My throat’s sore, my feet hurt and I am ready for my bed (it is not yet 8pm). Why? I am half way through the Big Bang Fair. Over four days there will be around 60,000 people, mainly children, either in school parties or in family groups through the doors. They will get to see, hear about, and take part in science and engineering activities from across the UK.
For me, it has been the first large engagement activity that I have organised for The Physiological Society. Over the past few weeks, it has been drawing towards me in a sea of order forms, fact checking and digging through our store cupboard trying to find the equipment that must be in there somewhere. I worried about what I’d forgotten and what would go wrong. Now, let’s get something straight now – some things have gone wrong. However, it’s going brilliantly.
(Please don’t let that jinx it!)
We have had some wonderful volunteers; willing staff members, students and academics have all pitched in, explaining thermoregulation and homeostasis to all ages. It’s great to walk round the stand and hear a graduate student and a teenager chatting about how the nervous system enables us to feel cold; a professor telling some teachers about how he will conduct research on the physiology of bikers; our HR manager explaining to primary school kids that tendons aren’t as elastic in the cold.
It’s great to chat. Chat about science, find out about what interests (and what doesn’t interest) the visitors to our stand. And yesterday there was one particular highlight for me. My A-level chemistry teacher wandered up and said hello. He was one of those teachers who commanded the respect of the class, a man whose enthusiasm for the subject and for teaching us shone through. Someone who allowed us to have some fun while we learned. When someone spilled ethanol across the bench and it caught fire, we were all gathered round and asked how we would put it out. No fuss, no shouting, we had to think about what we’d learned and apply it. (We let the ethanol burn off and everything was fine).
He asked how I was and what I’d been up to. I told him that I had a PhD in evolutionary biology and now worked in public engagement with science. He seemed pleased about that. I really hope he was. It was through a small band of dedicated and skilled teachers like him that my enthusiasm for science grew.
I hope that, of the hundreds of kids I have spoken to over the past few days, some will be inspired, their interest in biology piqued by the activities on our stand. I hope that they got something from chatting to those on the stand who are ‘real-life’ physiologists. However, the thing I hope most is that they all had fun.