In a season cluttered with sumptuous food, rowdy relatives and what seems like an unlimited supply of expensive liquors, it’s easy to overlook what for many is an age-old Christmas tradition. The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures, first hosted by Michael Faraday in 1825, originally aimed to introduce young audiences to science subjects through fun and engaging lectures. Having hosted the likes of David Attenborough and Carl Sagan, the lectures were soon considered as popular as the Queen’s speech in terms of Christmas tradition, hotly anticipated by young and old audiences alike.
This year’s Christmas lectures will be hosted by electrical and electronics engineer, Danielle George. The 3-part series, entitled Sparks Will Fly: How to Hack Your Home, will explore the idea that, thanks to cheap programming units such as the Raspberry Pi, a new era of home experimentation is upon us. She will introduce audiences to British inventions – the lightbulb, telephone and motor – and reveal how they can be adapted and transformed to do extraordinary things.
But despite the initial hype in the summer, there has been very little promotion of the lectures in the run up to Christmas; which is ironic really, considering that the lectures are held primarily with the aim of communicating science. There’s a webpage, Twitter feed and a sliding LED advertisement on the BT tower, but for anyone outside of London or out of touch with social media, they’re a difficult thing to come by. It’s frustrating really, considering how much potential these lectures have for inspiring future scientists.
Danielle George, as the Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and a Professor in the Microwave and Communications Systems research group at the University of Manchester, proves to be quite the role model for those interested in engineering. She is delighted to have “the opportunity to highlight to such a large audience how ingenious, creative and innovative engineering can be” and hopes to “inspire more young people to take up this exciting and challenging profession.”
Whilst the Faraday Theatre only has capacity for 440 secondary school children, the Royal Institute is promoting various other ways for young people to get involved with the lecture series. In the weeks following, the BBC Four broadcast I’m an Engineer, Get Me Out of Here will offer the chance for science students to engage in live chat with qualified engineers. The Royal Institute have also created an online Hack Gallery where people can showcase their home-crafted inventions, and if that wasn’t enough, all three lectures will have individual BBC iWonder pages.
Each lecture will start at 8pm with the first lecture in the series, The Lightbulb Moment, broadcast on 29th December, followed by Making Contact on the 30th December and A New Revolution on New Year’s Eve.