Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

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Michael Faraday delivering a Christmas Lecture in 1856

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. The lectures present scientific subjects to a general audience, including young people, in an informative and entertaining manner. Michael Faraday conceived and initiated the Christmas Lecture series in 1825, at a time when organised education for young people was scarce. Many of the Christmas Lectures were published.[1]


A close-up image of a candle showing the wick and the various parts of the flame; Michael Faraday lectured on "The Chemical History of a Candle".

The Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures were first held in 1825,[2] and have continued on an annual basis since then except for four years during the Second World War.[3] They have been hosted each year at the Royal Institution itself, except in 1929 and between 2005 and 2006, each time due to refurbishment of the building.[4] 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).[5][6][7]

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 are not settled until September, with the recordings made in mid-December.[5] 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, and this resulted in a reduction from five sessions to three.[8]



A single Christmas Lecture, by G. I. Taylor, was the first to be televised, in 1936, on the BBC's fledgling Television Service.[9] 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."[10] Channel Five subsequently agreed to show the lectures from 2005 to 2008, an announcement which was met with derision from academics.[11] 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.[12]

The Lecture Theatre today

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.[13]

In January 2022, the RI launched an appeal to trace copies of those televised lectures which are missing from the BBC's archives, these being the complete series of five lectures each from 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970 and 1971, plus one episode of David Attenborough's 1973 lectures, "The language of animals".[14]

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
1826 John Wallis[15] Astronomy
1827 Michael Faraday Chemistry
1828 J. Wood Architecture
1829 Michael Faraday Electricity
1830 Thomas Webster Geology
1831 James Rennie Zoology
1832 Michael Faraday Chemistry
1833 John Lindley Botany
1834 William Thomas Brande Chemistry
1835 Michael Faraday Electricity
1836 William Thomas Brande Chemistry of the Gases
1837 Michael Faraday Chemistry
1838 John Wallis[15] Astronomy
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[15] 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
1852 Chemistry
1853 Voltaic Electricity
1854 The Chemistry of Combustion
1855 The Distinctive Properties of the Common Metals
1856 Attractive Forces
1857 Static Electricity
1858 The Metallic Properties
1859 The Various Forces of Matter and their Relations to Each Other
1860 The Chemical History of a Candle
1861 John Tyndall Light
1862 Edward Frankland Air and Water
1863 John Tyndall Electricity at Rest and Electricity in Motion
1864 Edward Frankland The Chemistry of a Coal
1865 John Tyndall Sound
1866 Edward Frankland The Chemistry of Gases
1867 John Tyndall Heat and Cold
1868 William Odling The Chemical Changes of Carbon
1869 John Tyndall Light
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
1880 James Dewar Atoms
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
1889 Arthur Rücker Electricity
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 Silvanus 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
1927 Edward Andrade Engines
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
1945 Robert Watson-Watt Wireless
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
1956 Harry Baines Photography
1957 Julian Huxley and James Fisher Birds
1958 John Ashworth Ratcliffe, James M. Stagg,
Robert L. F. Boyd,
Graham Sutton,
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
1963 Ronald King Energy
1964 Desmond Morris Animal Behaviour
1965 Bernard Lovell, Francis Graham-Smith,
Martin Ryle, Antony Hewish
Exploration of the Universe

Since 1966


The following is a list of televised Christmas Lectures from 1966 onward as of December 2023:

Year Lecturer(s) Title of series Lecture titles Network
1966 Eric Laithwaite The Engineer in Wonderland[16] 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[17] 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[18] 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[19] 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[20] 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[21] 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[22] 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 ( lost from archives )

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[23] 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[24] 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[25] 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[26] 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[27] 1. Driving Forces

2. Gathering Momentum

3. Vibration

4. Under Control

5. Fluids and Flight

6. Living Machines

1984 Walter Bodmer The Message of the Genes[28] 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[29] 1. No Man is an Island

2. Animal Talk

3. The Bionic Bat

4. The Pace of Technology

5. The Integrated Body

6. Computers

1986 Lewis Wolpert Frankenstein's Quest: Development of Life[30] 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. The Micro-world

2. The architecture of crystals

3. Crystal Miracles

4. Constructing a LASER

5. The Light Fantastic

6. Crystals, lasers and the human body

1988 Gareth Roberts The Home of the Future[31] 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[32] 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[33] 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[34][35] 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

5. Waterworld

1996 Simon Conway Morris The History in our Bones[36] 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[37][38] 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[39] 1. Anatomy of an Android

2. Things That Think

3. Remote Robots

4. Bionic Bodies

5. I, Robot

Channel 4
2001 John Sulston The Secrets of Life[40] 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[41] 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[42] 1. Blast Off

2. Mission to Mars

3. Planet Patrol

4. Collision Course

5. Anybody Out There?

2004 Lloyd Peck Antarctica[42] 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

Channel Five
2006 Marcus du Sautoy The Num8er My5teries[43] 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

BBC Four
2011 Bruce Hood Meet Your Brain[44] 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

Aoife McLysaght

Who am I?[45] 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[46] 1. How to Get Lucky

2. How to Bend the Rules

3. How Can We All Win?

2020 Christopher Jackson

Helen Czerski

Tara Shine

Planet Earth: A user's guide[47] 1. Earth Engine

2. Water World

3. Up in the Air

2021 Jonathan Van-Tam Going viral: How Covid changed science forever[48] 1. The Invisible Enemy

2. The Perfect Storm

3. Fighting Back

2022 Sue Black Secrets of Forensic Science[49] 1. Dead Body

2. Missing Body

3. Living Body

2023 Michael Wooldridge The Truth about AI[50][51] 1. How to Build an Intelligent Machine

2. My AI Life

3. The Future of AI: Dream or Nightmare?


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