Sir Andrew Cubie: It’s good to talk about science to stimulate the mind

Sir Andrew Cubie CBE, FRSE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Convenor of the RSEs Outreach Programmes.
Sir Andrew Cubie CBE, FRSE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Convenor of the RSEs Outreach Programmes.
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As Scotland’s National Academy, it is the role of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) to stimulate and develop interest in science, society, culture and the arts across all age groups.

Since 2008, the RSE’s flagship Outreach Programme ‘RSE @’ has brought thought-provoking and inspirational events to Scottish ­communities including, Arbroath, Dumfries and Galloway, Lochaber, and the Scottish Borders.

The latest in the series, RSE @ Inverness, was launched at the end of September at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. RSE @ Inverness comprises a series of free school and public events, with activities drawing on input from the expertise of the RSE’s distinguished Fellows and other experts, developed in consultation with local stakeholders.

Setting the scene for the two-year programme, the Ask the Experts launch was an entertaining and ­educational day of interactive ­displays and short talks, offering attendees of all ages the opportunity to meet scientists, authors and ­language experts.

Topics ranged from marine ­science to health and wellbeing, geology to astrophysics and storytelling to forensic chemistry.

RSE president, astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, delivered a ­fascinating talk detailing how the Big Bang and stars in our galaxy are ­integral to human life.

BBC presenter and geologist ­Professor Iain Stewart spoke on the subject of Unnatural Disasters and Professor Martin Hendry described the recent scientific discovery of gravitational waves.

In keeping with the RSE’s multidisciplinary nature, ­Professor Jeremy Smith discussed the history of the Scots language and children’s author Lari Don entertained children and adults alike with her tales of myth, legend and adventure.

Furthermore, interactive displays from UHI’s Centre for Health ­Science, Cromarty Lighthouse ­Station, the Institute of Physics, the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification and the ­University of Glasgow allowed attendees to make new and ­intriguing discoveries and ask the experts ­questions on a vast range of topics.

One attendee commented: “We took our four-year-old along to the event. We were so impressed by the quality of the demos and the time spent on producing them. He had an amazing time and is now desperate to be a ­scientist AND a fireman.”

Following the successful launch, further public events have ­taken place including a day of family activities at the Highland Wildlife Park, public talks by the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Ken Macintosh MSP, and, in ­recognition of World ­Diabetes Day, events in ­conjunction with the ­University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Health Science and former ­Commonwealth Games cyclist ­Roddy Riddle.

The focus of future events will be on themes both historical and contemporary that are relevant to the ­Inverness region.

In January next year, forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black will lead an event focussed on the fate of Lord Lovat, ‘The Old Fox’. Currently known to readers and TV audiences as the grandfather of Jamie Fraser, the lead character in the Outlander series. Lord Lovat, the notorious 18th century clan chief, was beheaded in London for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie.

However, for centuries, there has been debate as to whether his remains lie in the family’s mausoleum near Inverness. Scientists have undertaken a careful examination of these remains and will reveal their findings at this event.

In February, Dino Digs and ­Monster Myths will consider how myths, legends and scientific enquiry have combined to fascinate and inspire our ancient ancestors through to ­current generations.

In addition to the public events, the RSE @ Inverness Schools ­Programme will offer pupils opportunities to receive free curriculum-linked school talks, motivating their learning and providing them with a unique insight into academic life and research. All the talks are ­delivered by experts in their fields who ­volunteer their time and are keen to enthuse ­students from P6 to S6 on a wide range of ­topics; such as high-performance computing, gravitational waves, crime and ­punishment in 19th ­century literature, and more.

The RSE seeks to ensure that ­outcomes realised from the RSE @ Inverness programme will have lasting benefit to the region and local community.

One of the main aims of the RSE @ Inverness programme is to ­provide a sound and informed basis to empower the community to address current local, national and global issues.

Recent event feedback has been encouraging and supportive and we look forward to developing a strong relationship with the Inverness ­community through augmenting the activities of existing local organisations through the RSE @ Inverness Outreach Programme.

Sir Andrew Cubie CBE, FRSE, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of ­Edinburgh and convenor of the RSE’s Outreach Programmes.