Talks 2023

What does the future hold for Orkney? We’ve had twenty amazing years of wave and tide developments – what may the next twenty hold, in energy and transport. And can we design an affordable house?

We’ll hear of microalgae turning waste into food or pharmaceuticals. The science of photonics, with tools of light. Progress on fusion energy, creating the power of the Sun. The man who linked solar storms to the Northern Lights; and an Arctic quest for them.

We’ll go back to 1953 and the hurricane-force winds that destroyed Orkney’s pioneering wind turbine at Costa Head – and the ship that ran before them in an epic journey to Aberdeen. We’ll look back at Stromness’s days of sail; and hear of a journey through the Northwest Passage today.

An ancient Greek computer with mechanical gears. Midwinter sunlight at Maeshowe. Traditional dances gathered by a mathematician; and artists inspired by mathematics. Traditional cereals and their nutritional benefit today. Tracking Ice Age rock movements; and unearthing a mammoth graveyard. Tracing Orkney family origins, the Fletts in particular. A lost flock, a hydrogen ship … and much much more!

AURORA: IN SEARCH OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

September 9, 2023 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

What really causes the northern lights? Plasma physicist and explorer Dr Melanie Windridge describes an Arctic journey of discovery through Scandinavia, Canada and Svalbard, interweaving the underlying science with background history, folklore and landscape – and spectacular images of the Northern Lights.

THE MAN WHO LINKED THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

September 9, 2023 → 3:30 pm4:30 pm

The aurora is triggered by the solar wind, but the link only became clear after a massive solar storm in 1859 and an equally powerful magnetic disturbance on Earth observed by Balfour Stewart, of Orcadian descent. Local historian Patricia Long tells his story, and Prof. Tom Stevenson looks at possible Orkney weather impacts.

UNEARTHING A MAMMOTH GRAVEYARD

September 9, 2023 → 5:30 pm6:30 pm

Fossil hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth with the story of their discovery of the remains of five Ice Age mammoths that led to the documentary Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard. They describe too the ancient world in which the mammoths and their hunters lived.

A THIN AND ROCKY SLICE OF TIME

September 10, 2023 → 7:30 pm8:30 pm

Chris Thomas of the Quekett Microscopical Club shows some beautiful images from thin-section rock slides and the pictures of ancient worlds they lead to. Katy Firth of Stromness Museum describes plans to digitise the slides from the late Ted Kellock’s rock collection.

AN EXPLOSION OF FORMS: ART, ORIGAMI AND OCEAN ECOSYSTEMS

September 11, 2023 → 10:00 am11:00 am

Modelling plankton with origami is surprisingly similar to doing so with scientific computer simulations, says ecologist and origamist Neil Banas - and it can open up fresh approaches to picturing the richness of life in the oceans. Composer and crochet artist Emily Doolittle joins him to explain.

ICE OVER ORKNEY

September 11, 2023 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

Just 20,000 years ago, Orkney was covered by a kilometre of ice, part of a huge mass reaching beyond Scotland. Over the years, geologists have found evidence of rocks carried by the glaciers, and in a new film by Selena Kuzman, Dr John Flett Brown and Dr Adrian Hall find some rocks that have travelled a long distance.

DANCING WITH MATHEMATICS

September 11, 2023 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

Dr Tom Flett, born 100 years ago, took his PhD at Cambridge under the supervision of one of the greatest mathematicians of the time and went on to become professor of mathematics at Sheffield. But he is better known across Scotland as the co-author with his wife Joan of the classic book Traditional Dancing in Scotland. Their daughters Jane Harrison and Lindsay Smith tell the family story, and mathematician Dr James Cranch from Sheffield University looks at the mathematical background.

FOLLOWING THE FLETTS

September 11, 2023 → 3:30 pm4:30 pm

The Fletts have long been to the fore in almost every aspect of Orkney life from Orkneyinga Saga times onwards. How far back can we trace them? Prof. Jim Flett Wilson of Edinburgh University brings genetics together with family history to trace the story – and goes on to look at the Drevers, the Sinclairs, the Rendalls and the Linklaters, among others, as well.

BLOWN AWAY FROM COSTA

September 11, 2023 → 5:15 pm6:15 pm

It was the world's first grid-connected wind turbine, located at Costa Head to catch the full force of the wind. As the 50s went on, the world's thoughts turned away from wind. But it showed what could be done and led the way for subsequent wind developments in Orkney and elsewhere. Neil Kermode of EMEC looks at its story and significance, while archaeologist Dan Lee traces the clues from the remains.

THE THORFINN AND THE HURRICANE

September 11, 2023 → 7:30 pm8:30 pm

70 years ago the Earl Thorfinn, on her round of the North Isles, was hit by a hurricane and had to run before the wind towards Aberdeen. Captain Hamish Flett and his crew coped with mountainous seas and conditions that destroyed other vessels. How did the ship survive, and how has marine communication developed over the years to help in such situations? Prof. Tom Stevenson tells the story.

CRACKING CONCRETE, GROWING CARROTS, SINKING CARBON

September 12, 2023 → 10:00 am11:00 am

Join regenerative gardener Elizabeth Woodcock as she takes the latest scientific research and applies it to growing our own food in our own gardens. “The best way to make our gardens more fertile,” she says, “is to restore the teaming web of life, and this in turn sequesters carbon into the soil.”

THE MICROALGAL MIRACLE

September 12, 2023 → 11:30 am12:30 pm

They are tiny single cells, invisible to the naked eye. They can consume agricultural and food waste – and produce fuel, fertiliser, feed, nutrients and pharmaceuticals. Dr Matjaž Vidmar of Edinburgh University describes the amazing abilities of microalgae and his current research into their potential.

A VIRUS IN OUR GENES

September 12, 2023 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

The genome of human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) can integrate into the human genome – and thus be inherited. Prof. Ruth Jarrett’s group at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research is using DNA sequencing to try to find when and where this has happened in the past - including in Orkney.

FANTASTIC LIGHT – INCREDIBLE INDUSTRIES

September 12, 2023 → 3:30 pm4:30 pm

Photonics – the optical equivalent of electronics – underpins modern society. It includes the optical fibres of the internet, high-power lasers that cut and weld, and solar panels. Prof. Robert R. Thomson of Heriot-Watt University describes some remarkable state-of-the-art applications for photonic technologies.

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