it to Kirkwall, Orkney.
Day 2 – After a peaceful morning in our cottages, and a Mission Impossible style trip to the supermarket, we drive through stunning scenery to Dounby Primary to set-up for our workshop tomorrow. In fact, the kit looks so exciting that Chris the Geologist, (who came as an ‘other-half’) has decided to join in too!
Day 3 – With wigs and waistcoats and enthusiastic demands of ‘prove-it’, four scientists from history are recreated in the classroom. Primary 7 quickly master the microscopes and perform their own experiments to prove (or disprove) the scientists theories. Stefan our modern day scientist rounds off the workshop with a spot of cell division and a soon has the pupils building plasticine chromosomes. But what’s that I hear? Something is activating the listening region of my brain! Its Lewis piloting his ‘Fiddling in the brain’ workshop with the Primary 4’s, and it seems to be going well.
One more Life Through a Lens workshop and it’s time to pack up the kit. But the science isn’t over yet, as Sarah spots two whole fields of Curlews on the way home.
Day 4 – Onwards to Papdale Primary School, and 2 more Life Through a Lens sessions. Primary 6 quickly demonstrate their scientific credentials as they identify our animalcules (protozoa) and prove to us that they are indeed made of cells; no aliens here apparently! Primary 5 are our ‘brainy bunch’ and Lewis is soon in full swing with his fiddle.
If I had an award for the most welcoming schools, it would definitely go to Dounby and Papdale. Thank you for making us feel so at ease in your community, and for giving us such positive feedback on our workshops.
But the fun doesn’t stop when we leave, as both schools are left with 8 microscopes and a pack of activities courtesy of the Royal Microscopy Society. They will keep these for the rest of the term, before sending them back for another school to use.
Day 5 – Its ‘Family Fun Day’ at the King Street Halls and we pack our tables with microscopes and samples. Lewis has even brought his brains! Nearly 300 people take a peek down our microscopes, examining everything from butterfly wings and onion cells, to their own clothes, hair and even pocket fluff! When the work is done, it’s on to the Island Ceilidh for traditional dancing and a guest appearance from Mr Boom!
Holiday Time – A few days off to enjoy the sights of Orkney. From stunning scenery, to archaeology and traditional crafts, there is no shortage of choice. And what better way to round the day than a trip to The Reel for a music session and pint of Orkney Ale.
Thank you to friends old and new for an amazing trip.
Danielle M. Nicholson, National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science
Debating Science Issues (DSI) is an interactive, dialogue-based initiative to engage young people with biomedical science.
The project raises awareness of the cultural and ethical implications of medical research among fifteen to eighteen year olds, and encourages their discussion surrounding these issues. The project began in 2007 as a small-scale pilot in Galway and with the support of a Wellcome Trust People Award, has since developed into a reputable programme involving forty schools across the Republic and Northern Ireland.
The main component of DSI is a debating competition open to secondary schools throughout Ireland. The pupils must successfully debate a variety of topics, ranging from stem cell research to health and self testing. After four or five competitive rounds, the four strongest teams progress to the All-Ireland finals where they can win trophies and prizes for their schools. Pupils develop their communication skills and are also able to explore scientific concepts not widely covered within the curriculum.
As a precursor to the debates, science and non-science students participate in an in-school workshop that involves presentations introducing a contemporary biomedical topic, followed by an open discussion of the associated issues (scientific, ethical, and societal). Workshops are also run for teachers to stimulate and facilitate their discussion of wider biomedical issues such that they can in-turn take these issues to their classrooms for further discussion as project multipliers. One of nine participatory research, science or educational centres delivers the workshops, allowing the institutes to interact with wider audiences and communicate their work to the public.
Partners include REMEDI at NUI Galway, APC at University College Cork, BDI at Dublin City University, The Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, W5 Interactive Discovery Centre, Belfast, The Centre for Cross Border Studies, Armagh, Cork Institute of Technology, Clarity at University College Dublin and CRANN, Trinity College Dublin. Debates are adjudicated by scientists and academics, science communicators, interested lay people and media professionals.
In parallel to the competition, Danielle Nicholson, the DSI coordinator manages online resources including suggested readings and supplementary research materials surrounding the debate topics. Schools outside of Ireland can access materials through the dedicated DSI website. Detailed instructions and stem cell research supporting materials can be found in EuroStemCell’s educational toolkit, extending the outreach and benefits. Five years of written findings demonstrate that DSI fosters young people’s interest in biomedical sciences and current research, and stimulates discussion surrounding these issues.
Eleanor Seaman, Bristol Natural History Consortium
It would be hard to criticise Bristol on its vast and versatile mix of green spaces and innovative urban communities.
It’s easy to take the few hundred green spaces, the community allotments and not to mention the lustrous surrounding countryside for granted. Whether you’re a keen cyclist, a green fingers in the garden, have young children or an animal enthusiast, Bristol’s generous offering of alfresco sights and experiences are some of the best in the country.
Most of us wish that we had more time in our busy schedules to do the things we love, or perhaps even to try something new. Volunteering is prime example of an activity we’d love to throw ourselves into whole heartedly, but realistically making a long term commitment to a volunteer dependant charity or organisation is a head burying business!
Green Volunteers Bristol, a new collaborative project of Bristol City Council, Bristol Natural History Consortium and Volunteer Bristol, showcases the city’s plethora of green, conservational, environmental, wildlife and nature focussed organisations. The project strives to engage volunteers and organisations with each other, through the newly developed Green Volunteers Bristol website. The website not only creates a hub of activity to inform both parties of new opportunities and interest, but it does so in such a way that blows the stigma of commitment away from volunteering all together.
Using a tailored online portal (Flexi-Volunteering) from Slivers of Time, the Green Volunteers website allows you to sign up for one-off, ad-hoc volunteering experiences, if and when you have an afternoon or day to offer. On logging into the website (the system requires your general details, but will only ask you once) you will have the chance to enter the specific times when you are free to volunteer, allowing green organisations to book your volunteering services, confirming their booking in SMS form. You can choose to decline any activity you might not want to do, and your personal preferences profile, will help you find the perfect match. Alternatively, browsing through the multitude of organisations profiles and requests for volunteers should give you a better idea of what kind of activity may inspire you.
The interactive website, gives you a mouth-watering taster of the projects you could get involved with, using previous volunteer’s experiences and stories as advocates for the project. The intimate display of personal touches, social diversity, community engagement and inspiring causes that collectively make up Green Volunteers Bristol will make it hard for you to decide which project to invest your time in, but due to the flexible nature of the system, you can dabble in all of them! Monday bird watching, Tuesday tree planting, Wednesday sponsored bike ride, Thursday researching newts, Friday teaching children about organic farming, Saturday picking raspberries and Sunday you’ll be due a hard earned lazy day off (not to mention a long soak in the bath)! Join the green challenge here.
Rebecca Nesbit, Society of Biology
The first ever Biology Week will take place on 13th-19th October 2012, organised by the Society of Biology.
There will be a hands-on biology activity day in Cambridge, a late-night opening of the Royal Veterinary College, a world record attempt and more. Events will take place around the country and the record attempt for the world’s largest memory game will take place in venues across the UK.
At 2.30pm on Friday 19th October, participants will put their memories to the test in a 10-minute word game. Everyone is welcome to take part, including primary schools, secondary schools, universities and individuals. If you are able to visit a local school to help them out, or can get at least 25 people together to take part in the record, we would love to hear from you. Please contact me.
The search is on once again for the new voices of science communication.
FameLab has become arguably the world’s leading science communication competition, and is designed to help people communicate science and engineering to a wider audience, whether in schools, at public events or through the media. Over the autumn heats will be taking place across the country from Aberdeen to London, Cardiff to Cambridge.
If you’re currently working in science. technology, engineering or maths, and think you can explain a science or engineering concept in an engaging way to non-scientists in just three minutes, FameLab wants to hear from you! The winner of the heats will get the chance to take part in a weekend MasterClass with experts in media & communication skills, before vying for the title of FameLab UK champion at the National Final in March 2013 where they will have the chance to take home £1,750 to further their career.
So if you think you have what it takes click here to register.
Andy Lloyd, Chair
Bridget Holligan, Vice Chair
David Porter, Treasurer
Ashley Kent, Secretary
Ben Craven, Ordinary Member
Rachel Mason, Event Organiser
and Sarah Vining, Administrator