What do you think of when you get to this time of year? For me there are several things, Carols from Kings on the radio whilst wrapping up presents for family, stuffing myself with several million mince pies, enduring some simply awful films on TV and generally having a lovely & relaxing time with friends and family.
However there is one bit of Christmas that somehow doesn’t quite fit with our view of the snow, songs and the festive season, yet it is – surprising to some – even more traditional! The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures were started by Michael Faraday in 1825 (nearly 190 years ago!) and have been missed on just 4 occasions during world war II. A very long time compared to the Cambridge broadcasts which have been going less than 100 years and it’s likely that the lectures pre-date the widespread popularity of the Christmas tree in the UK by nearly 50 years, so definitely something to get us properly into the spirit of the season.
This year chemistry once again returns to the Royal Institute with a series of lectures on the material world. This years series titled “the modern alchemist” is to be given by a hero of mine, Dr Peter Wothers, who is a teaching fellow at Cambridge University. Dr Wothers will unpick the chemistry of the world around us – looking at air, water and earth – three of the ancient Greek elements that tantalised alchemists for centuries.
He will explore the cocktail of gases that make air our elixir of life, and how water may hold the key to a solution to our energy problems. He delves into the depths of the Earth to uncover the elements that fascinated our ancestors and how, through understanding the properties of materials like silicon, we can enter a new era of chemistry in which we can engineer electrons in new configurations for future technologies.
It is, unfortunately, too late to get tickets for the event (as it was filmed at the start of December!) but do not fear, the BBC will be broadcasting it over three days. Watch them on BBC Four at 8pm on 26, 27 and 28 December. Or catch up on the BBC iPlayer.
If you fancy watching some more Royal Institute lectures – even lectures on the other sciences – you can, by visiting the Royal Institution Channel where there are several years of past lectures available to catch up on!
So whatever you are up to over the Christmas Period, don’t forget to keep up with this festive scientific tradition.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!