A wealth of stories for curious minds
- Publication Date
- Professor Martin Hendry FRSE
Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then We’ll Begin
On behalf of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, it is my great pleasure to present Curious: our fourth annual summer events programme, comprising more than 30 talks, discussions and outdoor activities designed to challenge and inspire and to make us think more deeply about the big ideas that shape our lives. As we emerge cautiously from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is especially welcome that many of our Curious events will be in-person, and I am sure that audiences will find the shared experience of meeting together in three dimensions hugely rewarding.
For 2022, our four themes for Curious bring together a rich tapestry of subjects, promising something for everyone. Three of our themes also featured in last year’s programme and build directly on its legacy. “Our planet” explores sustainability on the road to net zero: from the advantages of local heat networks that improve our housing resilience to the environmental benefits of sustainable food production. “Innovation and Invention” highlights some of the scientific frontiers that are shaping our modern world: from the remarkable technology underpinning the latest smartphones to the future of space exploration using AI robots. “Health and Wellbeing” discusses key breakthroughs in biomedical science and engineering: from the discovery of insulin to emerging applications of nanotechnology in healthcare. and, Moreover, recognising the seismic shifts in relation to work-life balance and mental health awareness that have emerged following the COVID pandemic, this theme also gets to grip with a range of subtle and challenging socio-cultural questions: everything from the role of knitting in the household economy to an exploration of society’s attitudes to death.
The fourth theme for Curious 2022 is “Year of Stories”. This entwines our programme with the year-long national celebration of “Scotland’s Year of Stories” and forms an essential thread that runs through all of our events: the power of storytelling for bringing ideas to life. As the website of Visit Scotland notes, “Stories are a vital part of Scotland’s culture, and every community has a different tale to tell. Shared stories, whether spoken, written, sung or filmed are what give a sense of place, history and belonging.” Stories are the fuel that fires our imagination and feeds our curiosity – enriching our minds with fresh perspectives and novel experiences, transporting us to exciting new places and extraordinary times. Indeed, our programme will explore the very process of storytelling: Dr Miranda Anderson will investigate the minds-eye journey we experience when we listen to a story or read a book, and a series of talks and discussions will examine the motivations and inspirations that have shaped some of Scotland’s most celebrated writers and poets – from Sir Walter Scott to Sir Ian Rankin among others.
My own scientific journey was initially turbo-charged by storytelling, when as a teenager in the 1980s I was inspired to study physics and astronomy by watching “Cosmos” – the acclaimed television series created by Carl Sagan. From the outset I was deeply enthralled and moved by not just the content but also the narrative structure of Cosmos: Sagan’s passionate and lyrical journey, aboard his “spaceship of the imagination”, through the history of science and how it has revealed our place in the Universe was brim full of stories: mixing rich and colourful metaphors and stunning visualisations with engaging portraits of the historical personalities that helped to shape our understanding of the cosmos. A few years later, as an undergraduate student at Glasgow University, I had the privilege of attending a series of lectures given in Glasgow by Sagan that covered similar scientific and philosophical ground to his Cosmos series. Sagan’s storytelling was no less captivating in person, and enabled him to carry along with him a large, diverse public audience through an exploration of complex and subtle ideas far beyond our everyday experiences.
As an astrophysics researcher, and a passionate science communicator, I have always sought to channel my “inner Carl” when sharing with audiences the excitement our latest discoveries about black holes and gravitational waves. Indeed, I believe the spirit of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – and its recognition of the enthralling power of storytelling – provides us with an excellent touchstone for our Curious 2022 programme. As Curious begins, I look forward to an exciting and fascinating fortnight of events as audiences immerse themselves in the rich cocktail of ideas and personalities embodied by our four themes. Let the stories begin!
Professor Martin Hendry FRSE is Programme Convenor for Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Glasgow, where he is also Clerk of Senate and Vice Principal of the University.
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