Programme 2019

It’s a year for the Science Festival to take to the road, as we join in with the first-ever Scottish Foraging Fortnight, which is providing a wealth of outdoor activities and appetising events. We’ll have foraging outings and shore walks, talks on food from the wild, insights into seaweed for nutrition, and a warning about threats to the future of bumblebees.

We’ll also enjoy a Neolithic dinner and hear of Sami delicacies from herbs and berries in Swedish Lapland.

We’ll also hear the story of Roald Amundsen’s ship Maud’s return home to Norway, and we’ll compare past predictions for places for searching for the Franklin expedition.

It’s 50 years after Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, and only a handful of people have followed. Do we need a new approach, for instance setting up staging-posts for a highway to the Moon, Mars and beyond? That’s the topic of one presentation.

We’ll also hear from a Scottish company how satellite images can help to track illegal logging and tackle fuel poverty.

The late Carl Sagan inspired a generation with his writing about the journey into space and exploring the planets of the Solar System and beyond. We’ll hear some of it in the Sunday evening concert in St Magnus Cathedral with the Mayfield Singers and Paisley Abbey organist George McPhee.

We’ll also have poetry about the stars from Rab Wilson from Burns Birthplace Museum. Poems like Ayont the Sun and The Star o’ Hope are part of a new book produced in collaboration with Scotland’s Astronomer Royal, Prof. John C. Brown. Together they’ll look at the lives of Scottish astronomers like Mary Somerville and Williamina Fleming, and show images of misty nebulas and blazing supernovas.

We’ll look back to one of Prof. Brown’s predecessors – Scotland’s 2nd Astronomer Royal, Charles Piazzi Smyth, born 200 years ago. He pioneered mountaintop astronomy and carried out a comprehensive study of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, with detailed measurements and astronomical alignments.

And in Orkney Magnus Spence, who died 100 years ago, surveyed the alignments of Maeshowe and the standing stones. That makes him one of the pioneers of modern archaeoastronomy and , as we’ll hear, his botanical work included the compiling of Flora Orcadiensis.

It’s 100 years since a total eclipse of the Sun provided an opportunity to confirm one of the most beautiful theories in science. Einstein’s general theory of relativity saw gravity as a consequence of the Sun’s bending of the fabric of spacetime. For confirmation the Sun’s bending of light from a distant star had to be measured; and for this the darkness of a total eclipse was needed. Arthur Eddington’s journey to the West African island of Principe produced the evidence that made Einstein a celebrity. We’ll hear the story of the journey, with some music from West Africa as well.

It’s also 100 years since an end-of-term tip in Scapa Flow led a party of Stromness Academy pupils to become eyewitnesses to history, when they saw the German Fleet sinking. In collaboration with Stromness Museum and the St Magnus International Festival, we’ve been looking at the pupils’ stories; you can hear them the dramatic and moving presentation on Saturday afternoon in Stromness. There will also be a look at diving in the Flow and medical issues of safety.

Orkney waters held dangers for 18th-century sailing ships; their situation was transformed by Murdoch Mackenzie’s charts. Up till then maps had been little more than a guideline, sometimes almost impressionistic. But Mackenzie, master at Kirkwall Grammar School, had studied mathematics at Edinburgh University and learned about Newton’s theory of the tides, and Mackenzie built up his maps with mathematical precision. We’ll hear about his life and work, and about hydrographic surveying today, from speakers including the Geographer Royal for Scotland. Orkney Heritage Society will unveil a Kirkwall waterfront plaque.

We’ll also hear about travels on the Silk Road, past and present; and challenges facing Iceland in energy, economy and environment. We’ll mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table of the elements with stories of some and a family show. There’s also a novel show about digestion, with a lion and a man inside him, and a conversation between them.

And the Orkney Children’s Theatre Club will depict the story of Assiepattle’s encounter with the giant Stoor Worm; which will lead us to the physics of a dragon-world. We’ll also be welcoming back Philip Noble with his bubble show, and Steve ‘Jake’ Jacobs, former chief scientist of the Discovery Channel and current 4th Science Wizard.

You can hear about Darwin’s enigmas and Darwin’s ghosts, Newton’s glass prisms and Wilson’s cloud chamber, and research at the frontiers of genetics. You can learn about beautiful data or deep digitality, look ahead to greener ferries or hyperloop, hear about a great Orkney geologist or James Watt’s approach to problem-solving, sample a menu made by microbes or join the discussion at the Bad Bugs Book Club.

The day-by-day programme gives fuller details – and we hope you can join us in September!