The Invention that Changed the World

The legacy of James Watt is a hot topic at this year’s Glasgow Science Festival, as we celebrate 250 years since his invention of the separate steam condenser. One of the festival’s contributors, Kiara King from STICK (Scottish Transport & Industrial Collections & Knowledge network) stopped for a chat.


Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Kiara King, Archivist at the Ballast Trust and member of the STICK network. I work with business archives and represent the archives sector on the STICK committee who work to promote the care and enjoyment of the transport and industrial heritage collections held in Scotland. These types of collections provide a vital insight into our social and economic history and represent the success of Scottish innovation in the field.

What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

Together with the University of Glasgow, STICK has organised a conference to mark the 250th anniversary of James Watt’s invention of the separate steam condenser which falls in 2015. In 1765, Scottish inventor James Watt had a ‘eureka’ moment during a walk on Glasgow Green, leading to revolutionary advances in steam engine technology. Our conference is bringing together experts to celebrate the legacy of this famous engineer.


James Watt invented the first separate condenser. Steam was condensed in a separate container from the engine’s cylinder, which reducied fuel consumption by 75% compared with older engines. Photo from the Science Museum.

The Matrix, District 9, Moon… what sci-fi classic floats your… uhh… spaceship?

I’m a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy but must also include Star Wars Episode II for the scene featuring the Jedi Archives.

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?

Nothing more exotic than a deep fried mars bar I’m afraid!

Impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

The term “horsepower” was adopted by James Watt in the late 18th century to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses. One horsepower equals 33,000 foot-pounds of work per minute (the power necessary to lift a total mass of 33,000 pounds one foot in one minute). However, this value is actually about 50 percent more than the rate that an average horse can sustain for a working day.

Join Kiara and engineering experts from far and wide to celebrate the legacy of James Watt on Friday 5th June from 10am-4pm. Tickets are £10/5 and available here.


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