Talks

Fire on the Amazon, fire in the Arctic. Orkney’s rocks forming in an ancient lake. Dinosaurs with wings. The origins of the potato, and the origins of Orkney’s own grain.

The days of early radio. The Caithness genius who invented the fax machine, and the electric clock as well. The men and women who tended a seed bank through famine and war to ensure its survival.

How do the fires of the sun blaze and send us the aurora on the wings of the solar wind? How do birds navigate and how do pigeons home? What are key genes for Orkney? How can we regenerate the landscape for wildlife and people?

And can artificial intelligence do everything that we can, or are there areas in which the human brain is unrivalled?

You can hear about these and much more in a rich and varied talks programme.

ENGINEERING THE FUTURE

September 1 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

Is there any way to shift from our current self-destructive path to a more stable world? Yes, say the pioneers in the new field of transition engineering, developed to tackle big complex global problems in a systematic way. Daniel Kenning and Prof. Susan Krumdieck explain how we can develop route maps for the future.

EARLY POTATOES AND EDIBLE CLAY

September 1 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

Up on the high plateau of the Bolivian Altiplano around Lake Titicaca, where the potato was domesticated, the Aymara people eat their potatoes with a light white clay. But why? Samples taken by geologist Dr Stewart Redwood give a clue to a vital step in the story of the potato's development into such an important crop today.

THE SURGE OF WAVE AND TIDE – AND HYDROGEN

September 1 → 5:15 pm6:15 pm

News continues of further Orkney developments in renewables. At sea there are new wave and tidal devices on site. On shore there are vanadium flow batteries to smooth the tidal-powered production of hydrogen in Eday. Speakers from the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) report on the latest developments.

WHAT MAKES VIRUSES TICK?

September 1 → 7:30 pm8:30 pm

Ticks – and the diseases they carry – are an increasing problem in Scotland. A new project at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research seeks community assistance to report locations. Two team members, Dr Benjamin Brennan and Sam Langford, introduce tick biology and identification – and how to stay safe.

THE EARL, THE BISHOP AND THE SPRINGTIME OF SCIENCE

September 1 → 9:00 pm9:30 pm

Find out about an Orkney Earl’s marriage proposal, an Orkney bishop’s book dedication, and a mathematician in the family – and how these are all connected to a web of political and religious conflict out of which modern science developed. With music of the time by Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch.

THE ARCTIC WHALERS

September 2 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

Len Wilson, former boatbuilder, tells the story of ships and men. Naval architect Dennis Davidson of Murray Cormack Associates describes how the ships were strengthened to withstand the pressure of the ice and brings the story up to date with his own design of the aluminium motorboat Polar Bound.

THE MAN WHO RAN THE KATHLEEN ANNIE

September 2 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

Local historian Patricia Long tells the story of the shipwreck on the Muckle Green Holm - and its skipper's longstanding links with Orkney. Polar historian Dr Maria Pia Casarini describes a previous voyage he made: a rescue mission with Shackleton, six men in an open boat, through blizzard, hurricane and mountainous seas.

FEASTING WITH THE EARLS AT THE BU

September 2 → 5:15 pm6:15 pm

Excavations at the Bu in Orphir suggest a possible location of an earl’s hall. A clue comes from a horizontal mill, with remains of cooked food: choice cuts of meat suggest a place of feasting nearby. Dr Colleen Batey and Prof. Ingrid Mainland describe the Orkneyinga Saga story and the modern finds.

FROM HOY TO HUDSON BAY AND BACK

September 2 → 6:45 pm9:30 pm

Take the 6 pm ferry from Stromness for a journey to the old Nor’ Wast. Curator Janette Park of Stromness Museum tells the story of Orkney's long links with the Hudson’s Bay Company and the local people. Polar historian Dr Maria Pia Casarini tells the story of the company itself. It's free but remember to book the ferry.

THE SALT ROADS

September 2 → 7:30 pm8:30 pm

How the salt fish trade connected Shetland with the rest of Europe for more than two hundred years. John Goodlad, who has worked in the seafood industry all his life, describes how salt fish from Shetland became one of the staple foods of Europe and powered the economy of the islands.

HAAL IN DA DROGUE AN GIE DA BOYS A BISCUIT

September 2 → 9:00 pm10:00 pm

There’s a second part to the great Shetland salt fish trade story – the inspiration it's given to many artists, novelists, poets, film makers and musicians, as John Goodlad explains to Spencer Rosie. Three in a Bar play Shetland and Orkney tunes, and there's a taste of Shetland salt cod and pale ale as well to launch his new book.

WHO OWNS THE SEA?

September 3 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

At one time this would have seemed an unlikely question. But the quota system has already brought in ownership of fish. Could further development, such as offshore wind farms, extend this to the seabed? Dr Sandy Kerr of ICIT looks at future scenarios.

LIVING WITH A STAR

September 3 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

“It's a massive atom-smashing machine; a seething mass of electrified gases," says Prof. Robert Walsh of the University of Central Lancashire. With images from the very latest space-based telescopes, he guides us out from the solar core and helps us surf the solar wind – “And then run for cover from immense solar storms!”

AN ARCTIC AFTERNOON

September 3 → 2:00 pm4:00 pm

Hear more about John Rae himself, and the plans for his birthplace, and the story of the Northwest Passage. Polar historian Dr Maria Casarini tells of about the search and the final link put in place by Rae. Sea ice expert Prof. Peter Wadhams describes changing climate conditions which are now opening up the Passage.

NURTURING THE WILD

September 3 → 3:00 pm4:00 pm

Naturalist/author Polly Pullar’s speaks of the joys and heartbreaks of hand-rearing and rehabilitating numerous wild creatures, from tiny naked squirrel kits to tawny owlets and hedgehogs. She highlights the pressing need to care for nature in all forms, from the smallest insects and plants to habitat restoration.

THE MYSTERY OF THE STRONSAY MONSTER

September 3 → 6:00 pm7:00 pm

It was washed up on the rocks in 1808 and if it was a basking shark then it was fifteen feet longer than anything that has ever been recorded. Archive documents suggest the story reached Lord Byron in Geneva in the gloom of 1816. Dr Howie Firth describes the implications of the new developments, for literature as well as science.

GAAN NORT

September 4 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

Around the North Isles, farmers have been looking back at the changes through their lifetimes in recorded interviews with Dr Tom Rendall and Ailsa Seatter. Sit back and listen to voices, with photographs past and present: Jimmy and Mary Lennie in Sanday, Irvine Miller in Stronsay, Ena Hewison in Eday, and Steven Drever in Westray.

DNA FOR VACCINE TARGETS HOMING IN ON EPSTEIN-BARR

September 5 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

The mRNA vaccine success for covid-19 highlights the potential for tackling other viruses such as Epstein-Barr. But it's not currently clear why some people are more likely to get infected than others. Postgraduate researcher Marisa Muckian is working in an Edinburgh University group aiming to use DNA to find out.

GENETIC FINDINGS WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

September 5 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

Each of us differs from everyone else by about four million letters in the DNA code. But which are important for our risk of disease and which should we be told about? Which are common in Orkney? Prof Jim Flett Wilson of the University of Edinburgh investigates using information from the ORCADES and Viking Genes studies.

TRANSITION LAB TING

September 5 → 2:00 pm4:00 pm

To reduce fossil fuel use, each community needs to find its own solutions. One of Heriot-Watt University's Transition Labs is stimulating ideas to reduce children's transport to school. The process includes a community jury called a Ting, to assess the evidence and decide whether to go ahead. You can hear them in action today.

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NEXT EVENTS ON

BRINGING THE LIGHT BACK

August 31 → 6:00 pm7:30 pm

WALK: MULL HEAD CIRCULAR

September 1 → 11:00 am3:00 pm

ENGINEERING THE FUTURE

September 1 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

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