Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Getting excited for a BIG "Big Bang Fair"

The blog has been a bit quiet lately because my schedule has been stuffed full of some rather exciting things! Since all that hard work is hopefully about to start paying off, here's a quick update.

In January I was invited to co-present one of the headline shows at this years Big Bang Fair. A fantastic opportunity to reach a great (very large!) audience. At first glance the Big Bang seemed to overlap with some exciting experiments for my research in Japan, when I'd be out of the country. Cue disappointment and sobbing.

But thankfully within a few days the pieces fell miraculously into place, my experiments needed to be a week later than originally planned and I managed to move heaven and Earth to fit this gig in my schedule.

Of course, now my schedule is even more crammed than usual! (Did I mention I'm training for the London Marathon at the same time? Well at least running is a stress release...)

So it happened that over the past two months I've been spending a fair bit of time thinking about how to squeeze the topics of particle physics and food together. Thankfully I've had some expert help with this mammoth task from the main show presenter and food writer Stefan Gates (@stefangates), and his assistant Chris Clarke (@CrcClarke).

The show is called Gastronaut Extreme, but you'll have to wait for my next update about the Big Bang itself to see how we combined the two topics (I'm not giving all our tricks away!).

Tonight I head to Birmingham to the NEC to start bumping in. I haven't used the term 'bump in' since I did amateur musical theatre many years ago in Australia! It's very exciting to be part of such a big show and it has been a fantastic learning experience for me so far.

In no particular order, here are some of the things I've learned along the way:

  • No matter how long you've been doing science presenting and demonstrations, there are always new ideas out there and new ways of presenting them.
  • Scaling demonstrations up to very large (1000+) audiences is a challenge in itself and many demonstrations simply can't scale up to this size, even if they are nice demos for a 50-100 person audience. Also, the number of pages of your risk assessment will scale up too!
  • Having a good network of fellow science communicators who really know their stuff is invaluable. I couldn't have pulled all my new demos together for this show in such a short time without their advice, supplier lists, safety advice, staging advice etc. 
  • It seems that having experience presenting demonstrations to large audiences isn't a particularly common skill among scientists. I think I'm slowly starting to appreciate that I may have a fairly unique skill set for a research scientist... and that I should continue to develop that skill set and see where it leads me.
  • BUT my main job is being a scientist so I shouldn't expect to be able to spend the same time or have the same level of training or experience as someone who does this stuff professionally. I still feel like an amateur at this sometimes despite having a decade of experience. I have to accept that I can only do as much as I can fit in my schedule. As it happens that's a pretty full schedule already.
  • There are some awesome, clever, lovely, friendly, kind people who work in science communication. I really enjoy working with them and I consider it a real privilege whenever a chance like this comes my way. It helps balance out the days when I'm bashing my head against the wall trying to compile code or get my head around a badly defined equation. 
  • Doing science communication and outreach constantly reminds me that science is an awe inspiring, world-changing, exciting, dynamic and amazing field to work in. It makes me happy to be a scientist.
What could I be planning with this safety gear??
Hope to see some of you at the Big Bang Fair! Follow me on @suziesheehy or @BigBangFair to get all the news.