Big Bang Regional Science Fair 27/03/2012 – Personal Debrief

A few weeks ago, I was part of the University of Southampton‘s roadshow team at the Big Bang@Southampton Rose Bowl young scientists and engineers fair helping to promote the University’s research and get kids interested and excited about Science and all that schizz. I was there presenting (with some of the other guys in my office) as part of the demo/information stand for the Astronautics Research Group, in which I fail relentlessly at research for money. Here’s a picture of the whole research team, including Ben, Dan, Adam and Marius who were also manning our stand on the day, plus me somewhere in the rabble, smirking like a goon:

This is mainly a personal note debriefing myself about the day’s activities and what we can do it improve stuff, but I figured others of you might be vaguely interested in what’s’a happenin’, so thought I’d make this a public post.

I’ve been involved with the roadshow development (well, the Astro group’s input, anyway) since the inception and have been part of the few of us (Ben, Adam and Dr. Hugh Lewis, who’s the academic in charge) who’ve been cultivating it over the last few months. I’ve primarily been taking on design all of the promotional materials, including all the posters/banners, etc., some of which you can see creeping in on the left-hand side of the above picture and are shown more clearly yonder:

Our stand is largely an information stand where kids can come talk to us about space, our research and the University. We’ve also got some hands-on activities (which we didn’t run on the day) demonstrating stuff about stuff, and a load of materials like spacecraft models to look at, and space debris demo pieces of everyday utensils (a metal water bottle, spoons) which have been shot at with ball bearings at orbital speed (around 7km/s), which makes some impressive mincemeat and a nice demonstrator of the space debris issue.

The real draw is the Science Museum ‘Space Junker’ game (part of the Futurecade suite) which you can play online, on which Hugh advised and has been lending support. Last Tuesday, we had two PCs running it for kids to play, along with a makeshift ‘high-score’ table counting the best efforts of pupils. It’s not been developed by anyone at the University nor particularly demonstrates any of our research, but it’s a good, fun, interactive game that passively educates.

Below are a set of actions I feel went well, or badly during the and thus make up the major points of the day:

1. The Space Junker game is popular, but needs advertising better.

We didn’t have any signs advertising the game until I made some makeshift ones with paper and chunky marker, but more could be done to advertise that we have an interactive element (and a ‘challenge’ aspect to see who can get the highest score), and not just a bunch of dudes and some posters. We also didn’t have a high-score table until I duct-taped some sheets of paper to a poster-board, so it’d be really good to have a wipe-clean whiteboard we can put up to be a scoreboard, preferably with some Space Junker and University of Southampton logos on it as well. Perhaps some sort of prize (for the highest-score during the day) would help lure kids in to play it, but it’s difficult to figure out how to dish out the prize to the highest scorer, since the nature of the event is transient, with different kids/groups coming at different points in the day. Maybe it’d be easier to give away a small prize to each player instead (see next point).

2. We currently don’t have much of anything for people to take away.

Other stands from the University had leaflets, fluffy bugs, badges and whatnot, and our stand currently doesn’t have anything. For the Science & Engineering Day a few weeks back, we still had some Science Museum stickers which we could give to kids who played the game, but we ran out quite quickly and the other leaflets we had (‘space’-themed wordsearches, mazes and spot-the-differences) we not so popular on Big Bang day. It’d be really good to have something to give kids who play the game, be it generic (or personalised Astro group) University of Southampton badges/fluffies/pens, or maybe just stickers saying “I helped clean up space junk!” and the Astro group logo or something. We’re getting a new display stand for the next event, on which we also hope to have promotional stuff about the space degree themes and courses available at the University, which will also help – we need to get a hold of/print leaflets, prospectuses and whatnot about the Space Systems teaching courses.

3. We forgot the G-clamps (again).

Like with the Science Day, we had planned on doing our Balloon Rocket experiment in which kids can blow up balloons, attach them to straws and send them whizzing down a fishing line. Like with the Science Day, we forgot to get G-clamps to clamp down the retort stands we use to hold the fishing line, so we couldn’t run the experiment. It turned out that there wasn’t really masses of room in which to set up the kit anyway, but that’s by and by. The next event is at the Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester where we’ve been told there should be plenty of room to experiment with balloon rockets, so hopefully we won’t forget the clamps again.

4. We didn’t make QR codes for our posters.

We did intend to make QR codes (diverting to the Astro group website) to stick on the posters/banners that we’ve already made, but we also didn’t get round to this. I guess this is because I’m still living in the Dark Ages with a phone that doesn’t have a QR code scanner, so I just didn’t think about it. I’ve already sorted this out for the next event, so we now need to attach them to stuff in case anyone wants to scan them in.

5. Don’t take your eyes off kids for a second.

To demonstrate and talk about the perils of space debris and what size of objects are detectable/trackable from ground-based radar, Ben brought along some balls of various sizes from ball bearings up to a couple of nice stress balls of the Earth and Moon. We’re not sure at what point in the day it was, but both disappeared at some point, probably in the pocket of some sticky-fingered child who though they were free gifts or something. Either way, lesson learned: Nail EVERYTHING down, else someone will walk off with it. We also need to buy some more stress balls to replace the ones that were thieved,  then maybe some more in case it happens again. Which it will.

I’m not actually present at the next roadshow event (since it coincides with me giving a talk in Nuremberg for EUSAR2012), so hopefully Ben/Adam and the rest of the team will do okay. There are further roadshow events lined up over the rest of  the summer at InTech Winchester, Cheltenham Science Festival and Isle of White Bestival, but it’s currently unclear whether us postgrads will actually be helping out at those, or handing it over to student ambassadors. We will wait and see.

Anyway, it looks like it’s getting towards caffeine time, so I’m going to bust a move. Until next time, friends.


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