Full steam ahead for Glasgow’s James Watt celebrations

Published: 4 June 2019

Glasgow is gearing up for a steam-powered celebration of pioneering engineer James Watt.

Glasgow is gearing up for a steam-powered celebration of pioneering engineer James Watt - marking the bicentenary of his death with a series of public events aimed at families, schools and adults at the University of Glasgow and the Glasgow Science Festival.

The University of Glasgow, where Watt made the refinements to the steam engine which kickstarted the industrial revolution, will host a symposium and a public lecture on June 5th.  

The symposium will feature speakers from academia, industry and the public sector discussing topics including artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, space technology and bioengineering. The Royal Society of Edinburgh / Royal Academy of Engineering James Watt Lecture, delivered by Professor Dame Anne Dowling and chaired by Professor Dame Anne Glover, will examine the important role that grand challenges, such as the Apollo programme or the development of Concorde, play in inspiring and driving progress in engineering.

The University’s library will also play host to a Watt-themed exhibition which will run until September, the centrepiece of which will be a working scale model of the Watt-Boulton engine which was designed, 3D-printed and built by students from the University’s JetX society. The construction of the model took five months in total, with 845 hours of 3D printing required to buildits 150 parts, which used more than 2.2km of 3D printing filament to create.

The Glasgow Science Festival, which was recently named Best Scottish Festival for the second year in a row at the Scottish Hospitality Awards, will kick off on June 6th and run at venues across the city until the 16th. The theme for the 2019 festival is ‘Glasgow STEAMS ahead’ in honour of Watt. ‘STEAMS’ also refers to the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Social Science research which is undertaken across the city.

This year’s festival will feature a series of events exploring Watt’s achievements and the legacy his work has left the world, 200 years after his passing, as well as a broad range of other science-related exhibitions and events.

The ‘Glasgow Science Festival -Creating Engineers Grand Final’, sponsored by the University of Glasgow with support from the DS Smith Charitable Foundation will see 40 school pupils, chosen from 11,000 pupils from primary 5 and 6 entrants from across the West of Scotland, compete in hands-on engineering challenges.

James Watt is famed for his world-changing work on steam engines, but he was a prolific inventor of devices including a prototype photocopier known as a letter copier. The James Watt Print Show’ at the Trongate 103 is inspired by Watt’s innovation, and will feature expert demonstration of inkmaking using Watt’s recipe and papermaking using ingredients available in the late 18th Century.

Professor Colin McInnes is James Watt Chair, Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Glasgow. He said: “We at the University are immensely proud of our association with James Watt, a truly world-changing engineer, and we’re pleased to be celebrating his legacy two centuries later with events at the University and at the Glasgow Science Festival.

“Our James Watt Symposium and RSE/RAEng James Watt Lecture public lecture will demonstrate the degree to which engineering has progressed since Watt’s time, how engineering shapes our everyday lives and how it will continue to shape our future.

“We hope that the people of Glasgow will join us in delving into his work and achievements this June and come to appreciate more deeply the extent to which we’re living in a world created by his engineering breakthroughs.”

Dr Deborah McNeill, director of the Glasgow Science Festival, said: “Glasgow Science Festival is officially a teenager! 2019 marks thirteen years of inspiring science events in the city. To celebrate, we’re delighted to present another diverse programme to spark your curiosity and get you excited about science.

“Our 2019 theme, ‘Glasgow STEAMS Ahead’, is a nod to the legacy of James Watt, but also the fantastic Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Social Science that keeps Scotland innovative today.

“This year we’re delighted to bring the festival to new places including the Govan Stones, Trongate 103 and even the circus!

“There’s something for all ages and as always, most events are free.  Whether you’re a festival regular or a first-timer, we look forward to seeing you this month.”

In addition to the Watt-themed events, the Glasgow Science Festival plays host to engaging and informative shows including:

  • The family-favourite ‘Science Sunday’ at the University of Glasgow on 9 June and more free, hands-on science fun at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (15 & 16 June), Botanic Gardens (8, 15 & 16 June), Riverside Museum (8 & 9 June), Kinning Park Complex (9 & 16 June), Hamilton Racecourse (16 June) and Cadder Community Centre (8 June).
  • Hear the little-known stories of women engineer trailblazers with ‘Airships, Steamships & Spitfires: 100 Years of Women in Engineering’ at the Kelvin Hall on 12 June. Stretch your legs (and brain!) and uncover Glasgow’s STEM heritage with a ‘Science on the Streets’ walking tour on 15 June.
  • Get up close to Glasgow’s Viking-age monuments at the Govan Stones (15 June) and discover the fantastic research happening at the University of the West of Scotland with two evenings of STEM activities at the Paisley (6 June) and Lanarkshire (13 June) campuses.
  • ‘Ingenious Circus’ on 7 and 15 June, supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Watch performers from circus school Aerial Edge demonstrate the engineering principles that underpin acrobatics. Then have a go at some circus tricks yourself!

First published: 4 June 2019

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