Plant Doctors at Big Bang Fair!

03 Apr 2014

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The Big Bang Fair is the largest science fair of its kind in the UK with approximately 65,000 people passing through the doors in 2013. This year’s event was based at the Birmingham NEC and took place from the 13th – 16th March. 

What's it all about?

The aim is to inspire and engage young people about the exciting world of science, technology, engineering and maths. BSPP Outreach worked closely with Dr Dee Rawsthorne (Public Engagement Manager, John Innes Centre) to run the Plant Doctor stand to promote the exciting world of plant pathology. 

What was on the stand?

The Big Bang Fair is aimed primarily at young people between the ages of 7 – 19 and also families, so it was important to make sure our stand offered activities aimed at different age groups. 

Plant Doctors

The Plant Doctor activity drew in students from a range of ages. Many children were excited to become a Plant Doctor. Visitors donned lab coats and clipboards and were taught how to diagnose a plant with a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Three ‘plant patients’ were presented, each with gruelling symptoms, which we related to human infections.

Make a Plant Attack model making

This model making activity ppealed to younger children, who were excited to make their own plant pathogen models from arts and crafts materials. Some children opted to copy pathogens from prompt cards, such as 'Honey Harold': the Armillaria fungal spore. While others let their imaginations run wild, creating the weirdest and wackiest plant pathogens they could think of. One 7 year old said: 'It is going to kill weeds to help out other plants'.

Save our Plants

This is a new activity, aimed at secondary school and A-level students and adults. Three plant disease control options: pesticides, biological control and genetic modification, are explained and discussed. Posters outline the benefits and drawbacks of each method and visitors were given three shiny plastic coins to vote on how we should 'Save Our Plants'. This activity will be available online shortly.

Some visitors had pre-conceived ideas about different methods, but were happy to have an open discussion. Many teachers asked to have the posters to use in their lessons; highlighting that the activity can be rolled out to schools. We will be contacting these teachers when the posters have been uploaded to the BSPP education page.

Spore Dispersal Game

This game has been devised by Dr Anne Edwards (John Innes Centre). Many people visiting the stand had heard about ash die back (Chalara fraxinea), which is currently affecting British woodlands and were intrigued to hear about how the fungus is spreading. Plastic cups were stacked in a pyramid to represent spores on a tree, then an ‘airzooka’ (the wind) was fired to demonstrate how spores are blown on to healthy trees.

Fraxinus Facebook Game

Visitors also had the chance to play the Fraxinus facebook game, which has been devised by game developers Team Cooper and scientists from the The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich. The game involves matching patterns to help find resistance to ash dieback. Many of the visitors who played the game were captivated by it.


When asked if anything new had been learnt many children responded with; 'Plants get sick'. This is a great achievement as often visitors were not aware of plant diseases before taking part in the activities. Some older students really understood the concept of disease spread and control.

One teenager said: 'If one plant gets sick we have to get rid of it, otherwise the disease could spread and kill the others'.

Read other people’s perspectives of the Plant Doctor stand here:

Dr Charis Cook (GARNet Liaison Officer and Rachel Prior (John Innes Centre).

You can also see what was tweeted during the event (#plantdoctors) on Storify here

More event photos visit the BSPP Outreach Flickr account here.

Thank you

A massive thank you to the 21 volunteers over the four days for their enthusiasm and energy. You really helped make the stand a success!

  • University of Nottingham: Jassy Drakulic, Dr Kim Kenobi, Kwasi Adusei-Fosu, Adeelah Alvi.
  • University of Warwick: Charlotte Caroll, Professor Vardis Ntoukakis, Claire Stoker, Sarah Harvey and Adam Talbot.
  • University of Hertfordshire: Dr Coretta Kloppel and Thomas Sewell.
  • John Innes Centre: Becky Spanner, Bethan Edmunds, Claire Bushell, Mabon Elis, Rachel Prior, Dr Anne Edwards, Emily Hawkes, Rob Blundell.
  • FERA: Dr Charles Lane.
  • HGCA: Dr Amanda Bennett.

A huge thank you to:

  • Dr Dee Rawsthorne for all of your support, ideas, energy and helping us to run such an exciting stand.
  • Dr Paul Beales (BSPP Outreach Mentor, FERA) Dr Andew Aspin (FERA), Dr Andy Bailey (University of Bristol), Tom Pitman (University of Bristol), Becky Winsbury (University of Exeter), Odette Wills and Professor Murray Grant (University of Exeter) for providing us with diseased plants.
  • BSPP Outreach Officer Katie Tomlinson would like to thank Odette Wills for being huge help and support during her outreach internship and especially at this event.
  • BSPP Team: Katie Tomlinson (Outreach Officer) Dr Diane Hird (University of Bristol) Dr Sian Deller (Syngenta) and Dr Paul Beales for helping to develop resources and activities.