A Science Fair in My Living Room – How Does the Big Bang Go Digital?

By Laura Harford

Settling in for a science fair in my slippers…

The Big Bang Fair is an incredible celebration of all things STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). However, less than one week before it was due to take place the 2020 event was forced to cancel due to Covid-19. Fortunately for almost 28,000 live viewers, they decided to embrace the T in STEM and in just a few short months created “Big Bang Digital – Science, Engineering and Covid-19”. This one-day event took place on 14th July and was an impressive response to the difficulties faced by events like these all over the world. Although in the lead up to the day it raised an interesting question – how will they create the same level of impact on a laptop screen?

Bridging the gaps between subject and application, the Big Bang Fair brings people together from across the full spectrum of STEM careers and shows how these subjects are utilised in ways that many people hadn’t even considered. The digital event this year had less flashing lights and explosions (although it was not without a show stopping rainbow finale from BBC Gastronaut Stefan Gates) but instead focused on a slightly more serious topic – how science, technology, engineering and maths have helped us in the fight against the pandemic. Even more importantly, it addressed the concern that many young people feel excluded from the conversation around this major issue.

Despite the loss of face-to-face interaction, the event provided several ways for viewers to engage with the activities including a live chat running throughout the day. In everything from an ask the expert session with SAGE member Sir Jeremy Farrar to a discussion of how the pandemic has effected plastic pollution, most sessions had sections where questions could be asked and answered live. Alongside this there were several live polls, one of the most exciting and informative being the last of the day where over 80% said that they felt inspired to consider a career in STEM. Many speakers also presented questions, challenges, at home experiments and competitions to the audience, so even those watching after the live event had plenty to be involved in. These were accompanied by several activities including the “Meet the Future You Quiz”, helping to identify your strengths and how these could be applied to a career in STEM.

The use of technical language ranged between talks, and this year seemed slightly more tailored to the latter end of their usual audience range. However, many speakers provided excellent background explanations and informative visual demonstrations. Of note, the talk on “Designing a low-cost ventilator” from Imperial College London gave detailed explanations of not only the science behind the ventilators but also Covid-19 infections and lung function.

Despite the challenges Big Bang Digital was a very impactful adaption, which gave voices to young people on a topic they may have felt distant from. The content has remained accessible online and is a fantastic demonstration of the incredible contributions people have made from pharmacy to farming during this difficult time.