Orkney Science Festival and Wireless Museum

Orkney Science Festival and Wireless Museum

This September I was lucky enough to participate in (and visit) the Orkney International Science Festival.

Orkney is a place I have always wanted to visit, and if you don’t know where it is, it’s located off the North East tip of Scotland. It’s home to ancient stone circles, viking settlements and lots of excellent seafood and beer.

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The science festival was great. There were public talks every day in venues around Kirkwall (the main city in Orkney). I met a few people that travel to Orkney each year especially for the science festival which usually runs in September.

I attended some great talks on diverse topics from brewing viking beer, the life of James Hutton  and how a project about knitting can help us understand mathematics better (more about that here in Frontiers Magazine).  My favourite talk though was given by Tom Stevenson from the Museum of Communication in Fife about the developments in communication during wartime  and the role Orkney played in the world wars.

Which leads me swiftly on to some of the awesome science-y things you can visit in Orkney even if the science festival isn’t in town.

Orkney is home to the Orkney Wireless Museum this is a volunteer staffed treasure trove of anything related to wireless communication and sound. I didn’t get to spend enough time as I would have liked in here and I definitely want to return for a closer look and browse.

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The museum is basically one room  crammed from floor to ceiling with collections of radios, gramophones and transmitters. It’s free to visit but does take donations to help support the upkeep of the museum. They have a website with some further information about the museum and its history. Due to its reliance on volunteers you may find that the museum isn’t open when you expect it to be.. . (just a warning there). The museum is only open between April and September (like many attractions in Orkney). It is also open on a Saturday.

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This is a wireless receiver from 1912. That’s over 100 years old (stating the obvious there).

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As we were travelling to schools with our science show we got to visit some interesting places around the island. It’s a beautiful place and we were blessed with incredible weather. What I didn’t realise about  Orkney is that it is actually a collection of islands (I thought it was just one island). Some of which are connected by bridges. These were originally constructed y by Italian prisoners of war who were held on Orkney during WW1. They were built not as bridges but by barriers to German U-boats.

The Italian prisoners of war also built this incredible Italian chapel which is well worth a drive to see. It’s really easy to get around Orkney by car. It can be really windy though!

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These ‘bricks’ are all painted on.

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In the area you can also see the remains of the scuttled German fleet from 1919 in Scapa Flow. These are all based around 30-40 minute drive from Kirkwall.

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You can see more of my photos from  Orkney by clicking on the photo below

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There’s also some very interesting geology in Orkney but I think I will leave that for another trip.

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Natural History Museum London Out of Hours

Natural History Museum London Out of Hours

Last week I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Natural History Museum in London with no-one else around. It’s one of my favourite places to visit in the UK and even better it is completely FREE.

If you do want to take a look around I would recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. I would also recommend taking a look online and time your visit so you can attend one of  the special sessions such as NATURE LIVE which run daily. At these short talks you can hear from the researchers and curators who work behind the exhibitions on display with the collections.
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There is so much more to the museum than dinosaurs but it wouldn’t be right to feature a blog post without  a picture of Dippy.

Speaking of collections, you wouldn’t believe it from the empty looking main hall in the photograph below but there are over 70 MILLION specimens held in the museum. 70 MILLION. Can you get your head round a number that big? I can’t. These range from giant squid to tiny specimens on microscopic slides.

I had a spare 30 minutes to take the ‘spirit tour’ at the museum which was fantastic but be warned it can be a bit gruesome (see the photo of the partially digested squid head found in a sperm whales stomach below – I would love to have one of those on my mantelpiece). I learnt a lot more about the museum from the trail and the guide was able to answer questions about the specimens and collections. The tours run daily and give a peek into some of the specimens in the museum. The giant squid was impressive but seeing some of the original specimens Darwin collected on the Beagle voyage was very special.
I also learnt that the museum uses flesh eating beetles to clean the bones of specimens and I saw a jar of sperm whale eyes. It would be a great visit for a Halloween trip.
Beyond the exhibitions that make you go WOW, OOH and EWW. The museum is also an active research institute partnering with universities around the globe to answer some of the big scientific questions from understanding complex ecosystems to investigating the fundamental geological processes that shape our planet and solar system. These questions are being answered through use of the museum collections, expertise and resources.
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Darwin watching over the main hall.
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The Earth Hall. Unfortunately the escalators weren’t working so I couldn’t travel through the Earth.
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A partially digested head from a Sperm Whale’s stomach of course.
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Disco rocks are found on the first floor of the museum.
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This was my favourite exhibition in the museum which is the Images of Nature gallery. There are some beautiful drawings, paintings and visualisations of nature.
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I was visiting the museum for Universities Week 2014 so there were lots of pop-up exhibitions going on including a volcano on the lawn.  
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A view of  of the main hall from above
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At the very top of the hall is a section of trunk from the giant sequoia tree. It’s HUGE and this tree was over 1300 years old when it was felled. 
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The museum is far to big to get round in one day. I’ve been a number of times and still haven’t seen most of the building. I’m glad I wandered up to the top of the hall to see this ceiling though.

I really enjoyed  the ‘Treasures’ exhibition too and you can explore that online. It’s a small exhibition but each of the exhibits in this collection are of mind-blowingly huge significance. This includes a first edition book of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species published in 1859 and the oldest UK lion skull since the extinction of wild cave lions. I didn’t even know these were a thing.

If you walk through the doors of the Natural History Museum I think it’s impossible to walk out again without saying ‘Wow, I never knew that’.

The museum is open every day from 10 am and is FREE!

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