Astronomy usually involves observations of distant stars and galaxies. But there is now ever-increasing attention on what we can’t directly see: dark matter, dark energy and gravitational waves. These exciting topics will be the focus of a series of school and public lectures by the Royal Society of Edinburgh across Shetland this week.  

Fellows from the RSE, Scotland’s National Academy, will undertake talks on Wednesday and Thursday to secondary school pupils across the Shetland mainland as well as deliver a public lecture in Lerwick on Thursday evening.  

This week’s activities in Shetland will launch the RSE’s programme of community engagement events for 2023 which will see its mission of Knowledge Made Useful brought to cities, towns and villages across Scotland. 

Professor Martin Hendry FRSE and Professor Alex Murphy FRSE will visit the junior high schools in Sandwick, Aith and Brae to give a whistle-stop tour of the dark side of the Universe, as they explore some of the biggest unsolved mysteries in science: what holds galaxies together and what’s pushing galaxies apart. 

On Thursday evening, they will then deliver the ‘Tales from the Darkside’ public talk at Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick. The hour-long event will see them focus on dark matter and attempt to answer some of the mysteries surrounding it and examine some of the ideas of what it might be.    

They will also talk about the global search for dark matter using particle accelerators, space telescopes and ultra-sensitive detectors in deep underground laboratories. 

The Tales from the Darkside event takes place at 7pm and is free but ticketed. Tickets can be booked via RSE’s Eventbrite.  

Professor Martin Hendry FRSE, Vice President of Public Engagement at the RSE said:

Professor Martin Hendry FRSE, Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology, Vice Principal and Clerk of Senate, University of Glasgow.

We are excited to be bringing the story of the Universe’s dark side to Shetland this week and hope that islanders of all ages will join us to learn more about how the unseen cosmos has shaped where we are today.  

Many people associate the “darkside” with what they see and hear in sci-fi movies, but our talks will unlock a deeper understanding of the unseen cosmos, and what we can learn from it about our place in the Universe.

Professor Martin Hendry FRSE, Vice President of Public Engagement

Gordon Irvine of Sandwick Junior High School said: “It is great to have these RSE experts visit us to talk about the Universe and myth bust some of the mysteries and curiosities of space. The pupils are always intrigued about what is out there beyond our atmosphere and I know they are eager to know more about this subject that has fascinated generations. We are lucky in Shetland to have some of the best dark skies, and I imagine many of the young people will take advantage of that to find out more from themselves as a result of this talk.” 

During the public talk in Lerwick, Professor Alex Murphy FRSE will also be presented with the RSE Senior Public Engagement Medal. This is in recognition of his long-standing track record of outstanding contributions to science’s public engagement, especially in particle physics and searches for dark matter. 

Professor Murphy commented:

A man standing in front of a body of water
Professor Alex Murphy FRSE, Professor of Nuclear and Particle Astrophysics, University of Edinburgh

I am honoured that my work to promote a greater knowledge and appreciation of physics to a diverse audience has been recognised with this award. I simply enjoy engaging with people of all ages across Scotland and beyond about a subject that has so much relevance to our daily lives. It is especially appropriate that this medal is being awarded to me in Shetland where our public engagement work has always been so well received and appreciated by the community.

Professor Alex Murphy FRSE, RSE Senior Public Engagement Medal

Upcoming event

The term ‘dark matter’ has become a favourite of Sci-Fi, appearing in numerous books, TV shows and films. But what is it?