The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are a series of lectures on a single topic each, which have been held at the Royal Institution in London each year since 1825, missing 1939–42 because of the Second World War. The lectures present scientific subjects to a general audience, including young people, in an informative and entertaining manner. Michael Faraday initiated the Christmas Lecture series in 1825, at a time when organised education for young people was scarce. Faraday presented nineteen series of lectures in all.
The Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures were first held in 1825, and have continued on an annual basis since then except during the Second World War. They have been hosted each year at the Royal Institution itself, except in 1929 and between 2005–2006, each time due to refurbishment of the building. They were created by Michael Faraday, who later hosted the lecture season on nineteen occasions. The Nobel laureate Sir William Bragg gave the Christmas lectures on four occasions, and his co-laureate son Sir Lawrence Bragg gave them twice. Other notable lecturers have included Desmond Morris (1964), Eric Laithwaite (1966 & 1974), Sir George Porter (1969 & 1976), Sir David Attenborough (1973), Heinz Wolff (1975), Carl Sagan (1977), Richard Dawkins (1991), Baroness Susan Greenfield (1994), Dame Nancy Rothwell (1998), Monica Grady (2003), Sue Hartley (2009), Alison Woollard (2013), Danielle George (2014), and Saiful Islam (2016).
The props for the lectures are designed and created by the RI's science demonstration technician, a post which Faraday previously held. A popular technician, with the advent of television, serving from 1948 to 1986, was Bill Coates. The technician is informed of the general subject of the lectures during spring, but the specifics aren't settled until September, with the recordings made in mid-December. By 2009, the lectures had expanded to a series of five sessions each year. However, in 2010 the Royal Institution cut back on costs as it had become over £2 million in debt. These cost-cutting measures included the budget allotted to the Christmas Lectures. This resulted in a reduction from five sessions to three.
The Christmas Lectures were first televised in 1936 on the BBC's fledgling Television Service. They were broadcast on BBC Two from 1966 to 1999 and Channel 4 from 2000 to 2004. In 2000 one of the lectures was broadcast live for the first time. Following the end of Channel 4's contract to broadcast the lectures, there were concerns that they might simply be dropped from scheduling as the channel was negotiating with the Royal Institution over potential changes to the format, while the BBC announced that "The BBC will not show the lectures again, because it feels the broadcasting environment has moved on in the last four years." Channel Five subsequently agreed to show the lectures from 2005 to 2008, an announcement which was met with derision from academics. The lectures were broadcast on More4 in 2009. In 2010, the lectures returned to the BBC after a ten-year absence from the broadcaster, and have been shown on BBC Four each year since then.
In 1994, Professor Susan Greenfield became the first female scientist to present the Christmas Lectures. The first non-white science lecturer was Kevin Fong in 2015, and in August 2020 it was announced that Professor Christopher Jackson would jointly present the 2020 lecture series, thus becoming the first black scientist to do so.
List of Christmas lectures
1825 to 1965
The following is a complete list of the Christmas Lectures from 1825 to 1965:
|Year||Lecturer(s)||Title of series|
|1825||John Millington||Natural Philosophy|
|1834||William Thomas Brande||Chemistry|
|1836||William Thomas Brande||Chemistry of the Gases|
|1839||William Thomas Brande||The Chemistry of the Atmosphere and the Ocean|
|1840||John Frederic Daniell||The First Principles of Franklinic Electricity|
|1841||Michael Faraday||The Rudiments of Chemistry|
|1842||William Thomas Brande||The Chemistry of the Non-Metallic Elements|
|1843||Michael Faraday||First Principles of Electricity|
|1844||William Thomas Brande||The Chemistry of the Gases|
|1845||Michael Faraday||The Rudiments of Chemistry|
|1846||John Wallis||The Rudiments of Astronomy|
|1847||William Thomas Brande||The Elements of Organic Chemistry|
|1848||Michael Faraday||The Chemical History of a Candle|
|1849||Robert Walker||The Properties of Matter and the Laws of Motion|
|1850||William Thomas Brande||The Chemistry of Coal|
|1851||Michael Faraday||Attractive Forces|
|1854||The Chemistry of Combustion|
|1855||The Distinctive Properties of the Common Metals|
|1858||The Metallic Properties|
|1859||The Various Forces of Matter and their Relations to Each Other|
|1860||The Chemical History of a Candle|
|1862||Edward Frankland||Air and Water|
|1863||John Tyndall||Electricity at Rest and Electricity in Motion|
|1864||Edward Frankland||The Chemistry of a Coal|
|1866||Edward Frankland||The Chemistry of Gases|
|1867||John Tyndall||Heat and Cold|
|1868||William Odling||The Chemical Changes of Carbon|
|1870||William Odling||Burning and Unburning|
|1871||John Tyndall||Ice, Water, Vapour and Air|
|1872||William Odling||Air and Gas|
|1873||John Tyndall||The Motion and Sensation of Sound|
|1874||John Hall Gladstone||The Voltaic Battery|
|1875||John Tyndall||Experimental Electricity|
|1876||John Hall Gladstone||The Chemistry of Fire|
|1877||John Tyndall||Heat, Visible and Invisible|
|1878||James Dewar||A Soap Bubble|
|1879||John Tyndall||Water and Air|
|1881||Robert Stawell Ball||The Sun, the Moon and the Planets|
|1882||John Tyndall||Light and the Eye|
|1883||James Dewar||Alchemy in Relation to Modern Science|
|1884||John Tyndall||The Sources of Electricity|
|1885||James Dewar||The Story of a Meteorite|
|1886||The Chemistry of Light and Photography|
|1887||Robert Stawell Ball||Astronomy|
|1888||James Dewar||Clouds and Cloudland|
|1890||James Dewar||Frost and Fire|
|1891||John Gray McKendrick||Life in Motion; or the Animal Machine|
|1892||Robert Stawell Ball||Astronomy|
|1893||James Dewar||Air: Gaseous and Liquid|
|1894||John Ambrose Fleming||The Work of an Electric Current|
|1895||John Gray McKendrick||Sound, Hearing and Speech|
|1896||Sylvanus Phillips Thompson||Light, Visible and Invisible|
|1897||Oliver Lodge||The Principles of the Electric Telegraph|
|1898||Robert Stawell Ball||Astronomy|
|1899||Charles Vernon Boys||Fluids in Motion and at Rest|
|1900||Robert Stawell Ball||Great Chapters from the Book of Nature|
|1901||John Ambrose Fleming||Waves and Ripples in Water, Air and Aether|
|1902||Henry Selby Hele-Shaw||Locomotion : On the Earth, Through the Water, in the Air|
|1903||Edwin Ray Lankester||Extinct Animals|
|1904||Henry Cunynghame||Ancient and Modern Methods of Measuring Time|
|1905||Herbert Hall Turner||Astronomy|
|1906||William Duddell||Signalling to a Distance|
|1907||David Gill||Astronomy, Old and New|
|1908||William Stirling||The Wheel of Life|
|1909||William Duddell||Modern Electricity|
|1910||Sylvanus Phillips Thompson||Sound: Musical and Non-Musical|
|1911||Peter Chalmers Mitchell||The Childhood of Animals|
|1912||James Dewar||Christmas Lecture Epilogues|
|1913||Herbert Hall Turner||A Voyage in Space|
|1914||Charles Vernon Boys||Science in the Home|
|1915||Herbert Hall Turner||Wireless Messages from the Stars|
|1916||Arthur Keith||The Human Machine Which All Must Work|
|1917||John Ambrose Fleming||Our Useful Servants : Magnetism and Electricity|
|1918||D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson||The Fish of the Sea|
|1919||William Henry Bragg||The World of Sound|
|1920||John Arthur Thomson||The Haunts of Life|
|1921||John Ambrose Fleming||Electric Waves and Wireless Telephony|
|1922||Herbert Hall Turner||Six Steps Up the Ladder to the Stars|
|1923||William Henry Bragg||Concerning the Nature of Things|
|1924||Francis Balfour-Browne||Concerning the Habits of Insects|
|1925||William Henry Bragg||Old Trades and New Knowledge|
|1926||Archibald Vivian Hill||Nerves and Muscles: How We Feel and Move|
|1928||Alexander Wood||Sound Waves and their Uses|
|1929||Stephen Glanville||How Things Were Done in Ancient Egypt|
|1930||Arthur Mannering Tyndall||The Electric Spark|
|1931||William Henry Bragg||The Universe of Light|
|1932||Alexander Oliver Rankine||The Round of the Waters|
|1933||James Hopwood Jeans||Through Space and Time|
|1934||William Lawrence Bragg||Electricity|
|1935||Charles Edward Kenneth Mees||Photography|
|1936||Geoffrey Ingram Taylor||Ships|
|1937||Julian Huxley||Rare Animals and the Disappearance of Wild Life|
|1938||James Kendall||Young Chemists and Great Discoveries|
|1939–1942||No lectures due to the Second World War|
|1943||Edward Andrade||Vibrations and Waves|
|1944||Harold Spencer Jones||Astronomy in our Daily Life|
|1946||Hamilton Hartridge||Colours and How We See Them|
|1947||Eric Keightly Rideal||Chemical Reactions: How They Work|
|1948||Frederic Bartlett||The Mind at Work and Play|
|1949||Percy Dunsheath||The Electric Current|
|1950||Edward Andrade||Waves and Vibrations|
|1951||James Gray||How Animals Move|
|1952||F. Sherwood Taylor||How Science Has Grown|
|1953||John Ashworth Ratcliffe||The Uses of Radio Waves|
|1954||Frank Whittle||The Story of Petroleum|
|1955||Harry W. Melville||Big Molecules|
|1957||Julian Huxley and James Fisher||Birds|
|1958||John Ashworth Ratcliffe, James M. Stagg,
Robert L. F. Boyd,
George E. R. Deacon,
Gordon de Quetteville Robin
|International Geophysical Year|
|1959||Thomas Allibone||The Release and Use of Atomic Energy|
|1960||Vernon Ellis Cosslett||Seeing the Very Small|
|1961||William Lawrence Bragg||Electricity|
|1962||R. E. D. (Richard Evelyn Donohue) Bishop||Vibration|
|1964||Desmond Morris||Animal Behaviour|
|1965||Bernard Lovell, Francis Graham-Smith,
Martin Ryle, Antony Hewish
|Exploration of the Universe|
The following is a list of televised Christmas Lectures from 1966 onward as of December 2019[update]:
|Year||Lecturer(s)||Title of series||Lecture titles||Network|
|1966||Eric Laithwaite||The Engineer in Wonderland||1. The White Rabbit
2. Only the Grin was Left
3. The Caucus Race
4. Curiouser and Curiouser
5. If only I were the right size to do it
6. It's the Oldest Rule in the Book
|1967||Richard L. Gregory||The Intelligent Eye||1. Ancient Eyes and Simple Brains
2. Learning to See Things
3. Playing with Illusions
4. How Illusions Play Games with Us
5. Human Eyes in Space
6. The Future-Machines that See?
|1968||Philip Morrison||Gulliver's Laws: The Physics of Large and Small||1. The World of Captain Gulliver
2. Meat and Drink Sufficient...
3. A Prodigious Leap?
4. Lilliput and Brobdingnag since the Industrial Revolution
5. Dwarf and Giant Numbers
6. Beyond the Map
|1969||George Porter||Time Machines||1. In the Beginning...
2. Clockwork Harmony
3. The Tick of the Atom
4. Big Time, Little Time
5. Faster, Faster
6. To the Ends of Time
|1970||John Napier||Monkeys Without Tails: A Giraffe's Eye-view of Man||1. Man has a very short neck and no tail
2. Man comes in several different sizes and shapes
3. Fancy having to climb trees in order to eat
4. Man chooses a sensible place to live at last
5. Why choose to walk on two legs when it is much safer on four?
6. What's the idea of shooting at us?
|1971||Charles Taylor||Sounds of Music: The Science of Tones and Tune||1. Making and Measuring the Waves
2. From Small Beginnings
3. Growing and Changing
4. Craftsmanship and Technology
5. On the Way to the Ear
6. The End of the Journey
|1972||Geoffrey G. Gouriet||Ripples in the Ether: The Science of Radio Communication||1. How It All Began
2. Getting Rid of the Wires
3. The Sound of Broadcasting
4. Pictures With and Without Wires
5. But Electrons aren't Coloured!
6. Vision of the Future
|1973||David Attenborough||The Language of Animals||1. Beware!
2. Be Mine
3. Parents and Children
4. Simple Signs and Complicated Communications
5. Foreign Languages
6. Animal Language, Human Language
|1974||Eric Laithwaite||The Engineer Through the Looking Glass||1. Looking Glass House
2. Tweedledum and Tweedledee
3. Jam Yesterday, Jam Tomorrow
4. The Jabberwock
5. The Time has come the Walrus said
6. It's my own Invention
|1975||Heinz Wolff||Signals from the Interior||1. You as an engine
2. Pumps pipes and flows
3. Spikes and waves
4. Probes, sondes and sounds
5. Looking through your skin
6. Signals from the mind
|1976||George Porter||The Natural History of a Sunbeam||1. First Light
2. Light and Life
3. A Leaf from Nature
4. Candles from the Sun
5. Making Light Work
6. Survival Under the Sun
|1977||Carl Sagan||The Planets||1. The Earth as a Planet
2. The Outer Solar System and Life
3. The History of Mars
4. Mars before Viking
5. Mars after Viking
6. Planetary Systems Beyond Our Sun
|1978||Erik Christopher Zeeman||Mathematics into Pictures||1. Linking and Knotting
2. Numbers and Geometry
3. Infinity and Perspective
4. Games and Evolution
5. Waves and Music
6. Catastrophe and Psychology
|1979||Eric M. Rogers||Atoms for Engineering Minds: A Circus of Experiments||1. Getting to Know Atoms
2. Molecules in Motion
3. Electrified Atoms
4. Atoms that Explode
5. Atoms and Energy
6. Seeing Atoms at Last
|1980||David Chilton Phillips
with Max Perutz in Lecture 5
|The Chicken, the Egg and the Molecules||1. What are chickens made of?
2. Machine tools of life
3. Muscle power
4. Eggs, genes and proteins
5. Haemoglobin: the breathing molecule
6. Molecules at work
|1981||Reginald Victor Jones||From Magna Carta to Microchip||1. Principles, Standards and Methods
2. The Measurement of Time
3. More and More About Less and Less
4. Onwards to the Stars
5. Measurement and Navigation in War
6. Some Impacts of Measurement on Life: And Can We Take it too Far?
|1982||Colin Blakemore||Common Sense||1. Making Sense
2. The Sound of Silence
3. The Sixth Sense - and the Rest
4. Show Me the Way to Go Home
5. Vive la différence
6. Enchanted Loom
|1983||Leonard Maunder||Machines in Motion||1. Driving Forces
2. Gathering Momentum
4. Under Control
5. Fluids and Flight
6. Living Machines
|1984||Walter Bodmer||The Message of the Genes||1. We're All Different
2. The Spice of Life
3. Genetic Engineering
4. Bodies and Antibodies
5. Normal Cells and Cancer Cells
6. When Will Pigs Have Wings?
|1985||John David Pye||Communicating||1. No Man is an Island
2. Animal Talk
3. The Bionic Bat
4. The Pace of Technology
5. The Integrated Body
|1986||Lewis Wolpert||Frankenstein's Quest: Development of Life||1. First Take an Egg...
2. The Medium and the Message
3. The Right Stuff
4. Genes and Flies
5. Chain of Command
6. Growing Up and Growing Old
|1987||John Meurig Thomas and David Phillips||Crystals and Lasers||1. Introducing the characters
2. The architecture of crystals
3. Semiconductors, superconductors and catalysts
4. Constructing a laser
5. Applications of lasers
6. Crystals, lasers and the human body
|1988||Gareth Roberts||The Home of the Future||1. Appliance Science
2. Home, Safe Home
3. Electronics for Pleasure
4. Home, Smart Home
5. Mixers, Meters and Molecules
|1989||Charles Taylor||Exploring Music||1. What Is Music?
2. The Essence of an Instrument
3. Science, Strings and Symphonies
4. Technology, Trumpets and Tunes
5. Scales, Synthesisers and Samplers
|1990||Malcolm Longair||Origins||1. The Grand Design
2. The Birth of the Stars
3. The Origin of Quasars
4. The Origin of the Galaxies
5. The Origin of the Universe
|1991||Richard Dawkins||Growing Up in the Universe||1. Waking Up in the Universe
2. Designed and Designoid Objects
3. Climbing Mount Improbable
4. The Ultraviolet Garden
5. The Genesis of Purpose
|1992||Charles J. M. Stirling||Our World Through the Looking Glass||1. Man in the Mirror
2. Narwhals, Palindromes and Chesterfield Station
3. The Handed Molecule
4. Symmetry, Sensation and Sex
5. In the Hands of Giants
|1993||Frank Close||The Cosmic Onion||1. A is for Atoms
2. To the Centre of the Sun
3. Invaders from Outer Space
4. Anti-Matter Matters
5. An Hour to Make the Universe
|1994||Susan Greenfield||Journey to the Centre of the Brain||1. The Electric Ape
2. Through a Glass Darkly
3. Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble
4. The Seven Ages of the Brain
5. The Mind's I
|1995||James Jackson||Planet Earth, An Explorer's Guide||1. On the Edge of the World
2. Secrets of the Deep
3. Volcanoes: Melting the Earth
4. The Puzzle of the Continents
|1996||Simon Conway Morris||The History in our Bones||1. Staring into the Abyss
2. The Fossils Come Alive
3. The Great Dyings: Life after Death
4. Innovations And Novelty
5. Feet on the Ground, Head in the Stars: The History of Man
|1997||Ian Stewart||The Magical Maze||1. Sunflowers and Snowflakes
2. The Pattern of Tiny Feet
3. Outrageous Fortune
4. Chaos and Cauliflowers
5. Fearful Symmetry
|1998||Nancy Rothwell||Staying Alive||1. Sense and Sensitivity
2. Fats and figures
3. Chilling out
4. Times of our lives
5. Pushing the limits
|1999||Neil F. Johnson||Arrows of Time||1. Back to the Future
2. Catching the Waves
3. The Quantum Leap
4. Edge of Chaos
5. Shaping the Future
|2000||Kevin Warwick||Rise of the Robots||1. Anatomy of an Android
2. Things That Think
3. Remote Robots
4. Bionic Bodies
5. I, Robot
|2001||John Sulston||The Secrets of Life||1. What is life?
2. How do I grow?
3. What am I?
4. Can we fix it?
5. Future of life?
|2002||Tony Ryan||Smart Stuff||1. The Spider that Spun a Suspension Bridge
2. The Trainer That Ran Over The World
3. The Phone that Shrank the Planet
4. The Plaster that Stretches Life
5. The Ice Cream that Will Freeze Granny
|2003||Monica Grady||Voyage in Space and Time||1. Blast Off
2. Mission to Mars
3. Planet Patrol
4. Collision Course
5. Anybody Out There?
|2004||Lloyd Peck||Antarctica||1. Ice People
2. Ice Life
3. Ice World
|2005||John Krebs||The Truth About Food||1. The ape that cooks
2. Yuck or yummy?
3. You are what you eat
4. When food goes wrong
5. Food for the future
|2006||Marcus du Sautoy||The Num8er My5teries||1. The curious incident of the never-ending numbers
2. The quest to predict the future
3. The story of the elusive shapes
4. The case of the uncrackable code
5. The secret of the winning streak
|2007||Hugh Montgomery||Back from the Brink: The Science of Survival||1. Peak Performance
2. Completely Stuffed
3. Grilled and Chilled
4. Fight, Flight and Fright
5. Luck, Genes and Stupidity
|2008||Christopher Bishop||Hi-tech Trek||1. Breaking the Speed Limit
2. Chips with Everything
3. The Ghost in the Machine
4. Untangling the Web
5. Digital Intelligence
|2009||Sue Hartley||The 300-Million-Year War||1. Plant Wars
2. The Animals Strike Back
3. Talking Trees
4. Dangerous to Delicious
5. Weapons of the Future
|2010||Mark Miodownik||Size Matters||1. Why Elephants Can't Dance but Hamsters Can Skydive
2. Why Chocolate Melts and Jet Planes Don't
3. Why Mountains Are So Small
|2011||Bruce Hood||Meet Your Brain||1. What's in your head?
2. Who's in charge here anyway?
3. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
|2012||Peter Wothers||The Modern Alchemist||1. Air: the elixir of life
2. Water: the fountain of youth
3. Earth: the philosopher's stone
|2013||Alison Woollard||Life Fantastic||1. Where do I come from?
2. Am I a Mutant?
3. Could I live forever?
|2014||Danielle George||Sparks will fly: How to Hack your Home||1. The light bulb moment
2. Making contact
3. A new revolution
|2015||Kevin Fong||How to survive in space||1. Lift off!
2. Life in Orbit
3. The next frontier
|2016||Saiful Islam||Supercharged: Fuelling the future||1. Let there be light!
2. People Power
3. Fully charged
|2017||Sophie Scott||The Language of Life||1. Say it with Sound
2. Silent Messages
3. The Word
|2018||Alice Roberts||Who am I?||1. Where Do I Come From?
2. What Makes Me Human?
3. What Makes Me, Me?
|2019||Hannah Fry||Secrets and Lies: The Hidden Power of Maths||1. How to Get Lucky
2. How to Bend the Rules
3. How Can We All Win?
|2020||Christopher Jackson||Planet Earth: A user's guide|
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