BIG e-news: Winter 2016 edition - Issue 34 

A very Happy New Year to one and all! The festive season is now well and truly behind us and we look forward to other exciting things such as the Little Event taking place next week. There are a handful of places left so if you know an early career STEM-communicator who would benefit from the training, encourage them to register now

One of the things the BIG Exec is keen to look at this year is how we support our growing number of freelance members. Following on from a popular session at last year's BIG Event, I agreed to look at organising a Skills Day specifically for Freelancers, tackling issues such as marketing, charging, contracts, accounting, self assessment and time management. As a freelancer myself though, I wonder how many of you would willingly give up your time to attend a training day which equates to a day in loss of income?  I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this and maybe together we can shape something that would hugely benefit your self development in 2016.

Sarah Vining, Administrator

Announcing the 2016 BIG Event 20th –22nd July 

Rachel Mason

One of the best things about the BIG Event, according to many of you, is that it moves around. It gives you that excuse you’ve been looking for to go and have a butchers at that science centre, museum (or something) that you’ve been meaning to drop in on but never actually have. And lots of you love the chance to plan your own holidays round your BIG development needs.

So we’re heading to Belfast this summer. Let’s go to W5 (pictured above). All the folks I’ve spoken to who have been to the W5 Science Centre say what a fab place it is; an excellent place for the BIG Event. And those that haven’t been say ‘ah, I’ve been looking for a reason to be passing there.  I’ve heard it’s fab.’ Now’s your big (ha) chance.

Reasons to go to W5 for the BIG Event this summer:

  • A great science engagement venue with lots of space (indoors and out)
  • A vibrant science communication field, keen to host and contribute to a BIG muster 
  • A city location with lots nearby – great places to eat, meet, museums and sites to see
  • Cheap to get to – Belfast’s airports serve all the places you could ever hope to fly from at a VERY LOW COST

W5 is only ten mins taxi trundle from Belfast City Airport and the place is small and friendly enough that you’d be hard pressed to get out of departures without hooking up with another BIG person to share your taxi with. They could help carry all that stuff you like to bring. Visit Belfast has given us lots of support already and are making plans to help BIG-Event-goers stay on in Northern Ireland for their hols – more on that later.

You can decide what sessions to go to later (you know they’ll be right up your street and if they’re not, propose your own), but If you fancy adding ‘efficiency’ to your list of new year’s resolutions, then why not start by grabbing a cheap flight now from just £25 with FlyBe, EasyJet or RyanAir.

The call for session proposals will open soon so keep an eye out for that in your inboxes. Any questions about what the venue can take, email me

How to Train Researchers Workshop: Reflections from University of Birmingham’s Pay-it-Fwd cohort! 

Caroline Gillett, University of Birmingham 

The University was recently awarded the RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund to create momentum for culture change around PE at the institution. Our bid placed a clear emphasis on training and workshops for our researchers and as part of this I’ve decided to pilot a small-scale project that was a little different. Having already been impressed by the Little Event 2014, when I heard about the How to Train Researchers Workshop in Newcastle I knew I wanted to go, but I wanted to give others the opportunity to come too! This is how the ‘Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement Programme’ was born. 

A callout for five researchers enthusiastic about PE was sent out across the University and we received lots of interest, making it a hard task for the University’s Public Engagement with Research Committee (PERC) to select our cohort. However, I am really happy with the researchers we selected as together they span the breadth of our University’s research disciplines from arts and humanities through to social, medical, physical and life sciences.

Also joining us on this venture is colleague and sci-comm maverick Jon Wood whose involvement with the pilot has been real asset thanks to his vast PE experience and can-do attitude. The Pay-it-Forward programme has two stages.:

  • Stage 1: Training - All seven of us got trained at the BIG How to Train Researchers Workshop!
  • Stage 2: Paying-it-Fwd - Our researchers will bring back the activities and training learned to together develop a practical public engagement workshop for UoB staff and students in early 2016, putting the training they have received at the BIG workshop in to real world practice and paying-it-forward to fellow colleagues and students.

Personally, I found the training day incredibly useful and it was a fantastic opportunity to meet other practitioners. More importantly though here’s what our researchers had to say:

Ruth Wareham: “I approached the BIG event with a modicum of trepidation; as someone whose science education ended some time ago, and with a background firmly rooted in the arts and humanities, I wasn’t entirely sure how well I’d fit in with a room full of self-professed ‘STEM Communicators’!  I needn’t have worried - the event was informative, interesting and lots of fun. Perhaps more importantly, all of the activities suggested could be used in a range of disciplinary contexts. The presenters had clearly thought carefully about the sessions and adapted them to suit the experience level and needs of the delegates.”

Elizabeth Randall: “I came to the BIG workshop with no experience of training researchers in public engagement...I felt somewhat lacking in confidence at the start of the day but after talking to a number of people about what makes a good trainer I now feel well-equipped to design and deliver a workshop to researchers at my university.

Sophie Cox: “At the start of the training session I put myself at the bottom of the cohort when asked our levels of confidence to train others in public engagement. By lunch I’d taken some steps forward and at the end of the day I’d leapfrogged my way to the top and was bursting with enthusiasm to get started with bringing loads of inspiring ideas back to the University" 

Katherine Eales: “As a doctoral researcher I am still at an early stage in my career and so it was great to get the opportunity to network with such a diverse range of experienced PE communicators. I also am thankful for the Pay-it-Forward scheme as I got to meet and work with some great and diverse researchers from UoB whom I wouldn’t necessarily have got to engage with! I am really looking forward to using the skills I gained at the BIG workshop to develop and deliver our introductory workshop to a wide range of graduate and early career researchers!

So there you have it! To find out how we get on in Stage 2 check out our blog and follow us on Twitter @UOBengage. Big thanks to BIG, all those who shared tips and tricks at the event and the others we met there. 

The SHAPE Project

Hephzi Angela Tagoe 

In early 2015, GhScientific, an organisation promoting public engagement with science received a grant from the Wellcome Trust to run the SHAPE project in Ghana. SHAPE is an acronym which stands for Shaping Healthy Attitudes and Protecting the Environment. 

The project is connecting high school students with scientists (Mentors) and university students (STEM Ambassadors) to research on the impacts of pollutants in their environment on community health and to further design social innovative solutions to resolve them. 16 public schools have been selected to partake in the project from which 8 teams have been formed. To better prepare the teams for the task ahead, three different workshops were organised for them covering various topics such as idea generation, team work, goal setting, time management, presentation skills, project management and research skills. The workshops were led by a team of 5 volunteers from google who did a great job engaging both the students, ambassadors and their teachers.  

SHAPE was officially launched on 2nd December 2015 where a summary documentary of the project was unveiled. The video is available on the project page, and you may also follow the project diary via the page. 

By carrying out this project, associated training programs and having an active role for the high school pupils, university students, Scientists, professionals in the environmental and health sector and the community, we are aiming to encourage a culture of engaging the public with science.

Findings from the project will be communicated to the larger community through open public events, the media and online publications. We have already presented preliminary data on public engagement with science in Ghana at a recent West African Research and Innovation Management Association (WARIMA) conference on the topic “Public Engagement as a means of promoting research: A case of the Wellcome Trust funded SHAPE project”. This was also presented at the annual meeting of the Ghana Science Association. A final report of findings from the project will be published and made available in the public domain. 

It’s an interesting time for science in Ghana at present with various STEM organisations springing up and a number of them making the effort to engage primarily with schools. Through this project we are hoping to encourage universities and researchers to engage with the public. The Ghana Science Association have bought into the idea and have partnered to provide resource and personnel to support the project which is great. They have since expressed an interest in getting expert advice and assistance on how best the association can engage with the Ghanaian public so if anyone is interested in taking up the mantle, please get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with their president.  

We welcome any comments, suggestions, feedback and support on SHAPE so do feel free to get in touch.

 Lightyear Foundation to paint a  science-inspired mural in Ghana

 Jo Finn

 In January 2016, a team of Lightyear  Foundation volunteers will paint a science-  inspired mural at Solid Hope school in Kumasi,  Ghana. The volunteers, including science  graduates, teachers and artists, will work with  Ghanaian scientists and local children to design  and install a scientific mural in a new  educational lab space due to open at the end of  January. The mural will be designed in  collaboration with Solid Hope students,  incorporating scientific topics suggested by the children themselves. The mural will act as a visual stimulation to engage Ghanaian children with science.

The mural at Solid Hope is just one element of Lightyear Foundation’s Lab_13 Ghana programme which kicked off with a pilot project in 2015. Based on a successful science engagement model, established in the UK by Ignite!, Lab_13 Ghana is a dedicated space in a school, managed by young people for young people. Led by a student committee and guided by local and international scientists-in-residence, practical activities stem from the pupils’ enquiries. Real questions are asked by inquisitive minds and answered by scientists.

Lab_13 Ghana has already empowered thousands of students to make their own scientific discoveries. Within six months, the pilot project exceeded expectations and is already seeing the local community take ownership and responsibility for its long-term sustainability. 

Lightyear Foundation believes that every child should have the opportunity to unlock their potential, solve problems and engage with science. Ghana, like many sub-Saharan African nations, faces enormous challenges, but is full of potential - the country's natural resources can bring prosperity, but unless the rising generation of young scientists and engineers are equipped with the skills and opportunities to fulfill their natural talents, Ghana will be left behind.

There is an urgency to discover, reveal and develop the innate talent of young people through science, technology, engineering and maths. To do that African schools need more spaces where children’s encounters with science can be practical and hands-on.

In addition to the science mural, the Lightyear Foundation volunteers will be running a range of hands-on science workshops including a DIY solar project, teaching children to build their own solar panels, and a sensory science workshop for children with disabilities.

Lightyear Foundation relies on donations, sponsorship and volunteers to run these inspiring projects. 

The Crunch

Priya Barde

The Crunch is a brand new initiative by the Wellcome Trust, which aims to inspire people in the UK to consider the connections between food, our health and our planet, with an exciting year of activities, experiences and discussions for schools, families and anyone who loves food and drink.

Working with a network of commissioned partners, Wellcome Trust will be delivering free engaging experiences to people all over the UK throughout 2016.  Activities include:

  • Over 33,000 experiment kits produced, with every school and FE college in the UK receiving one
  • Interactive experiences for families, aiming to reach over 100,000 people, both face-to-face and digitally
  • Interactive dialogue sessions, combining theatre and in-depth discussion
  • Development of a network of ambassadors across the UK, who will be empowered to deliver more grassroots activity.
  • Resources will be available for anyone to use through creative commons.

Through The Crunch, we want to help people think about how our food, our health and our planet are all interconnected. By examining our relationships with food, and exploring cutting edge research, we can think about how we can eat in ways that can keep our planet and ourselves healthy.

The Wellcome Trust has commissioned a range of partners to deliver this ambitious project, including Aardman, The Association for Science and Discovery Centres, At-Bristol, Blast, Eden Project, Hopkins Van Mil, Itineris, Look Left Look Right, Opinion Leader, Pearson Education, SciChem, Sustain, Theatre of Debate, University of Reading and University of the West of England.

You can get involved in The Crunch now by signing up to become an Ambassador where you can kick-start conversations about our food, our health and our planet and get fantastic free resources to use in your community.

Science made simple branches out in the South of England

Dr Leanne Gunn

Following a highly successful launch event in November, the UK’s leading science show company, science made simple are proud to announce the opening of their brand new branch. Thanks to a partnership with The Open University, science made simple are now bringing science to life from their new location in Milton Keynes and are looking forward to inspiring many more of the next generation of scientists and engineers.

They celebrated the launch the way they do everything else: with science! This involved spinning cava above their heads using centripetal force, creating enormous bubbles, and performing a live ultrasound scan upon the guests.

Dr Arlëne Hunter, Head of the Environment, Earth and Ecosystems Department at The Open University, where the new science made simple branch is based, opened the event and welcomed the guests, including Open University staff, local teachers and educators. 

Wendy Sadler, founding director of science made simple then explained the company’s mission and history. She said “I am so proud to see the opening of our latest branch. It is our mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and now we can spread our passion for science to even more people”.

Manager of the new South of England branch, Dr Leanne Gunn, gave an impassioned speech about her journey from starting her studies in volcanology, to where she is now, and her inspiring vision for science made simple: South of England to be a hub for science communication. Leanne spoke about hoping to replicate the success and ethos of science made simple headquarters in Cardiff in the new location at The Open University.

There followed a showcase of some of science made simple’s most popular demonstrations by presenter Becky Holmes, including a live ultrasound scan on members of the audience, making giant and cube-shaped bubbles, and generating sound with a wine glass and a blowtorch. The office was declared officially open when Becky used centripetal force to spin cava around her head in a full circle, to the general amazement of the assembled guests.

The evening concluded with a prize draw and goody bags of science demonstrations, so that everyone could help to spread a passion for science. 

Commenting on social media after the event, local home educator Azimi Anionu said, “Impressive enthusiasm for an evening science ‘class’, shows your passion for what you do”. 

Ionic Magazine

Dr Yalda Javadi, Founder

In January 2016, the next issue of Ionic Magazine, a free science communication platform where scientific writing meets artistic expression, is released. This issue is focused on developments in 3D printing - an area in science that is opening up so many exciting possibilities.

Dr Xavier Roeseler, the Editor, and I shortlisted 9 breakthroughs in 3D printing for a team of science writers to summarise in an accessible way, before assigning them to artists to portray their perspective and bring a new layer to the scientific story.

This is the seventh edition of the magazine. The previous issue was in collaboration with The Royal Society of Chemistry as part of their 2014 year of chemistry and art. 

I created Ionic Magazine as a way to visually express modern day scientific breakthroughs and bridge the gap between science and art. The two subject matters are often considered to be poles apart. Science is about truth, about following rules and laws that help answer fundamental rational questions, while art invokes emotional connections through expression, impressions, concepts and creations. Yet both create a sense of mystery, both are matched when it comes to skill, creativity and impact. The beauty and inspiration involved in scientific breakthroughs can parallel the genius involved in creating art.

Each issue is a stunning and stimulating collaboration of two traditionally contrasting worlds. Take a look and get in touch if you’re interested in contributing.

Volunteering at 2015’s Manchester Science Festival 

Penelope Hill

Each year, volunteers join the Manchester Science Festival Team to support the delivery of the Festival. And we couldn’t do it without them. 

My role within the Manchester Science Festival team is to recruit volunteers and ensure that the volunteer programme runs smoothly in the run-up to and during the Festival. It is absolutely one of my favourite parts of my role. 

For me, and the rest of the Manchester Science Festival team, our volunteers are the public faces of Manchester Science Festival. At the Museum of Science and Industry, the home of Manchester Science Festival, the volunteers are sometimes the first people that our visitors see and meet as they arrive at the museum. Their friendly smiling faces (in Festival branded t-shirts, of course) make them the ambassadors of the Festival, our public representatives. 

This year’s volunteer cohort consisted of 70 volunteers who contributed over 1,400 hours of their time to the Festival at events across Greater Manchester. Having our volunteers at events around the city helps to create some consistency for our audiences, letting them know that the event they are attending is part of Manchester Science Festival. This is especially important for us as a city-wide festival, with venues that people would not normally associate with science, the Festival or the museum. 

The volunteers also see a number of events that we might not get to see in the course of the Festival, interact with members of the public as we spend time behind the scenes, and find out more about how our audiences feel about the Festival. Their insight in this regard is priceless, especially with over 150 events and activities in the Festival programme. 

The Manchester Science Festival sits within the Museum of Science and Industry’s Contemporary Science Department and we are lucky to be able to offer our volunteers opportunities outside of the Festival, keeping them engaged with what we do and developing an on-going relationship with them over the year. For me, this is a valuable way to keep talking to our volunteers year round and so that we begin to integrate the Festival volunteers with our year-round museum volunteers. 

The volunteers, as a group, have the opportunity to develop skills they already have or learn new ones. For example, one volunteer wanted to gain experience in customer service and interacting with members of the public. For others, it is an opportunity to participate in hands-on activities and to see some of the Festival’s shows for free, even when they were sold out. And for some it is a sociable opportunity to meet new, likeminded people and contribute their time to their local community. 

Our volunteer programme is something that we are very proud of and we are looking forward to working with our volunteers next year. 

Manchester Science Festival will take place from 20th – 30th October 2016. Recruitment for volunteers will take place from March next year and more details can be found here.

BioMedia Meltdown Project

Ross Ziegelmeier, The Linnean Society of London

The BioMedia Meltdown Competition is a John Lyon’s Charity funded pilot project that seeks to engage KS3 students with natural history through the use of creative media. The project is available for all schools and students in the areas of Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham.

The 2015 BioMedia Meltdown competition got off to a roaring start with the Sabre-Toothed tiger sculpturing workshops, Loan Kits and CPD sessions that reached 692 students. The BioMedia Meltdown team are looking forward to displaying all the entries at the celebration evening on the 4th of March 2016.

The 2016 BioMedia Meltdown competition will be launch on the 1st of March 2016 till the 31st of May 2016 and will focus on the National Curriculum KS3 topics of ecosystems. Entries will be accepted in a variety of media (e.g. video, blog, poem, story, photo, and painting) that address the big ideas from ecosystems. First place prize will receive a Keeper for a Day Experience at ZSL London Zoo.

Free resources such as Loan Kits, Workshops and CPD sessions have been developed to help both science teachers and students acquire the necessary skills to interpret science through creative media. These KS3 resources are available to be booked and will be delivered at schools from 1st of March 2016 till the 31st of May 2016. For any further questions or booking queries please contact me.

 BIG People: Selwyn van Zeller

 Job: I am continually developing Science in a  Suitcase and Maths in a Suitcase and taking  them into schools, I am passionate about hands  on exhibits and the role of the enabler.

 A typical day at work consist of... I wonder  if all freelancers have a split personality? I  have! I am usually quiet and introverted at  home in the “shed” dealing with admin,  marketing, making and mending or just playing with ideas. My workshop is packed with potential exhibits and props waiting for their time, waiting to catch my eye. It would be simpler to have a list of ideas but my brain doesn’t work like that! A typical home based day has to include other activities that can often take priority like washing, emptying the dishwasher, and cooking – I have always been the main cook and bottle washer making sure the family, and I, are fed.

Or I am a showman, in a school with either Maths in a Suitcase or Science in a Suitcase. My typical day when I am visiting schools involves travelling to the school in the first place. I like to arrive by 7.45am where I take over the hall, a load of tables and transform it into the school’s own science or maths centre. Class by class then visit. Each session includes a short presentation with demos tailored to each class’s particular needs before allowing the children/ students free rein to explore/ to play/ to investigate etc with 35-40 exhibits. My role then changes from presenter to enabler. If I am in a school for two days and I am able to leave everything set up overnight, I will stay on and provide a free parents’ session – I like to talk to grownups once in a while.

What got you into this career? Being in the right place at the right time. That was 1988, being offered a casual enabler job at the old Birmingham Science Museum to work with the Light on Science project. I was there at a critical time – when they hosted the second Fabricators’ Conference, where I met all sorts of influential people like Dan Goldwater, Steve Pizzey, Francis Evans – even our friend Ian Russell who was showing off all the different things you could do with pop bottles! A couple of years later and for the next seven years I was managing Light on Science. 

In the late 1990s I was aware that however popular science centres were, the number of schools that accessed science centres was and still is relatively small. I decided to set up my own travelling versions. Maths Year 2000 allowed me to put my toe in the water and I have never looked back. A lot of my business is word of mouth, some can be traced back to those early days. It also coincided with having a young family so was able to take more of a share in all that homey stuff.

What is the best thing about your job? If I am not in a school, then I am at home. I like tinkering - at heart I am a “bloke in a shed”. And I can listen to Radio 4. When I am in schools, it’s the conversations I have with children, their laughter, being thanked at the end of the day. 

... and the worst? The drive home can be the pits, like the other Friday when I spent a couple of hours in a jam outside of Winchester! Though do get to listen to Radio 4 in the car.

What is your favourite meal? Good fish and chips, (double dipped), is still up there, but I love cooking and eating particularly Mediterranean/middle eastern cuisine, so it has to be afelia served with moujentra, and olives. 

What is your favourite smell? Smells produced while cooking … anticipation

What talents do you possess? I like to think that I am creative. I am not a scientist or mathematician as such but I am a good enabler, able to help other people to use their knowledge to lead them to an explanation or conclusion, even to enjoy original thought. 

What talents would you like to possess? I would like to be able to read and write easily, I am not dyslexic enough to be dyslexic, but to be able to read without falling asleep three pages into a book would be wonderful!

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life? James P “Sully” Sullivan from Monsters Inc. If I am not allowed a cartoon character then it would be Jason Alexander aka George from Seinfeld – I share all his anxieties.

Which living person do you most admire and why? Once over it might have been Rolf Harris! I’ll play safe and stick with the likes of David Attenborough – he’s an all round good egg, did a lot for TV and comedy in the early days quite apart from all the natural world stuff. 

Most beautiful place on earth? By the sea, anywhere. When I first moved to Sydney and I was a bit homesick (and we are going back to the early 70s when you had to make an appointment to make an overseas call) I would go to the sea at Bondi and just stare at the waves and feel connected to home. I can still get that feeling. 

What is your Motto for life? Get on with it! (in your own time)

With best wishes from the BIG Executive Committee 2015/16…

James Piercy, Chair

Bridget Holligan, Vice Chair

Lucy Moorcraft, Treasurer

Ben Craven, Secretary

James Soper, General Member

Doo Spalding, General Member

Rachel Mason, Event Organiser

and Sarah Vining, Administrator

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