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14 March 2024 - 14 March 2024

11:00AM - 12:30PM

Institute of Advanced Study, Seminar Room, Cosin's Hall, Durham University, Palace Green, DH1 3RL

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Public Lecture by Dr Howie Firth (Director, Orkney International Science Festival)

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Cosin's Hall, home of the Institute of Advanced Study


When Edinburgh City Council sought support from the science establishment to create the world's first science festival in 1989, the reaction was distinctly unenthusiastic. But today some of those who expressed the greatest doubts at the start are amongst the Festival's most enthusiastic supporters. As Edinburgh's first director, back in 1989, Dr Howie Firth created the format for a science festival. He found that the festival format required looking at science afresh in an interdisciplinary way, taking an overview about the nature of science itself and its processes and creating a climate in which perceived barriers between the sciences, arts and humanities fade. He then moved on to help the development of the concept elsewhere - from Orkney which he continues to direct, to Grafton in New South Wales where he was patron of the Festival of Philosophy, Science and Theology. He explains what was so different about the science festival concept - and how that same approach is needed more than ever today.

This lecture is free and open to all. Registration is however required to attend. Please complete this booking form

About Dr Howie Firth
Howie Firth grew up in Orkney in the seaport of Stromness, and studied mathematical physics at Edinburgh, where one of the lecturers was Peter Higgs. He came to Durham to take a PhD in particle physics, and after two enjoyable years decided to take a break from science, which led him into teaching in the small outer island schools of Orkney, travelling by boat and plane, and then into broadcasting, where he was the first head of BBC Radio Orkney, one of the UK's first two community radio stations. The years in Orkney were also an opportunity to follow his love of history and literature, and he went deeply into the study of folklore and mythology and the insights this provides into the remarkable achievements of the people of the Neolithic, and found that in doing so he was approaching science and its history from a new direction. It was also an opportunity to pursue his enjoyment of festivals and music, and when Edinburgh City Council advertised for someone to create the world's first science festival, he decided to apply. He moved back to Orkney to develop the Orkney International Science Festival, which he continues to direct today, and for a number of years he was also chair of Orkney Islands Council's Economic Development Committee. He moved to Elgin in Moray 25 years ago to develop communication of science for Moray College UHI, and afterwards stayed on in the area while continuing his work in Orkney and elsewhere. He has written numerous articles and edited various books and is the author of the comprehensive book Orkney (Robert Hale, 2013). He has given talks in eleven countries, and was the patron of the Festival of Philosophy, Science and Theology in Grafton, New South Wales through its six occasions, and he has honorary degrees from the Open University and Heriot-Watt University.