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Snippets from the Orkney International Science Festival

The Orkney News’ science correspondent, Nick Morrison, and some snippets from the science festival.


Peedie Kirk Lunch and Toast to Naturalist and Poet Robert Rendall Given by Bobby Leslie.

Bobby Leslie described the life and works of Robert Rendall.

Robert Rendall continued his naturalist work even when he was stationed here in the First World War.

The toast was with “ScapaSpecial” or juices.

The excellent  lunch was prepared by ladies of the Kirk. Curried parsnip soup followed by little open sandwiches with products from Donaldson’s butchers,Humes,Shapinsay chutney Bere bannocks and fancy cakes by ladies of the Kirk.


Modeled from Mother Nature

Orkney Science Festival 2

Photo N Morrison

Dr John Ramshaw, a protein chemist from the University of Melbourne gave a fascinating tour of some examples of products that mankind has copied/developed from Mother Nature.

The watershed can be said to have been Wöhler synthesis of urea in 1828, previously firmly in the “natural product” camp from inorganic chemicals. Of similar vintage was the synthesis of Mauveine the first synthetic dye by Perkins. At the time Perkins was attempting to synthesize quinine a not totally different molecule. Dr Ramshaw then went on to describe early work on synthetic silks such as Rayon and Nylon and finished with tissue engineering for “spare parts” for humans.


New Tricks for Old Bacteria.

Orkney science festival 3

Photo N Morrison

Marcus Price of Edinburgh University  who comes originally from Orkney gave an in depth sketch of the cutting edge of research in this field. We already use microbiology  in washing products, to make biofuels, brewing , bread making, and purifying sewage.

He described how DNA can actually be synthesized and modified. The aims of the research is to convert plant matter for example into raw materials for industry. There was a lively set of questions from the audience one of which focused on the ethical issues of modifying DNA. He said that the University was well aware of these issues and took them seriously. A further use of this research is aimed at using bacteria to shrink cancerous tumors


Ancient and Modern.

cruisie lamp

photo N Morrison

At the end  of the lecture on the cutting edge of microbiological research Ken Ross demonstrated a crusie lamp commonly used in olden times in Orkney. He also brought a sample of the rushgrass that was used to make the wick. The old lamps Ken brought were made of metal.

Similar shaped lamps feature in Egyptian drawings of the Pharaonic period. He also brought a sample of the whale oil that was used in the lamps together with a sample of the whale bone the oil was made from. That was certainly news to me I had previously thought whale oil was rendered blubber.

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