The BSI was delighted to return to Birmingham again for the 2015 Big Bang Fair. This annual national celebration of science and engineering aims to inspire and enthuse young people to study science. The BSI was delighted to be an official sponsor of this event, which saw almost 80,000 visitors through the doors over the course of the four days.
We ran our “Allergy Busters” stand, looking at the science behind allergies and asthma. This certainly proved popular with the crowds and the kids delighted in crawling through our giant model nose, were insightful in telling us how allergies affected their lives, were amazed by the views of allergens such as pollen grains down the microscopes and enjoyed a competitive edge by taking part in our peak-flow lungs function tests.
Huge thanks goes to the BSI army of volunteers who put great energy, enthusiasm and knowledge into engaging with the thousands of visitors who came to our stand.
Our volunteers were:
Cecelia Andersson, Gaynor Campbell, Charlotte Cheadle, Pedro Costa del Amo, Lewis Clarke, John Curnow, Scott Davies, Mike Doenhoff, Ronan Egan, Claudia Efstathiou, Aigli Evryviadou, David Gardner, Sarah Goddard, Aleks Guvenel, Emily Halford, Eleanor Hendy, Jua Iwasaki, Pippa Kennedy, Luke Lazarou, Felicity Lumb, Clare Marriott, Becca McLean, Laura Morton, Emma Rathbone, Aimee Rhodes, Corinna Schnoeller, Nathalie Steinthal, Ben Wiggins.
That’s enough from me for now but below you can read more about our volunteers’ perspectives and thoughts of the event.
Science Communication Manager
What did out volunteers think of the day?
Charlotte Cheadle, MSc student, King's College London
As a MSc student, this was my first public engagement event, although I have been planning to get involved for a while. Arriving at the NEC it is overwhelming to see how many companies and organisations are involved in this event, from the NHS, to engineering companies to pharmaceuticals. I was a little apprehensive as to how the children would react to our stall of microscopes, peak flow meters and a big nose! Would they be at all interested in immunology? However, this certainly should not have been a concern. Children walking past the stand were captivated by the big nose and many immediately crawled through, all the while asking questions about the cells and allergens they found within. Once through the nose they went straight for the microscopes. The most rewarding aspect of the stand, for me, was when many children, having looked down the microscopes, were amazed that they could see the allergens that cause themselves or people they know to develop hay fever. Many just exclaimed “wow”!
Having spent half of the day manning the microscopes or big nose, the remaining time was spent with the peak flow meters. It is both amusing and intimidating being surrounded by 10 to 20 children, all wanting to find out how good their lung function is, and all trying desperately to beat their friends’ scores. This activity definitely brought out their competitive side.
This experience has helped to build my confidence in interacting with young people and reinforced how important it is that we engage children in science. I feel our aim of creating an interest and introducing young adults to the idea of Science as a career was well and truly met. I definitely plan to come back next year to do it all over again!
This experience has helped to build my confidence in interacting with young people ... I definitely plan to come back next year to do it all over again!
Scott Davies, First year PhD student, University of Birmingham
As a young scientist, I am keen to pursue future endeavours in science communication, as I enjoy the opportunity to help people understand popular aspects of science and dispel any fears they have. As my previous experience in this field was limited, mostly composed of talking to my parents, I volunteered for the Big Bang fair. In particular, I decided to volunteer with BSI as I have witnessed the quality of their outreach resources first-hand both at annual conferences and through their website. Upon arriving at their stall, it was fantastic to see all activities they’d provided, including a giant nose, microscopes and peak-flow meters. It was time to throw on a blue T-shirt and represent the BSI!
One of the most surprising rewards from volunteering was how much I learned from the stand itself. This year’s stand concerned allergies and asthma, of which my knowledge was restricted. However, gaining information from the BSI and preparing to pass on that information to children was a perfect to way to learn about the topic myself. The most rewarding aspect of the whole the experience was the satisfaction of seeing how much the kids learned from each activity. Although they found a lot of the facts about nasal goblet cells and mucous hard to swallow (pardon the pun), almost every pupil was keen to divulge their current knowledge, but also excited to learn even more about the roles of head-banging, ciliated epithelial cells. Furthermore, it was useful to show whole classes the causes of allergies in the form of 'Giant Microbes', followed by a more hands-on experience using microscopes. It was also interesting to witness real-time collection of data, watching students measure their peak expiratory flow. Both myself, the students and teachers, smug after achieving the highest value, were able to see the correlation between lung size and height, as well as seeing the effects of asthma (after we began to recruit asthmatics to the peak-flow meter stand).
Overall, it was fantastic to be involved with the Big Bang fair, as it gave me a valuable insight into the ways of communicating Science to young, inspired minds. I also gained vital experience in successfully working as part of a team of people, despite not knowing everyone very well. And it never gets tiring racing kids through the nostrils of a giant nose, reaching the finish line composed of knitted olfactory neurones.
I get to show potential budding scientists how exciting my work can be, but at the same time I am constantly improving my communication skills and having to think on my feet.
Becca McLean, Second year PhD student at Moredun Research Institute, Edinburgh
As a PhD student I, am always looking at ways to improve my scientific communication skills. Volunteering at public engagement events seemed like the best, most rewarding way to do this. I love a challenge; figuring out different ways to explain complicated concepts is something I really enjoy doing.
Having never been to the NEC in Birmingham before I was amazed at how large it was. The Big Bang Fair had a huge range of stands, each with their own unique centre piece to engage guests with their stand. However, I think the giant nose the BSI had on their stand topped them all - enticing people of all ages to come and ask questions. There was a totally different vibe across the two days I volunteered. The first day brought the challenge of talking with groups of school children with varying knowledge about allergies and asthma. Some of the questions they came out with were fantastic – they really made me have to think! The following day was ‘Family Day’ meaning I got to speak with small groups (usually parents with their children). It was fantastic to see how enthusiastic parents are - encouraging their children to engage with all the different parts of the BSI’s stand, asking and answering questions.
For me volunteering is a really rewarding experience; I get to show potential budding scientists how exciting my work can be, but at the same time I am constantly improving my communication skills and having to think on my feet. Over these two days I also met some brilliant like-minded people who I hope I will see again at other volunteering events for the BSI.
I was able to work alongside a mixed variety of academics, clinical scientists, post-docs, PhDs and master’s students. These highly beneficial interactions would not have occurred under normal circumstances.
Ronan Egan, Final year BSc. Human Biosciences. The University of Northampton
As a final year Human Biosciences undergraduate, I have a deep admiration for the complexity of the immune system. Deciding to volunteer for the British Society for Immunology allowed me to share this passion in the hope of inspiring the next generation of scientists. I am currently applying for PhDs in the general areas of cell signalling, inflammation and infection and an opportunity such as this is frequently mentioned in interviews. I am an active STEM ambassador and this allows me to regularly perform microbiology themed workshops to primary-school children, however with The Big Bang I knew I’d be able to challenge myself with larger audience sizes.
Over two days, I gained much in terms of communication and interpersonal skills, as well as improving my own comprehension of the subject matter. I was able to work alongside a mixed variety of academics, clinical scientists, post-docs, PhDs and master’s students. These highly beneficial interactions would not have occurred under normal circumstances. Indeed, as I am not an immunologist by training I was reliant on my own knowledge gathered from a passion for immunology and cell biology. For me, the opportunity to share this with others is second to none.
The event itself was hard-work, however all was made worthwhile by seeing children’s faces light up upon telling them of APCs, phagocytosis and mechanisms of allergy, as well as enabling them to look at microscope slides hands-on. Plus a great hotel room was provided with all-you-can-eat breakfast. As I mentioned, I am being asked to speak of my extracurricular and interpersonal experiences during interviews and being able to discuss my role at The Big Bang for the BSI has received praise. We were well looked after at the event, with an endless supply of stalls to visit during breaks. I would highly recommend taking on an opportunity such as this.