BIG Logo Edited

BIG is the skills sharing network for individuals involved in the communication of science, technology, engineering and maths.

BIG is definitely one of those little things that make life better. An organisation whose members are hugely creative, inspiring and passionate about science, engineering and maths. Having just returned from the annual conference featuring musical tesla coils, fire from water, and vodka from crude oil. It seemed a good time to try to set down some info on this great group.


During the second half of the eighties a number of science centres sprang up around the UK. These largely built their own small scale interactives, or drew on the skills of a few freelance fabricators.

Ian Simmons a stalwart of BIG from the very earliest days recalls.

Thinking back, it all originated in the late 80’s when Melanie Quin was employed by Nuffield to run a small networking project for the new science centres. She used to put out a newsletter type thing which was essentially a stapled rag-bag of whatever info people had sent in to her and circulated whenever there was enough to go round. She also ran the occasional get together of people here and there a couple of times a year, which was very useful networking too. When Ecsite got together around 1990 they persuaded Melanie to join them to run it, and she went off to Heureka to do that, which left the UK without a network. So, in about 1991, Bhagwant Singh, pulled a group of people together who had several meetings up in Manchester to form an organization and get things going.
Initially using the name HOG (Hands-on Group), we considered other names (e.g ADHOC – Association for the Development of Hands-on Centres) before settling on BIG, because it didn’t limit interaction to just science and sounded better than HOG. The other major principle enshrined right from the start was that it was an organization for individuals, not for organizations.

We launched in 1992, with a meeting, but I can’t remember where, possibly Manchester and initially held several smaller meetings a year.

Over the years as exhibit building has shifted to larger design and fabrication outfits, the membership has shifted to represent those delivering informal education programmes and commissioning exhibitions, rather than those building them.

BIG chairs

1994 Bhagwant Singh
1995 Bhagwant Singh
1996 Steve Pizzey
1997 Steve Pizzey
1998 Gillian Pearson
1999 Gillian Pearson
2000 Melanie Quin
2001 Melanie Quin
2002 Sue Brumpton
2003/4 Sue Brumpton  (in 2003 elections moved from Jan to Jul to coincide with the BIG event)
2004/5 Sue Brumpton
2005/6 Emmie Kell
2006 /7Josh Phillips Helen Lloyd (Helen took over following Josh’s tragic death)

2007/8 Noel Jackson

2008/9 Noel Jackson

2009/10 James Piercy

2010/11 James Piercy/Andy Lloyd (Andy took over after James was injured in a car accident)

2011/12 Andy Lloyd

2012/13 Andy lloyd

2013/14 James Piercy

2014/15 James Piercy

2015/16 James Piercy

2016/17 Bridget Holligan

2017/18 Karl Byrne

The BIG Event

In 1996 the Then Chair of BIG wrote

“I have been wondering if BIG should organise a multipurpose fun annual event rather than separate events – a truly BIG event.

The events could include
. specialist workshop sessions, including the traditional fabricators event
. demonstrations and shows
.speakers’ corner 15 min sessions
.exhibits market place
.brainstorming sessions
‘prize givings
‘social events”

Since 1997 the BIG event has been held for just this purpose, attracting around 100 people from across the UK and overseas, to share skills, make new contacts and improve practice in the science communication field.


From 1997 to 2004 the event was held in at Herstmonceux East Sussex. hosted by the Observatory Science Centre

From 2005- present the event has been hosted by a number of organisations

2005 Centre for Life, Newcastle

2006 Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

2007 MAGNA, Rotherham

2008 Techniquest @NEWI , Wrexham  (now known as techniquest Glyndwr)

2009 The Royal Institution, London

2010 Centre for Life, Newcastle

2011 @ Bristol

2012 National railway museum, York

2013 Glasgow Science Centre

2014 Museum of Natural History Oxford

2015 The John Innes Centre Norwich

2016 W5 Belfast

2017 Centre for Life Newcastle

Best Demo

A highlight if the BIG Event has always been the prestigious best demo competition. Competitors may present any from of science demonstration in around 3 mins, and are judged on science content, showmanship and originality.

Entries over the years have included, urine drinking, penis pumps and stripping, Along with a coke can Hero’s engine, DNA fingerprinting with spaghetti and far too many others to mention.

The winners since 1997 were:

1997    Wendy Sadler         Alka Seltzer rocket
1998    Derek Fish              Paper
1999    Chris Norton          Faraday the pig
2000   Gillian Pearson      DNA fingerprint using spaghetti
2001    Gillian Pearson     Does Factor 25 cream stop UV light?
2002    James Piercy         Demos you can do with your body
2003    Sue Brumpton       Story about close packing
2004    Rob Copeland and Izzy Mohammed     Human steam engine
2005    Ben Craven             Gravity defying water
2006    Marcus Weber        Human Wallis grid
2007    Ben Craven              How to make a black thing look white
2008    Diane Gray             Plasma in microwave
2009    Ian Simmons          Flaming meat
2010    Farrah Nazir           Lighting a match with steam

2011     Brian Maken              Laser projected spit

2012     Karl Byrne                  Refractive index

2013      Marcin & Blazej   Aerodynamic cup of tea

2014     Stephen Williams  Dodo vs Trex rap

2015 Matt Pritchard  Tipping match boxes

2016 Tobias Happe  Air gun

2017 Brian Macken Lissajou laser


In 1999 an email discussion group was started. With around 800 subscribers it is a hugely useful forum for discussion and debate. If you want the perfect bubble recipe, to know how to lift a bus with a hot water bottle, or just want to keep up to speed with the latest news Sign up here

BIG is thriving with more members now than ever, and an especially welcome influx of eager young things. Looking forward to the next 15 years of my membership.

click here to visit the BIG website or follow the group on facebook

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