Underwater Sound at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival

Just a few quick snaps of our fabulous stall at the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival two weeks ago.

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The SAMS undergrad students did a fabulous job entertaining the crowds with the roving science trolley – can you guess how many badges are on the lab-coat? Hundreds of I (heart) UHI badges must have been given out!


Our stand was colourful, and busy! The backdrop are panels made for the Oban Festival of the Sea by local schoolchildren. Jim’s got the noise tank ready to go, with a soundtrack of underwater recordings of a tidal channel environment, marine animals (porpoise, seals, whales, etc), and man-made sounds (ships, a tidal turbine). Helen kept the smaller ones busy making ocean-themed festival headbands and bracelets. Mine had sparkly jellyfish on!

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Helen and I both perfomed in the UHI Verb Garden. Helen did a fabulous job with her clarsach and storytelling. The audience wasn’t quite as young as it could have been, but she encouraged the tired teenagers up to the front, telling them to ‘act their shoe-size’. I performed the next day, giving a ‘TED’ style talk likening the music festival to the increasingly noisy ocean-sounscape. Of course, after a day of hard work, we had time to see some of the headline acts – the Kaiser Chiefs were brilliant!

We’ve got lots of food for thought for next year’s activities – hopefully UHI and the Belladrum Festival will invite us back!

Stories are just data with soul

“There is always a story”, urges Carmine Gallo. I am left with the words ringing in my ears. What is the story? What is my story? And what am I going to tell the 30 researchers, civil servants, businessmen, and engineers attending the conference tomorrow?  IMG_0176

The INTERREG IVB Pro-Tide project has been running for nearly three years now, but I have only been involved as the Environmental Investigator since October last year. To me, the project is an exciting one: five countries, five unique tidal energy test sites, each with the potential to make substantial advances in Europe’s renewable energy achievements, and a fantastic project team. As the project wraps up, I am beginning to think about the final report for my own work package (WP2: Environmental Aspects), and that of the entire project, as I have agreed to help put together a brochure showcasing the project as a whole to the funders, EU policy makers, and anyone with a general interest in Renewable energy. Essentially, telling the story of Pro-Tide.

When Camine Gallo first interviews a client, she tells her readers, she always asks them the same question: “what makes your heart sing?”. This, too, has made me think about my current roles, as Environmental Investigator, as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow, and as a scientist. “What is your passion?” Is too wooly a ,question, too easily ignored, passed off, or addressed with an uneasy laugh. But what makes your heart sing?

On reflection, that’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Superficially, the answer is Science, but that’s not really the answer, if I think more deeply. Knowledge is more truthful. I love to understand how things work. Steam engines, for example, make me weak at the knees, but that’s because I am completely in awe of the engineering involved in making such a powerful machine – the precision, the power… It’s beautiful (my father would be proud!). Perhaps it’s the same for marine renewable energy. As I tell schoolchildren, what I love about this field is the challenge of putting complex machines into some of the most challenging environments in the world. Exciting machines in exciting places, indeed! But knowledge is more than just the achievement of making wave or tidal energy happen, it’s the understanding of what will happen next. It’s the unknown. We can predict what will happen to the hydrodynamics, to the seabed environment, and how the animals that call the area home will react, but as of yet, there is uncertainty. Asking questions, making predictions, and then slowly beginning to unravel complex problems by breaking them into simpler parts and wheedling away that which is unknown… Now that’s what makes my heart sing!

And that is a joy to be shared, and the rub of communication!

Now perhaps there is my story for tomorrow’s presentation, how this project has come together to provide insight and new approaches to the responsible assessment and prediction of the environmental response to tidal energy developments. There are certainly lessons learned and recommendations to share, and the key characters have come a long way since chapter one.

So there is always a story. Make your come alive the next time you present, whether to a research, business, or public audience. “Stories are just data with a soul” -Brene Brown