Project Description

TALKS

With the sea running through the programme, we look at the progress of tidal power, and plans to row the Northwest Passage; at sea-cliffs and shore life and whale migration in Arctic waters.

We hear about ways to tackle climate change, through soil regeneration and alternative power for flights and ferries. We hear how people fought Smallpox and Spanish flu, and about new research into genetics and Covid resistance. There is news of work on gravitational waves, and exploring space, and new ideas on the origins of life and the nature of time.

There are insights into Orkney’s past, with talks in memory of four people who did so much for Orkney’s archaeology and history. And further back in time there are stories of the great mammals of the Ice Age: cave bear and mammoth and sabre-tooth tiger.

REBUILDING THE SOIL

September 2 → 11:15 am12:15 pm

Soil regeneration is the theme of Prof. Karen Johnson’s opening talk in the 2021 Orkney International Science Festival. Since industrialisation, two-thirds of all global greenhouse gas emissions have come from fossil fuels. And remarkably, the other third has come from the land. ...

TO TAKE THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE TO THE SEA

September 2 → 1:00 pm1:45 pm

Long thought a fable, the Arctic route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans had its final link identified by Dr John Rae. Half a century later, Roald Amundsen made the journey in a fishing vessel, although only after several years of voyaging and overwintering. ...

THE WIND ON THE SEA AND THE ENERGY FUTURE

September 2 → 3:00 pm3:45 pm

Blocks of seabed leased for offshore wind represent a massive proportion of the UK’s future electricity demand, with some 19 GW (around one-fifth of current demand) within 100 kilometres of Orkney harbours. Could Orkney become a service base for the new offshore wind ...

TURNING THE TIDE

September 2 → 5:00 pm5:20 pm

The world’s most powerful, most technologically advanced tidal turbine is currently generating energy in Orkney waters. Several of those who developed it join us on film to tell the story. And how does it to feel to be working on the forefront of technology in an island setting?

FLIGHTS AND FERRIES TO THE FUTURE

September 2 → 7:00 pm8:00 pm

Speakers bring the latest news from pioneering projects that are opening possible ways to decarbonise Orkney’s ferries and planes. We’ll hear how Kirkwall airport is being used as a testbed for low-carbon flight alternatives, and on the progress of plans to trial hydrogen technology on MV Shapinsay.

FIVE STARS IN AURIGA

September 2 → 9:00 pm10:00 pm

The stars and their origins are the theme of three works by the Scottish composer Edward McGuire – interwoven here with stories from the Scottish Borders of lives connected by astronomy and space.

THE MAN WHO FOUGHT THE SPANISH FLU

September 3 → 10:00 am10:45 am

The so-called Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19 infected around a third of the world’s population in four lethal waves. Many people thought there was little that could – or should – be done to prevent it. Manchester’s Medical Officer thought differently.

THE SHETLAND WEAVER AND THE MORTAL POX

September 3 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

Waves of smallpox devastated Shetland in the 18th century, killing up to one person in six. But the Shetland weaver John Williamson developed his own method of inoculation, using tiny amounts of living smallpox material whose virulence had been lessened ...

BEES BEYOND THE MICROSCOPE

September 3 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

Have you ever wondered how bees carry pollen back to a hive? Or how their wings work together to enable them to fly? We need to take a closer look to explore these and other aspects of the fascinating lives of these amazing insects! See them live, and close ...

OUR GENES AND THE VIRUS

September 3 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

Why do some people become desperately ill from the COVID-19 virus, while others are little affected? Edinburgh University researchers have studied the DNA of patients in intensive care across the UK, compared this with samples from healthy volunteers ...

RESURGENCE OF THE LANGUAGE

September 3 → 5:00 pm5:45 pm

Technology has enabled the mass media to homogenise our world, with older languages pushed to the margins. But there is growing recognition of the richness of culture and tradition and worldview that a language contains, and next year will see the start of the UN’s Decade of Indigenous Languages. And in some places technology is ...

PREPARING FOR SPACE SETTLEMENTS USING MICROBES

September 3 → 7:30 pm8:30 pm

Moray’s astronomy club SIGMA host a visit from Prof. Charles Cockell of the University of Edinburgh and welcome you to join them and hear how microbes can help us in space. “On Earth, we use them to make yogurt, drugs and to mine metals,” he says. “As we head out into the stars, microbes will come with us as our allies.” ...

AN ORKNEY DYNASTY: THE SEARCH FOR KOLBEIN HRUGA

September 3 → 7:30 pm8:15 pm

Remnants of a square tower and ramparts are all that survive of Cubbie Roo’s Castle on Wyre, with the name linked to a legendary giant and to a figure in 12th-century Norse Orkney, Kolbein Hruga. The search for his origins reveals a picture of the wealth and power of Norse Orkney, and insights into Sweyn Asleifsson, and clues to the ancestry of the Flett family of today.

OUT ACROSS THE HARBOUR

September 4 → 9:45 am10:45 am

Research students from three universities – Heriot-Watt, Robert Gordon, and UHI – share news of the progress of their work, hosted by Dr Mike Bell of Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Island Technology in the Stromness campus with its views out across the harbour to Graemsay, Hoy and Scapa Flow. ...

CONFLICT ON THE COAST

September 4 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

Rising sea levels with coastal flooding and population movements inland, over-exploitation of resources like water and biomass, increasing pollution and sediment discharge … How do we cope? Look for nature-based solutions, says Roger Crofts, see the coast as part of a bigger system and plan holistically ...

TRADERS IN THE NOR’ WAST

September 4 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

Formed just over 350 years ago, the Hudson’s Bay Company had a trading monopoly over a vast area of North-West Canada, rich in Arctic furs. Its ships regularly called in to Stromness for supplies and workers, and the resulting income gave a huge boost to Orkney’s ...

THE CURES OF HUDSON’S BAY

September 4 → 5:00 pm5:45 pm

The Atlantic voyage from Stromness, plus the harsh environment, could cause serious health problems, such as scurvy, for Hudson’s Bay Company workers. They had doctors and apothecary chests but, as Dr Winona Wheeler of the University of Saskatchewan ...

THE PRINCE OF EVOLUTION

September 4 → 8:00 pm8:45 pm

A radical theory of evolution comes from a remarkable man who died a century ago. Mutual aid, said Peter Kropotkin, not competition, was the key to survival. His ideas took shape in years of studying animal behaviour in Siberia’s -40ºC winters ,...

ISLAND JOURNEYS AND THE MOUNTAINS’ CALL

September 4 → 9:30 pm10:15 pm

It’s 100 years since a Scotswoman with a love of Orkney went to teach English in the then recently established University of Ljubljana in modern Slovenia. She was Fanny Copeland, daughter of Scotland’s 3rd Astronomer Royal. Her visits to Orkney ...

SET FAIR FOR SWONA

September 5 → 10:00 am10:45 am

An opportunity to find out more about Swona, its seals and shipwrecks, as Katy Firth of Stromness Museum introduces an exhibition of 360 degree photospheres of the island, with the help of some of the people close to its wildlife and history.

THE POWER OF THE WIND AND THE SCIENCE OF SAILING SHIPS

September 5 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

Schooners, brigantines and barques, and the clippers which could reach speeds of over 17 knots – the tall ships sailed the world’s oceans, carrying cargoes from one continent to another, the fastest of them sometimes covering several hundred miles in a day.

In the 1950s and 1960s the North Isles of Orkney lacked mains water and electricity and good piers for shipping. Mechanisation was driving agriculture forward, with the main crops still oats, bere and turnips, with a thriving egg industry, and houses were warmed by Wellstood stoves and lit by Tilley lamps ...

John Hedges transformed our view of Orcadian prehistory. His discoveries of buildings around the broch at Howe led to a much wider understanding of Iron Age Orkney. His work, together with more recent work on brochs in Orkney and Shetland is described by archaeologist Dr Beverley Ballin Smith.

THE NESS IN ROCK AND STONE

September 5 → 5:00 pm6:00 pm

The archaeologists are back in action at the Ness of Brodgar this summer, with an audience worldwide wondering what may emerge next from the site. Meanwhile some fascinating insights are coming from the study of the finds, including the various stone artefacts, as excavation director Nick Card of the UHI Archaeology Institute team at Orkney College ...

THE GREAT ENGRAVER

September 5 → 6:45 pm7:15 pm

Born 300 years ago in Kirkwall, Robbie Strang loved to draw and dreamed of going to sea, and went to the grammar school, where the master was Murdoch Mackenzie, later to become the great mapmaker. Then came apprenticeship to an engraver in Edinburgh, and a romance which led to him joining the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie and etching a plate ...

EXTRATERRESTRIAL: WHAT WAS ‘OUMUAMUA?

September 5 → 8:00 pm8:45 pm

It wasn’t an asteroid: they’re dull and rocky, and often round, and it was shiny and elongated. It didn’t have a comet’s bright gassy tail. And it seemed to accelerate away from the sun as it left us, propelled in a straight line. Astronomers called it ‘Oumuamua, meaning ‘scout’ – and, says Prof. Avi Loeb ...

COMPOSING BY NUMBERS: JOHN CLERK OF PENICUIK

September 5 → 9:30 pm10:15 pm

The great Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who established the nature of light and laid the foundations for much of modern physics, came from a glitteringly talented family. His great-great-grandfather was Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, lawyer and judge, architect and landscape gardener, and accomplished composer ...

EINSTEIN’S WAVES

September 6 → 10:00 am11:00 am

The detection of gravitational waves in 2015 confirmed Einstein’s prediction of a century before – and opened an entirely new window on the universe. Prof. Martin Hendry of Glasgow University, a senior member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration which made the discovery, surveys the brief history of gravitational-wave astronomy ...

MAXWELL’S LIGHT

September 6 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

James Clerk Maxwell’s discovery of the nature of light led to radio waves and modern telecommunications as well as laying the foundations for much of modern physics. It was on Maxwell’s new foundations that Einstein rebuilt Newton’s work on motion, and the three are widely regarded together as the greatest physicists of all time. ...

COMMUNITIES FOR CLIMATE

September 6 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

Are the challenges of climate change so great that we should leave them for the world’s leaders, meeting in November in Glasgow? Not at all, says Dr Bobby Macaulay, of Perth College UHI’s Centre for Mountain Studies. Communities can take actions that make a difference, ranging ...

CRITICAL THINKING

September 6 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

Can public bodies cope with the biggest challenges of today? Yes they can, says Prof. Iain MacLeod of the Institution of Engineers in Scotland, if they put in place an ethos of critical thinking – constantly challenging and revising proposed solutions and approaches. He gives examples of organisational ...

A WEALTH OF WEEDS

September 6 → 5:00 pm6:00 pm

Gardening can sometimes seem a battle against those plants we consider weeds which want to grow in our carefully-prepared spaces for flowers and vegetables. But, say ethnobotanical researcher Anna Canning and gardener/composter Elizabeth Woodcock, there are other ways ...

CURBING THE ICE MELT BY MINING THE SKY

September 6 → 7:30 pm8:15 pm

With the signs of global warming ever more evident and little international agreement on action, the time has come, says Prof. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, to switch to a new approach – to develop technology to remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide ...

TUNNELS TO THE ISLES

September 6 → 9:00 pm9:45 pm

The tunnels linking islands in Faroe are transforming the lives of communities. Teitur Samuelsen, the chief executive of the company that owns the new 11-kilometre Eysturoy tunnel, describes how the project was planned, organised and financed.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIMEKEEPING

September 7 → 10:00 am10:45 am

Humans have been keeping track of time for millennia, to regulate aspects of daily life. Prof. Helen Margolis of the UK National Physical Laboratory looks at how we reached the era of atomic timekeeping and what technological advances this has ...

THE MATHEMATICS OF THE NEOLITHIC

September 7 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

Meticulous studies of stone circles by Alexander Thom and Euan MacKie show geometrical patterns, often aligned to movements of sun and moon – but why? Dr Howie Firth puts the question the other way round. What branch of mathematics best expresses the Neolithic worldview? An Irish mathematician of 150 years ago provides an answer - and new insights.

TRAIL OF THE CAVE BEAR, DANCE OF THE TIGER

September 7 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

Prof. Björn Kurtén, who died in 1988, was one of the world’s finest evolutionary paleontologists. In his native Finland, a country with almost no fossils, he created a paleontology tradition. He studied the great Ice Age mammals, the mammoth and the bison, the sabre-toothed tiger and the cave bear, and he built a picture of their origins and patterns ...

GREEN LAND OF NORSE AND INUIT

September 7 → 3:30 pm4:30 pm

The story of two of Greenland’s UNESCO world heritage sites, cultural landscapes with very different stories. Kujataa in South Greenland is the lushest part of the country and is a subarctic farming landscape which combines the cultures of the Norse ...

MOVE IT INTO THE SUN

September 7 → 5:00 pm6:00 pm

Live from the Inverness darkroom: a demonstration of the early photographic process – the Cyanotype. The process involves placing objects on paper soaked with iron-based chemicals, for gradual exposure in the sun’s ...

SAVE IT FROM THE SHORE

September 7 → 7:00 pm8:30 pm

Dump it by the roadside, tip it in a waterway, throw it into the sea – from where it can often be washed ashore on beaches? It’s a global problem, but traditionally in islands where resources are finite, nothing was simply discarded. Driftwood became lintels and doorposts, worn-out clothes were turned into patchwork quilts ...

WITH THE BAG OF LETTERS

September 7 → 9:00 pm10:00 pm

In this centenary of the birth of George Mackay Brown, whose father was a postman in Stromness, Prof. Tom Stevenson, whose mother ran the Quoyloo Post Office for fifty years, looks at the history of the postal service in Orkney. He tells of the early days of the Penny Black and Twopenny Blue stamps, the development ...

LIFE’S COSMIC PREVALENCE

September 8 → 10:00 am10:45 am

Is life unique to Earth and found nowhere else amongst an estimated 40 billion planets in our galaxy? Or is it ubiquitous throughout the galaxy as well as among the many billions of other galaxies in the observable universe? Some astronomers have argued that life is a fundamental feature of the universe, among them Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe ...

A TIME TO FADE AND A TIME TO GROW

September 8 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

The development of heat engines in the 19th century brought the concept of energy to the fore. It effected changes in the states of matter – solid, liquid and gas – breaking down the ordered solid states into the more disordered states of liquids and gases. The idea developed of entropy – a measure of disorder – as a core concept, ...

THE TREE OF LIFE UPROOTED

September 8 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

Darwin thought life evolved like a tree growing, with a single common trunk opening out into a myriad of branches and twigs. But today, says Prof. Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, at the forefront of fundamental research in evolutionary ...

WHALES IN THE CHANGING ARCTIC

September 8 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

Bowhead whales travel thousands of miles every spring to feed on the rich plankton concentrations of Disko Bay, West Greenland. But why do the plankton concentrate there, and what does Arctic ice melt mean for their future? Dr Neil Banas of Strathclyde University ...

THE SHAPE OF THE COAST

September 8 → 5:00 pm5:30 pm

Geologists Dr John Flett Brown and Dr Adrian Hall look at the sea-cliffs of Orkney’s west coast. The dynamic duo explore the Old Red Sandstone along the shore and discuss the effects of monster waves in Atlantic storms. "Few coasts on Earth," they declare, "match the magnificence ...

It matters where whisky is made: distilleries highlight the influence of local climate, sea air, soil and terrain. But at the heart of the production process are the cells of yeast, which at the start would have been wild yeasts appearing naturally. Could they too have an effect on flavour and aroma? And could that give ...