About OISF Festival 2017

It was Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and there were certainly plenty of anniversaries to commemorate. There were 50 years since the start of Loganair’s North Isles air service, and 50 years since the death of the Orkney shell expert and poet Robert Rendall.

It was 50 years too since the start of Orkney’s sea school, and there were opportunities to learn about knots and ropework as well as traditional boatbuilding.

It was 75 years since the battle of Alamein, where radio transmitters and mine detectors played a key role, described in a collaboration between Orkney Wireless Museum and the Museum of Communication in Burntisland, Fife.

It was 40 years since the opening of the Flotta oil terminal, and an opportunity to look back at the people who brought the oil ashore and the story of how Orkney and Shetland County Councils achieved unique benefits.

There was a look too at the story of the Gulf Stream and its role in the heat flow of ocean currents – and also some of the fascinating items it carries to Orkney beaches.

From Norway came the story of the mystery lights of Hessdalen – a valley where strange, hovering, flashing balls of light have been seen for more than a century. Careful research has been going on to seek possible clues, and to find out if they might be connected with the phenomenon of ball lighting.

From Slovenia there was a look at the life of a man whose vision of the exploration of space continues to shape our ideas today. Herman Potočnik was born 125 years ago and died young, but back in the 1920s he set down a picture of journeys to the planets, space stations and orbiting satellites.

There was news of research into ways to modify the genes of bacteria so that can convert waste water or plant matter into energy or raw materials for industry. There was also the story of how new ideas for industry have been developed by copying from the natural world, leading to new forms of glue, surgical materials and industrial polymers.

There was information about a new project to tackle Orkney’s grid constraints by turning surplus electricity from renewables into hydrogen for local transport. There was a report of the latest research on the high incidence of MS in Orkney, and into genes that influence lifespan generally. There was look back much further in time to the question of how the first living cell may have emerged, several billion years ago,

Along the way there was the story of the remarkable Nikola Tesla, the discovery of the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, and astrophotography for absolute beginners. There was the science of woodwind instruments and a look at the instruments of the Norse age, and there was also a look at how the Norsemen may have navigated over long distances.


One of the highlights was Prof. Peter Higgs In Conversation with his former mathematical physics student Dennis Canavan. The Nobel laureate looked back at the events that had shaped his career and led to the prediction and discovery of the Higgs boson. The Festival was opened in fine style by Christopher Somerville, the walking correspondent of The Times, and later a seafood lunch, following talks on the work to make Orkney’s brown crab fishery sustainable.


You could make a cloud chamber and see particles from outer space. You could write in runes, or study ancient seeds and pollen. You could try a Raspberry Pi or learn about life in polar extremes or on alien worlds. You could make a constellation chart, a molecule or a plastic-free kite. You could learn about dragonflies and damselflies, or test your speed and coordination in the Fitlab.


It’s 50 years since the death of Robert Rendall, Orkney shore naturalist and poet. Two exhibitions in the Orkney Library mark the occasion, with archive letters and photos, and new images of the Orkney shore. The new pictures come from Orkney Camera Club, looking at aspects of Orkney’s shoreline. Upstairs in the archive department is a display of documents and pictures from the life of a much-loved and multi-talented Orcadian.