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UHI marine renewables conference takes place online

By University of the Highlands & Islands

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The Covid-19 outbreak has led to postponements of research conferences around the globe, but a University of the Highlands and Islands team behind a marine renewables conference was determined that the show must go on – online.

The university was scheduled to host around 150 delegates for the Environmental Interactions of Marine Renewables (EIMR) Conference at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) UHI in Oban from April 21 to 23.

With growing interest in the development and deployment of marine renewables – not least the world’s largest tidal turbine array being built up in the Pentland Firth’s Inner Sound – the decision in February to postpone the research conference was greeted with disappointment, albeit universally supported.

However, the need to share results of emerging research in this field prompted organisers to rethink how the conference could go ahead, and so a digital version of the conference was devised in just six weeks. The team managed to replicate the conference programme using pre-recorded presentations – provided directly as digital files or through platforms such as YouTube, with Twitter and the hashtag #EIMR2020 used for the real-time discussion.

The result was a doubling of conference attendees – 300 as opposed to the 150 initially registered – from 11 nations, and delegates watched 47 talks across the three days, creating 40,000 Twitter impressions during subsequent discussions.

Co-organiser Professor Ben Wilson, of SAMS UHI, explained: “At the end of February we decided, with heavy hearts, to cancel the conference. We didn’t get any complaints from the attendees and plenty of support for our early decision.

“However, many of the prospective presenters were keen to get their new results out to the world one way or another. In addition to the engineering, there is a lot of focus on environmental monitoring and the results are just coming out now, so we decided to try an online conference.

Professor Ben Wilson, UHI.
Professor Ben Wilson, UHI.

“It was a lot of work to retro-fit a pre-planned face-to-face meeting with an online version but feedback has been excellent and has given us something to think about for future conferences.

“The University of the Highlands and Islands, as a federal university, is used to teaching online, but it was a huge effort from the team to pull this together.”

The conference concluded that the marine renewables sector and environment research communities are keen to understand the complex issues surrounding deployment of devices so that future low-carbon technologies can go ahead without impacting the environment.

There was also an acknowledgement of the need to communicate globally.

The biennial EIMR conference is shared between the University of the Highlands and Islands and Heriot Watt University, with each institute alternately hosting.

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