This year marks the 250th anniversary of James Watt’s invention of the separate steam condenser and Glasgow Science Festival is celebrating with a series of events. We chatted to Professor Colin McInnes from the University of Glasgow.
I’m Colin McInnes, James Watt Chair, Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Glasgow. Much of my research has centred on space engineering but I also dabble in a wide range of other areas including climate engineering and energy policy. I’m also interested in the long-term societal impacts of Engineering Science and often write on Energy, Innovation and Environment issues for the print and on-line media, reflecting my firm belief in the socially and environmentally progressive nature of Engineering Science.
What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?
I’m giving a talk on ‘Reclaiming the Human Future’ which will help mark the 250th anniversary of James Watt’s invention of the separate steam condenser which falls this year. The talk will make the case that we need to rediscover both the unconstrained free-thinking of James Watt and enlightenment-era ideas of progress to deliver an innovation-driven, human-centred future. The talk will also cover some off-the-wall ideas for the deep future on so-called terraforming and Dyson spheres, both of which are actually connected to James Watt’s heat engine in unsuspected ways.
The Matrix, District 9, Moon… what sci-fi classic floats your… uhh… spaceship?
Oh, easy. It would need to be Dark Star, John Carpenter’s quirky low budget film, which also had a leading role for Dan O’Bannon who went on to write the screenplay for Alien.
2015 is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink and among other things, we’re exploring how eating insects might be the future. What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve eaten?
As an academic I travel frequently and have had to sample some real gems, such as raw horse meat, but also delights such as roast duck in the fantastic Quanjude Qianmen Restaurant in Beijing.
Impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.
Nuclear energy, which is still Scotland’s largest generator of electricity, comes to us from the final instant of the collapse of ancient stars before they exploded as supernovae; lighter elements were fused into Uranium and then scattered through space. Your smart phone or tablet is at least partly working off those ancient cataclysmic events.