Orkney Science Festival announces programme

Two Nobel laureates, three concerts on environmental themes, four Irish musicians with the story of a remarkable mathematician, a genetics research day, a science show from Australia, and a visit from three young Slovenian rocket-builders – are just some of the sparkling mix of events announced today as part of the 28th Orkney International Science Festival.

Taking place over seven days (6-12 September) the Festival will celebrate science from the physics of mountain rescue to the mathematics of Bach. It will explore hydrogen for transport and kites for wind energy, and look at how to become an astronaut or photograph the Moon. There will be the story of Shackleton’s journey through Antarctic seas, and wartime accounts of the artist Stanley Cursiter’s work with early aerial photography. Presentations will range from the black hole at the galaxy’s heart to the invisible world of particle physics, and from the current state of the Arctic permafrost to the coldest place in Scotland.

The programme will feature two Nobel Laureates – Sir Paul Nurse (physiology/medicine, 2001) and Prof. Peter Higgs (physics, 2013). Both will take part in ‘In Conversation’ events, with Sir Paul Nurse speaking with Dave Gray of BBC Radio Orkney, and Prof. Peter Higgs talking with physicist and author Graham Farmelo.

In celebration of Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018, young people will be very much at the heart of the festival, with two young Orcadians, Lucy Leech and Hope Laing, opening the Festival, as well as a team of young people hosting all the events. For this they are receiving a course in voice training from the world-renowned Kristin Linklater at her Voice Centre in Orkney.

Among the many young people taking part in the Festival will be three students from Slovenia who are building their own rocket engine. The group, part of the Spacelink Institute of young innovative engineers, are working to build their own rocket to reach the edge of space or 100 km above. They will be part of a look at space that will also include a talk by physicist Dr Jaclyn Bell, one of the team of 12 chosen to take part in the BBC TV series Astronauts.

Other highlight activities include:

  • • A day on human genetics brought together by Prof. Jim Wilson of the University of Edinburgh, with members of his team looking at current research involving issues such as diet, health and the rapidly developing field of proteomics.
  • • Ed Gilbert from Ireland and Prof. Agnar Helgason from Iceland will look at historical issues about the relationships of Icelanders, Irish, Scots and Orcadians.
  • • Ever wondered about the deep questions of evolution? One of the world’s top molecular biologists, Prof. Ford Doolittle from Canada asks whether it is fundamentally driven by selfishness, in a struggle where the strong survive, or is it more about a diverse interacting web of life?
  • • There will be the story of Muir of Ord contractor Willie Logan and the building of the Tay road bridge, and the development through this of Scotland’s airline Loganair.
  • • Take a look at the design and building of the traditional North Ronaldsay praam, a small boat ideally suited to the formidable waters around the island.
  • • A varied mix of music will entertain visitors, including concerts for the natural world by the St Andrews New Music Ensemble, ranging from Hildegard of Bingen and Gabrieli to Handel and Haydn. They will also perform a new work by composer Emily Doolittle based on the songs of seals, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s The Birds.
  • • The Lorcán Mac Mathúna Quartet from Ireland will join Orkney Children’s Theatre Club in the thousand year old story of the battle of Clontarf. Norse and Irish armies clashed outside the walls of Dublin, and details in the old Irish annals were confirmed by subsequent calculation of the tides on the day.
  • • The Irish musicians will also take part in a presentation of the life of one of the most brilliant mathematicians of all time, Sir William Rowan Hamilton. Born in Dublin just over two centuries ago, he could speak more than ten languages in childhood, and he went on to develop powerful mathematical insights that remain at the heart of physics today, and particularly quantum theory.
  • • From Australia will come a science show featuring Mike Gore, the founder of the Questacon science centre in Canberra, with colleagues Sue Stocklmayer and Mark Ellison. There will also be a bubble show from Philip Noble and a show on colour by Ben Craven.
  • • Land use in Scotland will be the subject of this year’s Grimond Lecture, to be given by Prof. Roger Crofts, while Heriot-Watt University’s Year of the Sea will open up a range of issues about the blue economy, blue carbon, and fishing for the future.

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events said:

We are delighted to be supporting the Orkney International Science Festival as part of the Year of Young People celebrations. OISF is a wonderful opportunity for young people to get hands-on experience, all the while participating in a fun event within their local community. Young people are bringing a new perspective to the festival evidenced by a fantastic programme of activity, further reinforcing Scotland as the perfect stage for events.

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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.