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Following the Festival

Orkney International Science Festival director Howie Firth reflects on seven action-packed days of the 2021 festival – from views of coasts shaped by wave and storm to concerts of music inspired by the stars.

All these events are on our YouTube channel where you can access them freely at any time.

We also have a wealth of images in online exhibitions. You can see Swona, with its seals and its feral cattle – shown in 360-degree photospheres that you can turn this way and that to get panoramic views all around. Walking Lake Orcadie goes back in time, through the Stromness street’s flagstones which bear imprints of their origin as sediments in a great lake 400 million years ago. Orkney Camera Club’s exhibition Around the Islands shows lighthouses from Cantick Head to North Ronaldsay, sunshine over Westray and winter snow on Hoy.

Moonscape in Stromness flagstone from the Lake Orcadie series by Rebecca Marr

The sound of the sea ran through the programme, in this Year of Coasts and Waters, as we heard about plans to row the Northwest Passage and about the science of sailing ships. A performance film by Selena S Kuzman looked at the sea as a place of transformation, with a costume created from discarded fabrics and waste plastic with techniques ranging from rust dyeing to 3D doodle pen work.

The challenge of ocean waste was taken up in a special joint-event with the Virtual Island Summit that links up islands worldwide. We spoke live to islands including Tristan da Cunha, the Juan Fernandez Islands, and South Caicos in the Caribbean.

Island beaches reveal the increasing problem of marine plastic pollution, revealing the fact that what is carelessly thrown away turns up somewhere else, adding to the pressure on island communities to find sustainable ways of dealing with others’ waste as well as their own.

We heard the wonderful story of the great engraver Sir Robert Strange, who was born in Kirkwall 300 years ago, designed Jacobite banknotes, and ended up knighted by a Hanoverian king. Equally remarkable was the life of the Scottish composer Sir John Clerk, a direct ancestor of the physicist James Clerk Maxwell. We heard about the life of Maxwell himself, and viewed his home of Glenlair in Galloway. We also heard of the latest discoveries with gravitational waves, and the possibility of the origin of life in cold dark interstellar gas and dust clouds. And there was the story of the man who fought the Spanish flu, and the 18th-century Shetland weaver who developed a system of inoculation against smallpox.

Amidst these many events, one thing that would very much help us as we plan for the future is to get feedback from as many people as we can. If you can complete this brief feedback form, we would be very grateful!

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Orkney Science Festival

One of the world's longest-established and most original science festivals, providing a platform for fresh ideas in an island setting.