BIG Event 2017

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By Becca Smithers

From 19th-21st July science communicators from the UK and beyond gathered at the Centre for Life in Newcastle to attend the BIG Event, a conference for STEM communicators. Not only would I be attending BIG Event 2017, I would also be presenting a session about how to write blogs as a form of science communication.



The tone of the BIG Event was set very well by the ridiculously complex BIG Mingle where you are placed in groups and have five minutes to get to know everyone before rotating to another group. In this 45 minute mingling session you never met the same person twice! It really helped to highlight the diversity of the attendees, there were science communicators who were freelancers and others who worked for small organisations, museums, science centres and universities. Delegates had come as far as Thailand to attend this event, which shows it really must be worth the journey!

After the BIG Mingle we were sent off to our first sessions. I attended a stunning planetarium display of a project by Northumbria University called Imagining the Sun. This project incorporates stunning visuals, poetry, music, and solar physics, showing how art and science can compliment each other. It was a very impressive project and one that shows the beauty of science and how it can be communicated through art.

Why Bother with Blogging?

Presenting my session at BIG.

My session was in the final slot on the first day. I was a bit nervous before hand but nerves calmed when I recognised some familiar faces in the room. I was pleased when I started the session and the room was comfortably full with around 20 people attending my session. I spoke about science made simple‘s blogs, things we have learned over the years, and some dos and don’ts of blog writing.

We have found that our most successful blogs are ones that answer a specific question such as our most popular blog “What is Lightning?“. Other high hitting blogs are ones that relate to popular culture, such as “Can I Run as Fast as The Flash?” or issues that relate to everyday life, such as “Is Hydrogen Peroxide Harmful to your Hair?

There were lots of interesting questions about different styles of blogging and how to approach different challenges of writing and adapting content. I created a handout of a way to structure blogs for those who want to get started and I was so touched to see lots of Tweets afterwards about how practical and useful people found my session.

My BIG Highlights

The next two days of BIG were full of useful and fascinating sessions. I enjoyed the session on “Proper Science” run by Marilena Pace from Centre for Life and Manuela Ringbauer from Vienna Open Lab. Their session compared the in house laboratory experiments the public do at each centre and how important it is for children to feel they are doing science. My table was given some mystery colourless liquids and we had to decide what they were using the equipment provided but with no instruction. We were led by our curiosity and did tests using sight, smell, density, chromatography, and removing nail varnish. It reminded me how children are natural scientists and how curiosity and imagination can lead investigation.

Another stand out session for me was “Mapping it Out: Finding your Way Around Sci-Comm” run by Dr Suze Kundu (University of Surrey), Dr Dominic Galliano (SEPTnet), and Dr Helen Featherstone (University of Bath). This session drew on the experience of everyone in the room to try and map out the science communication sector. My experience has been with Techniquest and science made simple, so I was amazed to find out just how broad sci comm is, it is by no means a clear cut sector!

Ruth presenting her best demo.

It was interesting to find that individuals in the room has different drives for their careers in science communication, some were focused on making science fun, and others were focused on careers and inspiring the next generation. I think science made simple fits nicely somewhere in the middle.

The Best Demo competition was a delight with short demonstrations ranging from the mathematics of peeling an orange, to the physics of pole dancing, to projecting harmonics using a laser. Ruth did a fab job presenting her demo of wine glass music in a bath and even played “Happy Birthday” to BIG which is celebrating 21 years this year.

On Friday as I sat on my train I felt really inspired by the variety of people I had met at BIG and they work they all do. I would like to thank the BIG committee and event organisers for such a fantastic time, and I hope to be back soon!




Posted in News, Science Communication
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