This series of lectures is run every year by the Royal Institution. They are aimed at children in the 7 -15 age range, and are given by the leading scientists of the day. The lectures were first given in 1826, by Michael Faraday, when few children had any kind of scientific education and have been run every year since, except for a brief interlude in the 1940s when London was not regarded as safe for the children.

Apart from being given by leading academics, the lectures are renowned for their use of innovative practical demonstrations, many of which involve volunteers from the audience of schoolchildren to 'help' in the demonstrations. And some of which are very spectacular.

Previous lecturers include James Dewar, inventor of the Thermos flask, Frank Whittle, inventor of the Jet engine and Baroness Susan Greenfield, the current Director of the Royal Institution.

The lectures are presented in mid-December, and then televised in the UK in the last week of December. They follow the RI's tradition of lasting one hour: no more and no less. The lectures are re-broadcast to Japan, Korea and other countries, and are also available on video. In the past, there were six lectures in each series, though this has recently been cut to five, partly as a result of the wishes of the broadcasting community.

The 2004 lectures were given by Prof Lloyd Peck, of the British Antarctic Survey. The subject matter was life in the Antarctic, and the series was titled, To the end of the Earth: surviving Antarctic Extremes

Anyone can apply for tickets, not just members of the RI. I remember attending a series of lectures on the origins of life on earth as a schoolboy, and being desperate to be selected as one of the helpers. Unfortunately, our seats were right at the top of the top gallery. We got a fantastic view of the lecturer's head, but very little else. If you want to participate, you need to be in the main seats near the presentation desk.

  • www.rigb.org

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