The Big Bang Fair is a huge science fair for schools and families held every year during British Science Week.
Day Zero – The Build
“PPE must be worn at all times”
We finally arrive at the Birmingham NEC, home to the Big Bang for the next four days. Donning our high-vis waistcoats we unload my car which has been crammed with furniture and hands-on activities for our stall – I knew all that playing tetris in my youth would help me some day. After a short while we have managed to assemble our stall, complete with newly branded University of Oxford, tablecloths and banners.
Day One – The fair opens
“I feel like the students really engaged with us” - Amy Jones
The team from SITU arrive and we go about preparing ourselves for the day. At 9:30am the Big Bang Fair is declared open and the folks from SITU and the Welcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG), throw themselves into the task of talking to the students that have packed into the halls for the day. Our brand new Surgical Trials/Surgical Skills knee surgery exhibit, out for its first proper event, works flawlessly, much to my relief, and helps draw a steady stream of students to our stall. The considerably lower tech, chopsticks vs spoon randomised trial proves a surprise hit too and soon we start to spot a growing number of students sporting our Super Surgeon stickers.
As we get to about 2:30pm the crowds begins to dwindle as school groups collect together and make their way back to their coaches. This allows a chance for stall holders to start exploring other people’s stalls so we get to chat to the various students who are exhibiting their amazing projects as part of the UK Young Engineer of the Year and GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year competitions. Finally, at 4pm the exhibition closes its doors for the day.
Day Two – Hitting our stride
“When it’s kids you get the opportunity to try and inspire their future careers” - Gemma Greenall
Today the Powrie Team arrive bright and early to put up their giant gut wall – the stall now looks a lot busier than on the first day. A new team from SITU turn up and the next day begins. In addition to yesterday’s activities, students now have an opportunity to try to guide an endoscope through a model gut, watch oddly compelling endoscopy videos and examine inflamed and healthy guts under the microscopes.
We quickly get back into the swing of the event and it’s only when I disappear for my lunch break in a nearby meeting room that I fully realise just how noisy it is in in the hall, I also welcome the chance to sit down for a while - at this stage I’m not sure I’ll ever feel my legs properly again! I find out a bit more about DNA damage helping out with the Welcome Trust Centre Human Genetics exhibit which involves searching for various beads, ribbons etc representing different forms of damage in two enormous bundles of wool. I feel triumphant when I finally find one of the two hook and eyes (double strand breaks) in the bag.
Day Three – NDORMS bids farewell
“I had a great time and thought that the kids at the event were very engaging” - Stuart Keppie
Today staff from the OA centre join us and bring the Botnar Skeleton with them on a road trip (I like to imagine it sat with them in the car and startled passers-by). They discussed their research with the aid of 3D printed models and waxed lyrical on the amazing properties of cartilage. Staff from the Department of Oncology arrive meaning that are stall now has even more activities than before.
The skeleton proves to be a popular selfie partner and I watch as students compare the 3-D printed knees with and without osteoporosis.
The day draws to an end and we pack away the majority of the stand and pile it back into my car. NDORMS days at the fair are now over and we hand the baton on to the Department of Oncology and the WTCHG who are staffing the stall on Saturday.
I’d like to thank all 29 staff and students from NDORMS who came along to help out over the three days as well as the many others who supported them even if they couldn’t be there themselves. The general consensus seems to be that it was fun, but exhausting! I certainly found it so.