OISF_logoOrkney International Science Festival 2016

The sea surged through the Festival, in a year when the world looked back a century to the battle of Jutland and forward to the potential of tidal power.

A few days after Jutland, HMS Hampshire sank off Marwick Head, and a licensed diving expedition this spring produced remarkable images of the condition of the wreck, using the latest techniques in underwater photography and 3D photogrammetry – and shown by expedition organiser Emily Turton.

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Beautiful images from the world of electromagnetic waves were shown by Dr Tim Drysdale of the Open University, as he demonstrated how Maxwell’s great equations, which govern everything from light rays to radio waves, could be visualised.

Dr Pippa Goldschmidt told the story of the development of a later wave equation, the one produced by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, which came into being during a romantic Christmas holiday in a Swiss mountain resort.

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The world of Arctic ice and snow was depicted by ocean scientist Prof. Peter Wadhams in his assessment of the future of the Arctic ice, and by plasma physicist Dr Melanie Windridge in the story of her quest to see the aurora, the Northern Lights.

The world of the Antarctic was described by writer Anne Strathie, telling the story of the men of the Terra Nova, fatally delayed by ice in their efforts to bring supplies to the Scott expedition. And polar historian Dr Maria Pia Casarini looked back at the amazing rescue of the Shackleton expedition from the bleak Elephant Island, 100 years ago to almost the day.

Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance had got caught in the Antarctic ice and borne northwards from the coast of Antarctica, until eventually it was crushed. One of the small lifeboats that took them to Elephant Island was then taken on a journey of more than 800 miles, through icy storms and mountainous seas to seek rescue from the whaling base in South Georgia.

It was two centuries since the moment when the first haul of herring came in to Stronsay harbour, the start of a great industrial boom. The story was told of the arrival of the herring, and the dynamic Samuel Laing who saw this as an opportunity in the economic downturn following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

There was a look back much further in time, to a 1.2-million-year-old human jawbone found in a Spanish cave – showing, said the discoverer, Dr María Martinón-Torres, that Europe was inhabited much earlier than was thought, with the first Europeans coming from Asia.

Elsewhere in the programme, she told the story of the cave in Siberia that has given a new strand to the story of humans in more recent times – to us and the Neanderthals must now be added new cousins – the Denisovans.

Dr María Martinón-Torres

And one of the great physics discovereries of modern times, gravitational waves, was described from first-hand experience by Prof. Martin Hendry, a leading member of the Glasgow University team who were one of the core groups involved.

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There was crystal tiling and dolphin communication, dark skies and broadband, the origin of comets and the gene that cracked the cancer code. The sparks flew in the sizzling Arcs and Sparks show, and the fires of the Big Bang were described.

For fuller details, you can download a copy of the programme here.