Popular Talks, workshops, and software


I enjoy giving public talks – to astronomy societies, schools, festival audiences etc. Below is my recent repertoire with a little description – requests welcome. I haven’t uploaded the talks themselves – they tend to be quite big, with lots of lovely pictures, and videos!

Hunting the Dragon. This is a talk about Active Galactic Nuclei – the bizarre goings on caused by black holes gobbling matter at the centres of galaxies. It has some history, some hot new stuff, and just a teeny bit of physics.

The Universe and me. The Universe is incomprehensibly vast, incredibly violent, and seemingly complex. How do we react to all this as human beings? Will it make a difference if we find we are not alone?

Is Astronomy Useless? Is Astronomy just an expensive cultural pursuit, or does it have practical value? Why do governments give us any money? I argue that in fact the study of the cosmos has been at centre of technological developments for hundreds of years, and will continue to be so.

Wandering Astronomers: the past, present and future of mountaintop astronomy. A story that begins in 1856 with the historic expedition of Charles Piazzi Smyth to Tenerife, carries on through the golden age of the last fifty years, with giant telescopes sprouting up on mountains all over the world, and looks to the future. Will Astronomers cease their wanderings and do everything from space?

Sun, planets and stars. A simple introduction to the solar system and beyond for primary school children.

I have also given talks about how telescopes work (“Eyes on the Sky”) and about mapping the sky (“Cosmic Explorers”). They need a bit of updating, but you are welcome to request them!

How Time Flies

Together with colleagues Alastair Bruce (now working at Dynamic Earth) and Sally Chalmers from the Historic Environment Scotland team at Edinburgh Castle, we put together an experiment workshop for primary school children on how sound and light travel, and how we use sound and light to send messages, called “How Time Flies”. This included a visit to the One O’Clock Gun, and reading a morse code flashlight message travelling all the way from the Royal Observatory to Edinburgh Castle. We are turning this workshop experience into a boxed-up resource kit that we can send to Schools around Scotland. Watch this space.

Starsight VR

Another collaborative project with Alastair Bruce is Starsight VR. The idea here is to adapt the well known planetarium software Stellarium for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, so anybody can have a 3D immersive view of the sky, with no clouds. This project took off like a rocket, but then kinda stalled as our lives went elsewhere. We will try to get back to it soon!