BIG e-news: Autumn 2015 edition - Issue 33 - October 2015

BIG Event 2015: Review from a Newbie

Will Davies, BIG Bursary Winner 

To open with a confession, this BIG Event was my first conference experience of any kind. I’m unsure how many other conferences feature attendee-built Rube Goldberg machines, pop-up darkrooms and pig heart dissections in their welcome foyer, but my expectations have been set, and there they shall remain.

Senior BIG attendees described the group, on more than one occasion, as like being part of a cult, and there’s certainly a sense of close-knit familiarity. It feels almost like coming to a friends’ house party to find that you know no-one else there, but that they’ve all known each other for years; hazardously welcoming, but you’ve just got to take the plunge. 

One of the most daunting tasks in the lead up to BIG was deciding which of the sessions to attend. With so little time and so wide a choice, my options were divided: follow topics that are relevant to my current work, or instead of personal development. This then boiled down to the underlying question, of just what it was that I was there for. Ultimately I aimed for the best of both - feedback sessions and live shows on the first day, followed by a mix of community engagement, crafting, online outreach and self-reflection on the second. 

By Friday, I had worked up the confidence to contribute to discussions of science as a creative space, how to solicit meaningful evaluations from children, and the wild world of Freelancing. Having reached the outer limits of my current entry-level communicator job, I have been encouraged by managers to take on freelance work to develop career-progressing skills. However, I now face that work with growing apprehension.

I think the negativity that dominated the conversation in this session wasn’t meant to be a warning or a complaint, but that the freelancers involved were having too good a time to really dwell on the positives, in case they evaporated under scrutiny. This did however leave the conversation as, to quote one speaker, “like the last 10 minutes of Braveheart; screaming ‘Freedom!’ whilst being slowly eviscerated”. 

Hardly the most encouraging of words, but coffee-table conversations did ease a few concerns. Those that remain, though, are going to have to be faced one way or another. As the job rejection letter that awaited me on my return to Bristol highlighted, content development and project management is going to be essential to a continued career in SciComm, and freelancing might be the only way to go.  While it’s down to me to get started, the conference has at least shown that I’m in good company.


“Ready for Battle” Installation artwork 

Cordelia “Doo” Spalding

Just thought you may like to know about or be interested in supporting in some way a project I have been working on for the last year or so….

I have had a long fascination with lab glassware…….many look as if they come from a different age, and yet are still so essential even if some of their functions are slowly being replaced by digital equipment. Yet even as technology offers new ways to examine our world they are often still the only vessels capable of allowing a scientist to “see” something truly develop/grow/materialise.

They are beautiful in their aesthetic, often created using intricate designs, but also humble because of the regular use of the multiple…..test tubes, conical flasks, beakers etc.  

My fascinating has continued to grow and reached a peak when I was invited to the John Innes Centre media lab, and saw rows of ready cleaned and raring to go pieces that had been used many times before, and would be used many times again.  

They looked like soldiers lined up for battle and the idea of them all having their own stories to tell captured me. The stories of each of these pieces, no matter how magnificent the science breakthroughs and discoveries they had been a part of, remain untold; where is the test tube that held the first embryo, what has happened to the flasks that allowed scientists to see how Ecoli multiplies?

I aim to create an installation using as many pieces of glassware as possible accompanied by scientists accounts of what they have seen in these vessels, and also offer the public the chance to add their own narratives about what they imagine they might see, or what new discovery an item of glassware could one day show us. Hence my search for any lab glassware that is need of a new home!

I was lucky enough to work with Andrew Davis, the photographer at JIC and put together a few test shots, just so hopefully my enthusiasm for the project can be passed on! 

It is rare for the public to see laboratory glassware, and even rarer to see it in a context where its importance in discovery/scientific endeavor is centre stage.  I believe by creating an installation where the pieces are seen outside of a normal laboratory setting, the narrative of the pieces/scientific discovery will be focused upon and the viewer will see a whole new dimension to the creative processes that happen within science.

If you have a story from your encounters with glassware or think you may be able to support either by sending me glassware looking for a home, or if (fingers crossed) you feel you may be able to point me in the direction of a little funding or an exhibition space, please get in touch! I hope to put in a Welcome Trust Arts Application so biomedical stories especially welcome!


My experiences in Uganda

Helen Lloyd, Treorchy Comprehensive School

As many of your know, a few years ago I left science made simple to train as a physics teacher.  It’s a job that comes with many challenges, don’t they all, but also many amazingly satisfying moments, and some fantastic opportunities.  

One such opportunity arose recently, when my headteacher asked it I would like to go to Uganda to visit our partnership school, Bukonde Secondary School.  I jumped at the opportunity and started saving up – this was not a freebie! Treorchy Comprehensive School has been partnered with Bukonde Secondary School for five years, through a South Wales based organisation, PONT, who link schools in Uganda with schools in South Wales in order to improve global citizenship of pupils and teachers, and share educational practice. The partnership has been supported by the British Council Connecting Classrooms project.  

Treorchy is a large comprehensive school in the upper Welsh Valleys, with a role of over 1700 pupils and 100 staff.  Bukonde Secondary School has approximately 600 pupils and 20 staff.  The schools have some obvious differences, but it was interesting to discover how much they also had in common.  

I was part of a team of Welsh teachers heading out to Uganda at the end of May. Entebbe is in the South-West of Uganda, and we had a long day of driving to get to Mbale, in the East of the country, almost at the Kenyan border.  The journey was fascinating, through the somehow organised chaos of Kampala, and the cultivated countryside populated by every colour building you can imaging, and cheerful, friendly people.  Many children chased our minibus shouting and waving, I soon got used to being called ‘Mzungu!’.  We stopped at the source of the Nile for lunch, and arrived in Mbale after dark, where we were staying in a compound of thatched huts run by a charity which looked after orphans and widows, and disabled adults.  Many of the people who looked after us during our stay would have suffered greatly without this organisation’s support.  

The next day was a Saturday so there were no pupils in school, but we were warmly welcomed by the Governors, teachers and PTA.  Some children had also wandered to school to see what was happening.  We were shown around the school, welcomed with a LOT of speeches, including ones we had to make ourselves, and taken to see where the school had been planting fruit trees to provide shade for the pupils and fruit for them to eat.  The project is in its early stages at the moment, but they hope to soon be able to see surplus fruit at the market if they can.   What struck me most on that first day was the school itself – although it was filled with such welcoming, friendy and determined people,  the buildings were piles of bricks with no glass in the windows or doors in the frames, there was no perimeter boundary so the school headteacher had to challenge anyone he didn’t recognise – the school as a big problem with villagers trespassing on their ground and grazing their animals there which is damaging the young trees.  

The real hard work began on Monday, when we began teaching in the school and training teachers using the materials that we had brought over.  Esther taught two lessons, one on population and one on climate change, which the pupils greatly enjoyed.  Annabel taught a lesson comparing Uganda and Wales in the First World War, and I taught a lesson on sustainable building in Wales and Uganda.  Lessons needed to have a link between the two countries, and the focus of the visit was sustainability and relationships.  

These lessons went very well, but made us realise the challenges facing the teachers in Uganda. Classes normally have 100 pupils in, and although there is a chronology to the curriculum, the age range in one class can be enormous.  Secondary education is not compulsory in Uganda, neither is it free, which means that pupils drop in and out of school as they can afford to.  I had a 16 year old in the Y7 class, and 23 year old doing O Levels.  In addition to this, pupils are kept down if they fail a year.  The only teaching apparatus available are very old blackboards and chalk.  From the back of the room it was extremely difficult to read the board.  

We also delivered some teacher training in ‘deepening thinking and questioning’.  Due to the nature of the classrooms and the size of the classes, teaching tends to be very knowledge based, and chalk and talk style.  We found when teaching our lessons, that pupils struggled to use their imaginations, to work in small groups and to evaluate their work.  We discussed with the teachers how they could do more of this in their lessons whilst still managing a class of 100 pupils in a room no bigger than my lab back at school! Many interesting and positive ideas were generated, and I am looking forward to hearing about how teaching develops in Bukonde over time.  Those teachers were truly inspirational.  

I had taken over things with which to start a science club, but was a little apprehensive when the teachers there seemed less than keen.  I don’t think I convinced them of the value of play and exploration rather than learning the facts.  Reluctant to leave behind a box of things that I suspected would gather dust, I ran an impromptu science club on the yard at breaktime, and was soon surrounded by a huge number of people solving string puzzles, catching bubbles and making a straw orchestra.  

On the last day I was allowed some time with the lower two classes, where I put together an impromptu science show on no particular theme, but with volunteers, lots of demos and whole class participation.  The laughter made others come to see what was happening and soon the room was bursting – the most enthusiastic participant was the history teacher Isaac, who insisted on a straw performance in front of everyone!  One of the science teachers was really getting into it by now so I left the rest of the stuff with him, along with lots of equipment free demos he’d seen, and I hope that something happens to foster the children’s natural curiosity.  

All too soon it was time to come home, but in that one short week I felt that I learned a lot about the struggle for education experienced by children and adults in Uganda, met many dedicated and enthusiastic teachers, and hopefully, left behind some kind of legacy.  

Teachers in Uganda struggle in many of the same ways: naughty children, children who need differentiation, bored children, learning styles, but they manage to perform in very difficult circumstances.  When we were in Uganda, most of the teachers had been on strike for a month in a pay dispute with the government.  Sound familiar?  Teachers in Uganda earn around £90 a month – not enough to meet the cost of living, so most of them have second and third jobs, and also work their own land to provide food for their families.  Fortunately the strike was resolved while we were there, although everyone seems to suspect that the government may not keep their word.  

I recommend that anyone try and experience the job that you do in a different country.  It will put a new perspective on things and give you a fresh insight.  I know I have been changed by the experience.  

Knowledge Swap 

David Price, science made simple

Earlier this year, Susanne Hammerschmid from the Austrian ScienceCenter-Network received ERASUMS funding to travel to the UK and observe some of our science busking routines and science shows.

As the conference busking that Susanne was originally going to observe was cancelled at the last minute (drat!), we had to have a quick re-jig of the schedule for her stay.  So she spent a day with me part busking training and part sorting out Science Made Simple show and busking kits.  And a day of bubbles show observation in a primary school in Bradford.

"During the training with David, I got to know a full range of activities. Opening the bags full of science busking stuff - tubes, strings, straws, balloons,... - and seeing David presenting them felt like opening a surprise bag to me. Those things are truly simple and catchy. That sort of things, once you have experienced them, you will never forget again
Besides that, watching the science shows David performed at a primary school was pure fun and - seeing all these pupils screaming, freaking out, being unable to stay sitting on their bottoms - a totally inspiring experience. In the end I went home with a good few new activities and presentation skills, but most notably in a creative, inspired mood. I cannot wait to develop activities and show elements on my own. So everyone who happens to cross my way during the next weeks (probably first of all my own kids) - watch out! You will be serving as a guinea pig for me."

For me it was wonderful to see Susanne so readily appreciate some of the inspirational qualities of shows and busking.  She was an absolute star throughout and it was a joy to work with Susanne over the two days of her visit. She told me about a really interesting project the network is running at the moment called Science Rooms, taking place in vacant retail premises in run down inner city environments: "The idea of the project is to offer temporary and low-threshold science communication activities in underserved districts of Vienna in order to reach people, who do not have access or who won’t just go and visit established science communication and educational institutions. These pop-up mini-science-centres are open for all age groups on 2.5 days a week, and offer interactive science communication activities for free. The knowledge rooms are hosted by a team of multi-lingual explainers, who support or advise visitors. We also try to make the knowledge rooms a kind of temporary hub for diverse local initiatives in the district. Sometimes they use the room for offering own activities; sometimes we link our thematic activities to their topics or develop joint activities together. Thus, we would also like to give impulses to the local community and become part of a wider network of initiatives working in different fields, such as cultural, social, health, scientific fields”

Maybe a great idea for community based, ubber accessible sci com in other areas as well? 

Ignite!'s Community Curiosity Labs and latest news from Lab_13

Rick Hall, Consultant - Ignite!

Members of the BIG science communication community who know me will also know that I get on my soapbox at the drop of a hat to argue that we need more activities that reinforce the idea that science is part of the cultural lives of young people, their families and communities, and not the preserve of special remote people in laboratories.  So here is an update on two projects for which we welcome BIG members’ comments, interest and involvement.

From our original idea of Science Pop-up Shops, which we ran in 2012 in a shopping mall in Nottingham, we have been able to extend the concept of public engagement in STEM subjects to new settings.  We took part in the first Fun Palaces weekend in October 2014, running science experiments and science busking in public squares and market places in Nottingham.  Fun Palaces were first dreamed up by Joan Littlewood for the community of East London as a way of bringing arts and sciences together; 'everyone an artist; everyone a scientist.' (an expression that has been revived recently in a different political campaign.)

Earlier this year we were able to develop further public science engagement activities as part of the first Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity.  Again our aim was to demonstrate to the general public, and to young people in particular, that science can be part of their cultural lives.

The public engagement through curiosity and creativity has now led us to develop a series of Community Curiosity Labs, where we spend time in local community spaces and work with scientists from different disciplines to develop projects prompted by the questions of children, their families and local communities.  We secured some initial support to run the first of these Community Curiosity Labs during the summer holidays from the Big Lottery Fund; and have subsequently successfully applied to the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics to run further labs in some of Nottingham's most deprived housing estates.

Those familiar with Ignite!'s Lab_13 programme in schools will recognise a similar pattern of engaging a Scientist in Residence to respond to the questions and curiosity of young people attracted to the lab, the difference being that the Community Curiosity Lab is located in the local boxing club, or community centre, or a corner of the branch library. As for Lab_13, I hope BIG members have followed the joy and excitement of the first Lab_13 in Africa at Agape Academy in Bosomtwe District in Ghana.  Lab_13 Ghana has now attracted Wellcome Trust support to open a second and third Lab_13, and to embed the concept with in-country support and governance.

And where next? Well, Lab_13 Koli (Finland), Lab_13 Abu Dhabi and Lab_13 Kazakhstan are all distinct possibilities, with Ethiopia not far behind.  Scientist in Residence for Lab_13 International anyone?

Bringing research to the surface

Priscilla Dibble, Research Media Ltd

Getting research to stand out can prove challenging. Non-specialist audiences may struggle to understand formal research communications and are therefore unable to keep abreast of scholarly and scientific developments. So how can the research community maximise the visibility, reach and impact of their research? The key is in creating engaging, accessible and digestible content. But, how can this be achieved?

There are various means of presenting your research but before deciding on your method of delivery, think about your branding and ensure that this, along with your messaging is consistent throughout. In addition, consider your target audience as this will determine the best approach to use. Here we share a few examples of the methods that can be used to boost the impact of your research.

Lay summaries - a short account of research targeted at a broad audience. An engaging lay summary, whether verbal or visual, has been proven to drive both readership and engagement with primary research articles.

Publications - there are many publications, such as journals and magazines that will publish your research. In order to reach your target audience and increase visibility and impact, ensure that you choose the right one for your research. If you wish to reach a specific audience only interested in a particular subject, publishing in a niche publication may be more suitable. To reach a broad audience, a publication which focuses on a variety of research topics will prove more effective.

Infographics - visual illustrations of information or data. It helps to explain a complex subject in an innovative, easy to understand and captivating way. Examples of some highly impactful infographics covering a variety of topics can be found HERE

Videos - animated videos are an effective means of simplifying complicated information and transforming it into an interesting and practical summary. Live-action videos also offer the opportunity to bring research to life. All video content can be placed on your website and social media channels such as YouTube, greatly increasing exposure and impact.

Microsites - distinct web page or small collection of pages which act as a separate component within an existing website. An invaluable way to raise the profile of a research project, they can also be used to enhance any offline activity.

PowerPoint Presentations - often overlooked, PowerPoint Presentations can really create impact. These can be as simple or as complex as required. They are easy to place on a website and distribute via email, helping to increase visibility.  SlideShare is a useful tool for enhancing and broadening your reach. 

Social media - don’t disregard social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Once you have chosen how to present your research, social media can be used as a powerful dissemination tool. 

There are so many ways that you can bring your research to the surface. Here at Research Media, we employ a wide variety of communication methods and techniques in order to transform research into engaging, accessible content and drive impact.


Champion the Researchers

Katie Haylor, Royal Academy of Engineering

Thousands of 11-14 year olds have learnt about engineering research as part of Champion the Researchers – an outreach project with five events, five films and one competition. And now thousands more can benefit from the project’s free classroom activities.

Key stage three pupils attended free one-day events at universities across the UK. Researchers from a variety of engineering disciplines explained, demonstrated and promoted what they do and why they do it, through presentations and pupil workshops. Smaller groups of the most engaged pupils returned to create a short film about their favourite researcher. Pupils storyboarded, filmed and edited their footage which featured probing questions about engineering and research. The five groups – one from each event – then competed to show their film to as many people as possible.

Ryburn Valley High School, triumphant attendees of the Leeds event, won the ‘Maximum Exposure’ award. They reached over 1300 people through group viewings in school and through the use of social media. They also sent their film out to the local community, to engage a wider audience with engineering and research.

You can find the student films, together with free events-inspired classroom activities here

The RAE-funded Ingenious project was devised and run by 4science, with the kind support of the University of Surrey, Cardiff University, University College London, the University of Leeds and the University of Southampton.

The Ultimate STEM Challenge for 11 to 14s is now open

BP has launched the second Ultimate STEM Challenge, a competition in partnership with the Science Museum and STEMNET. This year, students aged 11-14 across the UK are being challenged to use their Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths skills to develop energy efficient solutions to real-world challenges.

Students will have the chance to compete for prizes, including a cash prize of £500 to spend on science equipment or a field trip. The celebratory final event will take place during British Science Week at the Science Museum in London. To find out more click here
       
How to enter
•Teams of up to 4 students choose from one of three challenges: Streamlined Ships, Better Buildings or Trim Turbines.

•The teams will then need to create a short film or presentation showcasing their project. The challenges can be completed at a STEM club, in class or as an independent project.

Entries must be uploaded on the BP Educational Service (BPES) website www.bp.com/bpes   by 15 January 2016.

Support for schools
Teachers will be provided with teaching materials to launch the competition with their STEM club or class. This includes case studies, social media chats with BP scientists and engineers, and support from local STEM Ambassadors (subject to availability).

The Ultimate STEM Challenge aims to get young people excited about STEM and encourage them to continue studying STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers.  The UK faces a severe skills gap if it fails to increase the level of STEM participation from a young age.  According to EngineeringUK, each year, only half the number of engineers have the right qualifications to fill nearly two million job openings expected by 2020. 

The competition has been developed based on insights from the ground-breaking ‘Enterprising Science’ research that BP is conducting with its partners King’s College London and the Science Museum Group. The underlying King’s College London research shows that despite 70% of school children saying that they ‘learn interesting things in science’ and that ‘scientists make a difference in the world’, only around 15% ‘aspire to become a scientist.’
For more details on the competition and how to apply, click here 

What is randomness? Discover it by playing with “Random walks with pirate and parrot”

Aleksandra Aloric, Silvia Bartolucci and Barbara Bravi, Department of Mathematics, King's College London    

Random Walks with pirate and parrot is a playful and interactive learning tool to help a young audience understand scientific ideas through visualization. Technology-wise, we decided to develop a mobile phone app: the active engagement of the user one can obtain through apps' interactivity motivated this choice. We designed this project in collaboration with Sari Nusier, a student of informatics in our college and Design Science,  a science communication company. Also, none of this would be possible without the funding scheme by King's College Cultural Institute and NETADIS – a European Research Project. 

Then, how to explain what is a random walk in intuitive terms without mathematical formulas? Think about the trace left behind a drunkard on his way back home after partying: a so called “random walk” is what describes this process. The randomness in his walk can be seen in the casual choice of possible directions and of the length of his steps. Random walks are general processes that can be characterised in statistical terms. Although we cannot specify the destiny of a particular drunkard, we can analyse the average behaviour of a large number of them. Random walks represent, thus, an example of how large scale regularity can emerge out of random motions on a small scale. For instance, in molecular reactions inside cells there are fluctuations of this type and, interestingly, this phenomenon can originate a variety of visible patterns at the organism level, such as different traits. As a consequence, random walks provide also a tool to model and interpret biological variability. 

The user is accompanied through the two levels of this educational game by a strange couple, a pirate and a parrot, whose funny shapes come from the creative minds of Design Science. The user first competes with randomness in the attempt to lead the drunk pirate back to his ship. Next, he enters parrot feathers' cells and will play around its different colouration patterns. At each step, players learn some simple scientific explanation of what they see.
If you now want to play with the pirate and parrot download the app from the google store. Your feedback about the project is very valuable for us, so please do not hesitate to contact us! You can find the information out the project and the contact form in our website.

Want to do more to inspire the next wave of women engineers?

Amina Khalid, Women's Engineering Society (WES)

As part of our goal to get more girls into engineering, we at WES (Women’s Engineering Society) have launched a new initiative Sparxx www.sparxx.org.uk specifically for girls between 11 and 18. The aim of Sparxx is to provide ongoing support to girls who show an interest in CRESTA (Creativity, Engineering, Science, Technology and Art) by providing targeted stream of communication through Twitter,  Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and newsletters. 

We aim to feature all the latest CRESTA news, events competitions, freebies, DIYs, games and much more in order to inspire girls to create the future they are capable of. We are not planning to provide new content or any new activities, but instead to compile activities and information provided by you and just feed this to the girls in a way which interests them and allows them to get used to the idea that a career in engineering is a real possibility for THEM.

Please show your support for Sparxx by  following us on our various social media pages , forwarding our e-newsletters to schools and students in your networks and encouraging them to sign up.
 
We have some fantastic postcards for girls and would be happy to send them to you to distribute.

For further details, contact the Sparxx team.
 
      

Biology Week 2015 – Celebrate biosciences with the Royal Society of Biology

Biology Week is an annual celebration of life science with events all over the UK and beyond for everyone from children to professional scientists! It is a great opportunity to share your passion for biology as part of the biggest week in the life sciences calendar.

Now in its fourth year, Biology Week 2015 is rapidly approaching, running from the 10th - 18th October. With a series of events including science festivals, Big Biology Days, debates, lectures and activities occurring throughout the UK, there is plenty to get involved with. 

The great thing about Biology Week is that absolutely anyone can be a part of it and there are no limits to the type of activity or area of life sciences you want to explore.

So far, there are over 50 events due to take place during the packed nine day period. From dinosaur digs, to wildlife walks, from debates to evenings of music, there is something for everybody.

If you’re running an event and would like to integrate as part of Biology Week, please get in touch, as we can help you to promote.

Educational involvement is an integral part of Biology Week, aiming to inspire and enthuse even the youngest of budding biologists. With a variety of quizzes for different ages, created in partnership with our Member Organisations, students can put their science knowledge to the test. There are plenty of other resources available online, as well as competitions to enter with prizes to be won.

Online participation is also key to the success of Biology Week; with an online survey helping us to crown the Favourite UK Insect – winner to be announced shortly – to citizen science projects, with the Starling Murmuration Survey, Flying Ant Survey and spider identification app.

Please let us know what you get up to in Biology Week 2015 via email, Facebook or Twitter using #BiologyWeek.

British Science Week is back!

Elspeth Houlding, British Science Association

British Science Week is taking place on 11- 20 March and will feature fascinating, engaging events and activities across the UK for all ages!
 
In 2015, over 5000 events and activities took place nationwide, with everyone from children to research scientists got involved in everything from policy debates to science fairs and witnessing the solar eclipse.
 
Anyone can organise an event or activity, and the British Science Association helps organisers plan by providing free activity and support resources.
 
We will soon be revealing the how you can apply for our various grants, and our exciting citizen science project, so keep an eye on our website and Twitter @ScienceWeekUK.

Inspire thousands of future scientists and engineers: play your part in The Big Bang Fair 2016!

The Big Bang Fair is calling for companies, activity providers, education institutions and show organisers to play their part in next year’s Fair that takes place at the NEC in Birmingham from 16-19 March 2016.

Celebrating its eighth year in 2016, The Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair brings together the STEM community in a collective effort to inspire over 55,000 young people and 12,000 of their teachers and parents across four days each March. 

Camilla Barker, Head of The Big Bang Fair at EngineeringUK said, “The Big Bang Fair is a unique opportunity to inspire thousands of young people to pursue a career in science or engineering. We want The Fair to offer those young people the biggest and best range of hands-on STEM activities, interactive stands, workshops, theatre shows, busking and competition showcases. We’d love to hear from organisations that have worked with us before or are new to the Big Bang Fair and would like to play their part.”

Around 200 organisations from across industry, education and the third sector work together as part of the Big Bang Fair each year to bring alive science, technology, engineering and maths and show young people (aged 7-19) the exciting and rewarding opportunities out there for those with the right experience and qualifications. 

For more information and to express an interest in playing a part in The Big Bang Fair 2016 click here.


BIG PEOPLE: Ben Craven

Job: Various

A typical day at work consists of I have two-and-a-half jobs so there's no typical day. Some of my best days are at Glasgow School of Art where I teach Product Design Engineering. This usually involves spending all day in a studio or workshop with a bunch of clever and keen students, making stuff. My other day job is teaching maths for the Open University. The OU's a wonderful institution and I'm proud to work for it, but the work largely consists of sitting at home marking piles of assignments. I also do some freelance science communication work which varies from writing to programming to making.

What got you into this career? By chance. In 1999, shortly after I'd decided that I didn't want to be an academic any more, I accidentally discovered that they were building a hands-on science centre in Glasgow. I've always enjoyed making stuff and communicating the things I love, so I asked if there were any jobs going, and to my joy and lasting surprise I got a job on the exhibition development team.

What is the best thing about your job? The opportunities to be creative, the students I teach (well, some of them!), very few fixed hours, and the spirit of generosity amongst the science communication community. 

... and the worst? The reader is referred to "What talents would you like to possess?".

What is your favourite meal? That would change according to circumstances. However, if I was told that I'd have to dine off good bread, cheese, salad, and olive oil for the rest of my life, I wouldn't be unduly disappointed.

What is your favourite smell? So many to choose from!  Cumin. Coffee (before they ruin it by making a drink with it). The first lungful in a garden on a summer's morning when it's been raining overnight.  A well-used tent groundsheet. An unexpected waft of bog myrtle.

What talents do you possess? I'm creative and curious, and can often look at things in unusual ways. I'm good with my hands, good with words, and adequate at maths. I'm uncannily good at spotting typos. If Facebook is representative of humanity, it appears that I'm world-class at Boggle.

What talents would you like to possess? Please could I have even a tiny bit of the get-out-there-and-do-it grant-getting selling-yourself confidence that so many people in BIG have? It's a major frustration that I end up doing nearly all of my creative projects for my own entertainment. 

Which living person do you most admire and why? I don't do heroes because they often turn out to have feet of clay. However, recently my eye has been caught by the lack of grandeur shown by Jeremy Corbyn, the Pope, and ex-president Jose Mujica of Uruguay.

Most beautiful place on earth? The north-west Highlands of Scotland.

What is your Motto for life? Life: always remember that the other person might be right and you might be wrong.
Life: treat everyone as they come, regardless of reputation or status.
Workshop: holding the workpiece properly is 95% of the battle.
Workshop: doing operations in the right order is the other 95% of the battle.


With best wishes from the BIG Executive 2015-16:

James Piercy, Chair
Bridget Holligan, Vice Chair
Lucy Moorcraft, Treasurer
Ben Craven, Secretary
Doo Spalding, Ordinary Member
James Soper, Ordinary Member
Rachel Mason, Event Organiser
and Sarah Vining, Administrator
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