The Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) and Para-Monte joined forces on Wednesday 27th and Thursday 28th June at the seventh annual Big Bang Fair South East, held at the South of England Showground. More than 10,000 students between the ages of 9 and 19 attended from 200 schools across the region.

The event was part of the nationwide Big Bang Near Me programme, the biggest single celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK. Arguably, the feedback (see tweet) from the son of our very own Sarah Smith (Economic, Social Engangement & Research Administrator of the School of Sport and Service Management) meant the most to Chris and Jeannet Savory, who set up Para-Monte to raise awareness about altitude in memory of their son, Adam Savory, who tragically died form altitude illness in 2012.

Our stand, not to be missed owing to the pink gazebo, pens, leaflets and of course moreish sweets, joined over 250 companies, professional bodies and educational institutions to provide STEM-related interactive workshops, shows and demonstrations aimed at giving young people a fun and exciting insight into future courses of study and careers. The Para-Monte team (Chris, Jeannet, Emma and Russ) with support from EEL members, Dr Alan Richardson, Dr Ash Willmott, Dr Mark Hayes and Dr Neil Maxwell, were raising awareness about altitude illness to as many people as possible.  The Para-Monte message was simple: Prepare and be Altitude Aware 

Our stand gave pupils the opportunity to learn more about altitude, the illnesses that can occur and even experience some of the responses that altitude can have on the human body. We did this by asking willing volunteers to step up and down on a Step Reebok while restricting their breathing through an altitude training mask and in 30°C heat too! They were encouraged to work hard just like they were “climbing a mountain” and we measured their heart rate and oxygen saturation (how full their red blood cells are with oxygen).  Afterwards, we asked them to write on a post-it note how they felt, what they had learnt, or anything about altitude and then stick it on our Para-Monte Mountain Map. Over the two days, 247 pupils from 41 schoolsclimbed to altitude‘ and shared their experiences, but so many more listened to the information we gave, advice offered and the Para-Monte Story. From those pupils exercising, they gave comments like: “I felt out of breath“, “was dizzy and lightheaded” and “I felt quite queasy“. It was great to read their understanding of altitude from just a short visit to our stand:
“If you climb too high too quickly the altitude will make you feel so ill there is a chance of death”
“I found out what altitude is and how it works”
“I’ve learnt it’s harder to exercise at high altitude because there is less oxygen”
“I learned that your heart rate goes up fast when walking, it
feels strange because you have less oxygen getting into your lungs”
“It cost more to breath while you are going up and the oxygen % drops and heart rate rises”
“If I had altitude sickness I would drink plenty of water and have a

The Big Bang Fair South East is organised by STEM Sussex, the outreach department of the University of Brighton. Estelle Whewell, Project Manager, said: “Since it was first held in 2012, the Big Bang Fair South East has continued to grow, both in terms of the numbers attending and the organisations involved – an indication of its increasing importance to the young people of the region and their teachers.

There is no question the Para-Monte stand grabbed the attention of so many children and raised their awareness of altitude…achieving the primary aim of the charity!