Is it alive?


Join us for a weekend of electrifying talks on astronomy, artificial intelligence, synthetic life and the mechanics of being alive. From human consciousness to alien beings, Frankenstein to robots, Big Bang brings together leading experts in understanding life as we know it and offers a fascinating glimpse into the future.



Tickets can be purchased online here

You can also purchase a Weekend Pass for just £50 per person and attend as many events as you wish. Book your Weekend Pass here.

By telephone on 01988 403222 (Mon - Sat, 10am - 4pm; Sun 12noon - 4pm)

In person at Number 11, North Main Street, Wigtown, DG8 9HN.


You can download the programme here



The programme

Friday 2 February

Science Happy Hour

Supper Room, County Buildings

6-7pm £8 over 18 only

Meet our lecturers: Dr Subramanian Ramamoorthy (School of Informatics, Edinburgh University), Professor Sharon Ruston (Romanticism, Lancaster University), Dr Jane Greaves (Hoyle prize winner, extrasolar planet habitability, Cardiff University) and Dr Erika Szymanski (Engineering Life, Edinburgh University). Enjoy cheese, wine and delicious cocktails by Crafty Distillery – a great way to kick off the weekend!


The Search for Life and Celebration Of James Clerk Maxwell
Big Bang It's Alive Panel

Main Hall, County Buildings

7-8.30pm £8 / U18 free

An evening hosted by author and literary critic Stuart Kelly, celebrating the extraordinary work of Scottish-born James Clerk  Maxwell. Get a preview of the weekend with short talks by all our lecturers, from the forefront of artificial intelligence to  manipulating microbes, learn about life - big and small, on this planet and beyond the known universe.


Film Screening and Cabaret

The Print Room, 8 New Road

9-10pm ­FREE

Join ASCUS Art & Science for a screening of Silent Signal, a series of animations made in collaboration with scientists, then hear The Bookshop Band as they perform a cabaret of science-themed music and readings.


Saturday 3 February

thinkScience Planetarium Show!

Supper Room, County Buildings

10am / 12:30pm / 3.30pm / 5.30pm / 6pm  £5

ThinkScience brings their spectacular planetarium show to Big Bang. Educational and child- friendly. Duration: 30 minutes.


Being Alive at Very Small Scales
Dr Erika Szymanski, Engineering Life, Edinburgh University

Main Hall, County Buildings

10.30-11.30am £8 / U18 free

Dr Szymanski is part of Edinburgh University's Engineering Life team, currently working in a global collaboration of scientists synthesizing an entire yeast genome. It will be re-engineered out of lab-constructed genetic parts to create synthetic chromosomes with 12 million base pairs of DNA!


She shares insights from the synthetic biology lab where Scotland is leading the way in solving our biggest health challenges and explains how bio-engineering is reshaping the nature of life itself and humanity's place in it.


Life in the Cosmos
Dr Jane Greaves, Astronomy, Cardiff University

Main Hall, County Buildings

12-1pm £8 / U18 free

Winner of the Hoyle Prize for her contribution to astrophysics, Dr Greaves’ research, totaling 170 publications, has made a ground-breaking contribution to our understanding of star formation, planet formation and planet habitability.


She has studied how early collisions with comets can accelerate a planet’s potential habitability, while subsequent collisions might, instead, “reset the clock” for such life.


Which planets are most likely to hold life? Dr Greaves knows, and will help answer the most probing question: Where are the aliens living?


Why Do Robots Need Common Sense?
Dr Subramanian Ramamoorthy, School of Informatics, Edinburgh University

Main Hall, County Buildings

1.30-2.30pm £8 / U18 free

Why is it so hard to create a machine that can think like a 2-year old child, yet that same machine can beat a grand master at chess?


Dr Subramanian Ramamoorthy (“Ram”) is motivated by the challenge of building robots that are able to work collaboratively with humans - making predictions about the actions and intentions of others and adapting their own actions accordingly.


Here, he takes us from the lab floor and into the future where scientists are exploring consciousness, learning and how thinking creates Life.


Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Professor Sharon Ruston, English Literature, Lancaster University

Main Hall, County Buildings

3-4pm £8 / U18 free

If the thought of creating synthetic life-forms and intelligent machines fills you with dread, you are not alone: people have been both fascinated and horrified by Man’s creations for generations, giving rise to some of our best-known works of literature, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.


Professor Ruston takes us back into the world of Frankenstein, revealing the science behind the novel and the anxiety it created.


Human Consciousness: Every Brain Dies, But Not Every Brain Truly Lives

Jono Zalay, Comedian, Comedy Central

Main Hall, County Buildings

4.30-5.30pm £8 over 18 only

After gaining a Ph.D in neuroscience (he gave cocaine to rats), Dr Jono Zalay dropped it all to become a comedian. Having performed at festivals around the world, he has been chosen as the host for Comedy Central’s new science show in the USA. Taking time out from filming, Dr Zalay joins us to tell stories from the lab, offering insights into how our brains deal with such complex issues as astrophysics and, of course, dating.

(See Sunday 11.30am for the family-friendly version of this show)


Big Bang Pub Quiz

Craft, 30 South Main Street

8pm £5 per team of 5 max  Payable at the door

Wet your whistle and tease your brain with our stellar pub quiz. Grab a team or go at it alone as we journey through our minds and into the cosmos, one pint at a time.


Sunday 4 February

thinkScience Planetarium Show!

Supper Room, County Buildings

10am / 12.30pm / 3.30pm £5

ThinkScience brings their spectacular planetarium show to Big Bang. Educational and child- friendly. Duration: 30 minutes.


Breakfast Science Show: DNA and Danishes

The Print Room, 8 New Road

10-11am £5

Join us for a lively morning of chat, music and guests. The Bookshop Band host a surprise panel to look at the building blocks of life and the mysteries that lie within our DNA.


Human Consciousness: Every Brain Dies, But Not Every Brain Truly Lives – Family Friendly Show!

Jono Zalay, Comedian, Comedy Central

Main Hall, County Buildings

11.30-12.30pm £8 / U18 free

With a Ph.D in neuroscience, Dr Jono Zalay left the lab to become a comedian. Chosen as the host for Comedy Central’s new science show, Dr. Zalay joins us with a hilarious family-friendly show. Listen to stories from the lab and glimpse the inner workings of our brain.


James Clerk Maxwell
Stuart Kelly, Critic and Author

Main Hall, County Buildings

1-2pm £8 / U18 free

Author and literary critic, Stuart Kelly examines the world of the 19th Century’s most influential scientist, James Clerk Maxwell. Born in Edinburgh, Maxwell lived his adult life in Galloway. A hero of many scientists such as Einstein, he is best known for making the connection between light and electromagnetic waves. Come and hear how his ground-breaking work still helps us understand life as we know it today.


Are We the Aliens? The Search for Life in the Universe
Big Bang It's Alive Panel

Main Hall, County Buildings

2.30-3.30pm £8 / U18 free

Despite all the recent advances in astronomy and the exciting prospect of finding other habitable planets in outer space, the challenges of space-travel make it almost impossible for humans to reach such planets.


Instead, it is increasingly likely that the first steps into the unknown will be made, not by humans, but intelligent robots, designed to land on distant planets and communicate with their residents. It has also been suggested that synthetic organisms, engineered to survive on an observed planet, could be planted there to create a useful staging-post for future human visits.


Our panel guests discuss how their combined knowledge of synthetic life, artificial intelligence and planet habitability can be brought together to give a glimpse into the future of space exploration.