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Insite: The Big Bang fair

The annual Big Bang fair covers the full range of engineering, from high-tech machinery to low-tech chocolate structures. Jo Stimpson reports.

A crowd descended on Manchester last week as the Big Bang fair opened its doors for another year. Bringing together 22,000 visitors, BBC celebrities, industry experts and cutting edge technology, the event is a three-day celebration of science and engineering organised by Engineering UK, a group which promotes and represents the industry.

The Big Bang shows off the best bits of engineering, and is like “a science and engineering theme park”, says Engineering UK chief executive Paul Jackson. There are no signs saying “please do not touch”, he says - rather it is “please do get stuck in”.

The fair offers a rare insight into the industry. “Young people don’t get a chance to study engineering in school, so this is a great way of connecting what they do in the classroom with science and maths with what they can do in the future,” Jackson says.

The Big Bang fair is a way to connect what pupils do in the classroom with science and maths with what they can do in the future.

Plenty of activities were on offer, such as bridge building demos and even structural engineering with chocolate. Visitors ‘welded’ chocolate bars together to create structures, and used weights to compare the load bearing properties of box girders and I-beams made from chocolate.

There were also more serious resources at the fair for those who wanted them. Careers activities were available, and as it brought together so many companies school leavers found it a great resource.

The fair also helped to identify different pathways into engineering. “There’s a lot of confusion about what you need to do to get into engineering,” says Jackson.

For example, he says, the six out of 10 people who don’t get a degree can still get into the industry through apprenticeships. “They think that they’re shut out of engineering, but they’re not,” Jackson says.

Visitors 'welded' chocolate bars together to create structures

Visitors ‘welded’ chocolate bars together to create structures

He hopes the fair will encourage the “great engineers” of tomorrow and inspire the kind of innovative thinking that will help Britain.

“The solutions you think are right today may not be right tomorrow,” he says. It was also a great resource for teachers, who could pick up teaching materials at many of the stands.

The fair boasted representatives from diverse areas of engineering and construction including the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the RoyalAcademy of Engineering, Young Engineers, The Welding Institute, energy companies E.ON and EdF and the National Grid.

It all culminated in the Young Engineer of the Year and Young Scientist of the Year awards, which were won this year by Shawn Brown for his solar-powered bamboo trike and Thomas Hearing for his Monmouth beach eroding ammonite pavement mapping project respectively.

Brown has now travelled to Ghana to start his own engineering charity, before starting at the University of Exeter next year.

  • Next year’s Big Bang will be on March 10-12 at London’s ExCeL centre.

Regional fairs

The Big Bang fair is over now, but don’t miss the 12 regional Big Bang events that are happening this summer.

There will be more fun engineering activities, plus regional finalists will be chosen to go on to compete in the National Science & Engineering Competition at next year’s Big Bang fair.

  • June 7 Dundee
  • June 21 Belfast
  • June 28 Liverpool
  • July 2 Newcastle
  • July 5 Reading
  • July 6 Swansea
  • July 7 Loughborough
  • July 8 Sheffield
  • July 9 Bath
  • July 13 London
  • July 14 Birmingham
  • July 16 Cambridge

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