Bang Goes the Theory – from ignorance to interested (just a bit)

It all started back in the summer of 2011, when a call went out for STEM ambassadors to volunteer as demonstrators at the BBC’s “Bang Goes the Theory Live” roadshow in Manchester during October half-term. I applied, mainly because anything with the BBC was probably going to be good.

Then I was accepted. I can’t work out why… was it my ‘Leading Light’ status? history of youth work? day-to-day experience of explaining the world to small children? Who knows. I announced the news on facebook and suddenly several of my friends got very excited. I got the hint that Bang had something of a following, and I’d missed it by being busy putting kids to bed when it was on telly.

Google soon filled in the gaps about the programme and its presenters, and unearthed a film of a previous live show in Bradford. I began to get excited too.

The Manchester roadshow was held next to MOSI in an old market hall, which was a bit grotty around the edges but had a certain industrial feel that fitted the event quite well. There was a central stage for the live show, interactive stalls from Universities and professional bodies, and hands-on experiments manned by STEM volunteers, with more of us recruiting for Dr Yan’s Dance Lab experiment. I spent the weekend doing demos of the Bernoulli effect (floating beachballs), electrolysis (hydrogen+oxygen powered rockets) and resonance (a ringing brass bowl) to hundreds of families – about 1500 people visited each of the four sessions – and recruiting over 50 people for Dance Lab. We also had access to fabulous hospitality, everyone was warm and welcoming, and it was the most normal thing in the world to chat to the presenters as they escaped for a drink and a snack in the green room too.

I don’t think it would be an understatement to say it was one of the best weekends of my life for a long time. I was absolutely exhausted by the end, I felt too tired and certainly too scruffy to go to  the wrap party, which I do regret… next time I will go home, get changed, drink coffee and turn up anyway. But despite the physical toll, something in me was on fire again; after years of getting a bit bogged down in the business and bureaucracy of having a job, the experience had reignited my passion for science and reminded me that I was first and foremost a scientist. Being around thousands of people who think being a professional physicist is cool rubs off on you after a bit.

Since then I’ve kept in touch with Dallas Campbell, one of the presenters, and we got chatting about what he was filming for the next series. I volunteered one of my lecture demonstrations for the programme on hearing, and you can see Dallas present his version of it 9 minutes into episode 2 of series 6. One of my friends compared it to the great works of Delia Derbyshire… to my shame, I had to Google her, too. I think he was being overly generous in his praise, but shortly afterwards remembered a long-lost affection for Aphex Twin… so I at least now have an album of his finest electronica, courtesy of eBay.

Partly because I was waiting for this demo to be aired, and partly because I wanted to see how all the bits Dallas had told me about fitted together, I started watching the current series regularly. After my Friday night run, it was time to curl up in bed with the iPad and a G&T and see what they’d all been up to. I had no idea what to expect.

I found it interesting, enlightening, and jolly good fun. I haven’t been this devoted to a TV series since Dr Who went off air, and Bang is perhaps even better, because I don’t get the “oh no, another soppy episode about the Dr-Amy-Rory love triangle” disappointments either.

This week, a glowing review of the series appeared in the Guardian. However, the journalist responsible (Stuart Heritage) seemed rather too concerned with the fact that the presenters were ‘young’. Personally, I don’t see that there’s a problem with science being presented by the ‘young’, but that aside… his remarks were actually quite amusing because three of the four presenters are over 40 (and Liz Bonnin is in her 30s). Perhaps they just seem young because they have that youthful enthusiasm which comes from being genuinely excited about something and wanting to share it with the world. We need more of that – less of the flat ‘I’ve seen it all before’, more wonder; less cynicism, more delight; less resigned fatigue, more energy and passion.

Thank God for Bang Goes the Theory.


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