In this Year of Young People, young people will be very much to the fore in this year’s Festival, with two young Orcadians, Lucy Leech and Hope Laing, carrying out the opening, and a team of young people hosting all the events.
They will be introducing a wide range of speakers, including this year two Nobel laureates, with the visit of Sir Paul Nurse (physiology/medicine, 2001) and the return of 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 in conversation with physicist and author Graham Farmelo.
Graham Farmelo will also present a dramatised lecture of the life of the physicist Paul Dirac, one of the founders of quantum theory, based on his book The Strangest Man and featuring actor David Sumner, co-founder of the Swallow Theatre in Galloway.
One of the world’s top molecular biologists, Prof. Ford Doolittle, is coming from Canada to speak on one of the deep questions of evolution: is it fundamentally driven by selfishiness, in a struggle where the strong survive, or is it more about a diverse interacting web of life?
Prof. Karim Labib of the University of Dundee will look at the latest evidence for how the very first living creatures formed on earth, more than 3 billion years ago.
A day on the human genetics has been 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 proteonomics.
Ed Gilbert from Ireland and Prof. Agnar Helgason from Iceland will look at historical issues about the relationships of Icelanders, Irish, Scots and Orcadians.
The Festival will feature the physics of mountain rescue and the mathematics of Bach, hydrogen for transport and kites for wind energy, becoming an astronaut and photographing 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 wartime aerial photography, and of Big Bill and the Guns of Alamein.
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. There will also be 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.
You can find out about the black hole at the galaxy’s heart and the invisible world of particle physics, about the current state of the Arctic permafrost and the coldest place in Scotland, about building your own rocket and engineering the future.
It’s 20 years since Sue Stocklmayer and Mike Gore first came to the Festival and, joined by Mark Ellison, they are marking the occasion in a new science show with some of their favourite demonstrations.
And with it being the centenary of the birth of Orkney film-maker Margaret Tait, there will be a look at her work and a showing of her film Land Makar at Skaill House, just across the loch from the cottages where she and the subject of the film, Mary Graham Sinclair, lived.
Links between writing and the world about us will come through several talks organised by ASLE, the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, who will be bringing their biennial conference to Orkney for the Festival. Topics will range from the sea and its energy to starling song.
There is a varied mix of music, which includes concerts of music 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 story of the battle of Clontarf just over a thousand years ago, when 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 are today at the heart of physics, and particularly quantum theory.
The quartet will join the Mayfield Singers and Paisley Abbey organist George McPhee in the Sunday evening concert in St Magnus Cathedral, the theme of which this year will be the scholars of Ireland from ancient times.
Another story from the history of science will come from Uzbekistan, where nearly six hundred years ago, a sultan built an astronomical observatory that was one of the finest in the world. Sultan Ulugh Beg was the grandson of the conqueror Tamerlane, but he had a great love of learning, and aspects of the design of his observatory influenced the design of one in Istanbul, and through that the observatory of Tycho Brahe in Denmark. The meridian line that was built at Samarkand was so accurately laid out that in more recent times it was used to give a measure of the minute amount of rotation produced by continental drift.
The question of land use in Scotland will be raised by Prof. Roger Crofts in this year’s Grimond Lecture, and 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.
The day-by-day programme gives fuller details – and we hope it will encourage you to come and join us in September!