Hundreds of young people had an explosive time learning more about science at the BigBang@Butlin’s in Bognor Regis.

Hand-built racing cars, exploding crisp packets and superhero skills were all on display at the annual event, which is aimed at reversing the decline of West Sussex students choosing Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) topics at GCSE and A-Level.

Mark Record, a science lecturer at Chichester College here helping a student with an experiment

With businesses, colleges and universities all showcasing their wares, the aim was to enthuse tomorrow’s engineers and open their eyes to future career opportunities.

It proved to be a big success – with more than than 550 primary and secondary pupils going away with big smiles and a realisation that STEM subjects are far from boring.

Caroline Wood, director of Coastal West Sussex Economic Partnership (CWS), which is one of the organisations who helped organise today’s event (March 8, 2018), said: “BigBang is now in its third year locally and it really is going from strength to strength.

“From exploding crisp packets to superhero powers in augmented reality, there were plenty of fun-filled activities which showed that STEM subjects can be fun.

“It is only by investing in our young people and giving them the skills they need to thrive that we will be able to raise the economic performance of the coast.

“I hope that some of the hundreds of students who came today will be the engineers of tomorrow. It’s by creating high-skilled jobs and providing high-level education that we will bring prosperity to the area.”

Big Bang forms part of Coastal STEMfest and is delivered by STEM Sussex, the STEM outreach department at the University of Brighton.

A pupil from St Marys Primary in Bognor tries out a virtual reality headset at BigBang@Butlins

With plenty of interactive hands-on activities and a fun informative show delivered by Science Made Simple, businesses were given the chance to showcase the exciting career opportunities that STEM can unlock.

Charlie Allen, a graduate engineer at Shoreham-based Ricardo, was one of those who was exhibiting on behalf of a local business. Youngsters were invited to create their own racing car before testing it in a mini wind tunnel.

Charlie said: “It was great to see so many kids involved and getting excited about STEM careers. The BigBang shows the practical aspects of what engineering and science can bring in the real world rather than just experiments in the classroom. That knowledge can make a difference to the world.”

Pupils from Durrington High in Worthing were among those to attend

The Coastal STEMfest and BigBang are financially supported by the CWS Economic Partnership with contributions received from Adur, Arun, Worthing and Chichester councils.

The event is also supported by West Sussex County Council, Adur and Worthing Business Partnership and the Sussex Learning Network.

It was set up as recent figures show that the number of students taking STEM A levels in West Sussex has declined across all subjects between 2012/13 and 2015/16, particularly those taking maths.

National statistics show there is the same issue with GCSEs while participation rates into Higher Education across coastal West Sussex are poor, with many areas in the bottom quintile nationally.

There is also a gender gap – with only 25% of all STEM graduates being women – while STEM subjects make up just 20% of all apprenticeships.

Leaders from across the private, public and education sector said it was important to act now to avoid a skills shortage in future years.

In total, more than 550 pupils attended the 2018 event

Geoff Edwards, chairman of CWS Economic Partnership and vice-president operations at the Worthing-based deluxe sound system company Bowers and Wilkins, said: “Big Bang is all about getting youngsters to understand that science and maths are interesting subjects – it’s relevant to the workplace and relevant to opening up opportunities in the future. 

“If they study STEM now, afterwards the world is their oyster.”

Richard Hopkins, of leading agricultural business Fargro, which is based in Littlehampton, said: “Events like today are important for the industry as recruitment is very difficult. We want to encourage local people to understand the opportunities on their doorstep. 

“There’s a lot of science and technology involved in agriculture so it’s important we get in at the ground level so they know what we offer. Young people can bring innovation to what is quite a traditional industry.”