Royal Institution Christmas Lectures: inspiring and educating children and adults alike since 1825 (with a break for WWII)
December 31, 2010 11:59 PM   Subscribe

"The Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution are, by a time-honoured custom, invariably addressed to a "juvenile audience." This term, however, has always been held to be an elastic one, and to include those who are young in spirit as well as those who are young in years. The conditions, therefore, necessarily impose on the Lecturer the duty of treating some subject in such a manner that, whilst not beyond the reach of youthful minds, it may yet posses some elements of interest for those of maturer years." Thus began the preface to Waves and Ripples in Water, Air and Æther (alt. link: Google books), the published version of the 1901 lecture given by J.A. Fleming, M.A., D.Sc, F.R.S., providing a good overview of the lecture series that started in 1825 (list in PDF).

The Royal Institution of Great Britain was founded in 1799 as "a public Institution for diffusing the knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction, of useful mechanical inventions and improvements; and for teaching, by courses of philosophical lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life," by Sir Benjamin Thompson (who was also known as Count Rumford, after being made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire). The institution was one of many such scientific organizations of its day, but in 1825 it became unique with its first of what would become an Christmas Lecture series, aimed specifically at a juvenile audience.

That first lecture was given by John Millington (bio in Google books edition of A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland), who was a student of Sir Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday. Faraday was the mind behind the Christmas Lectures, and over the following decades he would give a total of 19 Christmas lectures, including an uninterrupted run from 1851 to 1860. The next most prominent names in terms of number of lectures given are the physicist John Tyndall (12), chemist and physicist Sir James Dewar (9), and the chemist William Thomas Brande (7). The majority of the lecturers would host one lecture each, with very few hosting as many as 5.

The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures were limited in time and location to a local attendance, with some lectures followed by publication of material delivered on the annual topic. The lectures spread further in 1966 with the first presentation, broadcast annually on BBC Two until 1999, then onto Channel 4 from 2000-2004, Channel Five from 2005-2008 and More4 in 2009. This year, the Christmas Lectures returned to BBC (Four), but now scaled down from five to three days of lectures.

And now, without further ado, the grand overview:
(linked sources are ideally based on the Christmas lecture given, and if not found online, then similar topics by the same author are provided instead)
1825 - John Millington - Natural Philosophy
-- Related: An Epitome of the Elementary Principles of Natural and Experimental Philosophy (Part the First) (1832) Google books scan; alt: multi-format at
1826 - J. Wallis - Astronomy
-- J. Wallis is not to be confused with the earlier mathematician, John Wallis. Mr. Wallis is largely unknown amongst internet resources, beyond his probable work as an observer, writer and lecturer on astronomy
1827 - Michael Faraday - Chemistry
-- The letters of Faraday provide insight into the origin of the Christmas Lectures, including that he wrote down 80 experiments for his first lecture
1828 - J. Wood - Architecture
-- Another early lost lecturer
1829 - Michael Faraday - Electricity
-- As with his personal letters, early interviews, possibly starting from the 1820s, give insight into Faraday's thoughts on his Christmas lectures
1830 - Thomas Webster - Geology
-- Thomas Webster was a noted geologist, who, amongst other accolades, is credited with discovering Aluminite, or Websterite
1831 - James Rennie - Zoology
-- related work: The Domestic Habits of Birds (1833) Google books scan; alt: multi-format at
1832 - Michael Faraday - Chemistry
-- Faraday's 3rd lecture, and 2nd on Chemistry
1833 - John Lindley - Botany
-- Related work: The Theory of Horticulture: or, An Attempt to Explain the Principal Operations of Gardening upon Physiological Principles (1841) Google books; alt versions on 1840 edition, 1859 American Edition
1834 - William Thomas Brande - Chemistry
-- Related work: various editions and portions of the three-part volume on Chemistry, all from the 1820s to 1830s, available on
1835 - Michael Faraday - Electricity
-- Faraday's fourth Christmas lecture, and second on electricity; this was the same year that Faraday received his first Royal Medal for experimental research in electricity (Google books)
1836 - William Thomas Brande - Chemistry of the Gases
-- Brande's second Christmas lecture
1837 - Michael Faraday - Chemistry
-- Faraday's fifth lecture, and the fourth Christmas lecture on the general topic of Chemistry
1838 - J. Wallis - Astronomy
-- Wallis' second lecture on astronomy
1839 - William Thomas Brande - The Chemistry of the Atmosphere and the Ocean
-- vaguely related: The Chemistry of Creation: Being a Sketch of the Chemical Phenomena of the Earth, ohe Air, the Ocean, written by Robert Ellis, F.L.S. (, multi-format; alt: Google books)
1840 - John Frederic Daniell - The First Principles of Franklinic Electricity
-- vaguely related: Franklinic or Static Electricity: Its Absolute and Relative Value, an article by A.D. Rockwell,, A.M., M.D., Electro-therapeutist to the New York State Women's Hospital
1841 - Michael Faraday - The Rudiments of Chemistry
-- related: The Rudiments of Chemistry (1836), by D.B. Reid, M.D. F.R.S.E. (Google books; alt: multi-format at
1842 - William Thomas Brande - The Chemistry of the Non-Metallic Elements
-- related:
Chemical Lecture Experiments: Non-metallic Elements (1892), George Samuel Newth (multi-format at
1843 - Michael Faraday - First Principles of Electricity
-- A lecture which may have included a three-legged frog, according to Faraday's letter #1544
1844 - William Thomas Brande - The Chemistry of the Gases
-- related: Metalloids and Metals - Properties of Gases and Vapors, a chapter from Brande's 1863 book on Chemistry, written with Alfred Swaine Taylor, M.D., F.R.S.
1845 - Michael Faraday - The Rudiments of Chemistry
-- related: The Rudiments of Chemistry, fourth edition (1851), by D.B. Reid, M.D. F.R.S.E. (multi-format at
1846 - J. Wallis - The Rudiments of Astronomy
-- Wallis' third and final Christmas Lecture
1847 - William Thomas Brande - The Elements of Organic Chemistry
-- related: Organic Chemistry chapter from Brande's 1863 book on Chemistry
1848 - Michael Faraday - The Chemical History of a Candle
-- the first presentation by Faraday on this topic as a Christmas Lecture, later written up following the 1860-1 lecture series
1849 - Robert Walker - The Properties of Matter and the Laws of Motion
-- Another lecturer without much widely distributed history, who gave eight lectures on light and colors in the same year that he was the Christmas lecturer
1850 - William Thomas Brande - The Chemistry of Coal
-- related: Bitumens, coal, &c., a section from the Manual of Chemistry by Brande (1821) (Google books; alt. source: multi-format at, where there are also other editions available)
1851 - Michael Faraday - Attractive Forces
1852 - Michael Faraday - Chemistry
1853 - Michael Faraday - Voltaic Electricity
-- related: Galvanism, or Voltaic Electricity, from the The American Cyclopaedia. Vol 7 (1873), written by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana
1854 - Michael Faraday - The Chemistry of Combustion
-- modern collection of articles on the topic
1855 - Michael Faraday - The Distinctive Properties of the Common Metals (illustration of the lecturewhich was the inspiration for part of the design of the £20 note that was first put into circulation in 1992)
1856 - Michael Faraday - Attractive Forces
1857 - Michael Faraday - Static Electricity
1858 - Michael Faraday - The Metallic Properties
1859 - Michael Faraday - The Various Forces of Matter and their Relations to Each Other
Course of Six Lectures on the Various Forces of Matter, and their Relations to Each Other
, delivered before a Juvenile Auditory at the Royal Institute of Great Britain during the Christmas Holidays of 1859-60 (Multi-format at
1860 - Michael Faraday - The Chemical History of a Candle
-- A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle, delivered before a Juvenile Auditory at the Royal Institute of Great Britain during the Christmas Holidays of 1860-1 (Google books; alt: five different copies on
1861 - John Tyndall - Light
-- related:
Six Lectures on Light: Delivered in America in 1872-1873
, by Tyndall (first American Edition, 1873; more editions available on
1862 - Edward Frankland - Air and Water
-- related: short discussion of Franklin's Lecture Courses at The Royal Institution up to 1867, in the Google books edition of the biography of Edward Franklin (Chemistry, Controversy and Conspiracy in Victorian England)
1863 - John Tyndall - Electricity at Rest and Electricity in Motion
-- modern article: What's the Difference Between Electric Current and Net Electric Charge?, by William J. Beaty (1999)
1864 - Edward Frankland - The Chemistry of a Coal
-- related: Coal; Its History and Uses (1878), Green, Miall, Thorpe, Rücker, and Marshall
1865 - John Tyndall - Sound
-- related: Sound. A Course of Eight Lectures delivered at The Royal Institution of Great Britain, by John Tyndall (1867) (Google books)
1866 - Edward Frankland - The Chemistry of Gases
1867 - John Tyndall - Heat and Cold
-- related: Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion, a course of twelve lectures, originally presented at the Royal Institute in 1862 (published in 1866). See also: various editions available at
1868 - William Odling - The Chemical Changes of Carbon
-- A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical Changes of Carbon (Google books; also available on
1869 - John Tyndall - Light
1870 - William Odling - Burning and Unburning
-- Notes of Professor Odling's Juvenile Lectures, Christmas, 1870-71. Burning and Unburning. From a collection of abstracts of lectures delivered at the Royal Institute (1874) (Google books)
1871 - John Tyndall - Ice, Water, Vapour and Air
-- related: The Forms of Water in Clouds & Rivers, Ice & Glaciers (1873) Tyndall (, with a number of other editions available, though some are incorrectly labeled; alt.sources: Google books, 1972, American edition, and Google docs quickview of the PDF of Christmas at the Royal Institution)
1872 - William Odling - Air and Gas
1873 - John Tyndall - The Motion and Sensation of Sound
1874 - John Hall Gladstone - The Voltaic Battery
-- related: Modern discussion of the history of the Voltaic Pile
1875 - John Tyndall - Experimental Electricity
-- Lessons in Electricity at the Royal Institute, adapted from the 1875-6 Christmas Lectures
1876 - John Hall Gladstone - The Chemistry of Fire
-- related: Chemistry of Fire, (1893) by Matthew Moncrieff Pattison Muir (; alt. source: Google books)
1877 - John Tyndall - Heat, Visible and Invisible
-- related: New York Times article from a lecture in the United States
1878 - James Dewar - A Soap Bubble
-- related: The Science of Soap Films and Soap Bubbles (limited Google books preview), first published by Cyril Isenberg in 1978; also, Bubbles, a modern collection of short pages on the science behind bubbles, by Ron Hipschman
1879 - John Tyndall - Water and Air
1880 - James Dewar - Atoms
1881 - Robert Stawell Ball - The Sun, the Moon and the Planets
-- related: The Story of the Heavens (1885)
1882 - John Tyndall - Light and the Eye
-- related: modern discussion of light and the eye
1883 - James Dewar - Alchemy in Relation to Modern Science
-- related: a passing note on Dewar's lectures in the book Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory (2007), by Mark Morrison
1884 - John Tyndall - The Sources of Electricity
-- Tyndall displayed, by striking the back of a man's jacket repeatedly with a catskin, sufficient electricity can be generated to attract different objects.
1885 - James Dewar - The Story of a Meteorite
1886 - James Dewar - The Chemistry of Light and Photography
-- related: The Chemistry of Light and Photography (1875), by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel (; alt.source: Google books)
1887 - Robert Stawell Ball - Astronomy
-- related: Star-Land (1892)
1888 - James Dewar - Clouds and Cloudland
-- related: Cloudland (1894), by Rev. William Clement Ley (Google books; alt:
1889 - Arthur Rücker - Electricity
1890 - James Dewar - Frost and Fire
1891 - John Gray McKendrick - Life in Motion; or the Animal Machine
-- Life in motion; or, Muscle and nerve; a course of six lectures delivered before a juvenile auditory at the Royal institution of Great Britain during the Christmas holidays of 1891-92 (1892) (; see also: the second edition, from 1893; alt: Google books)
1892 - Robert Stawell Ball - Astronomy
-- related: The Story of The Sun (1893)
1893 - James Dewar - Air: Gaseous and Liquid
-- related: modern write-up on the "Development of Air Liquefaction and Separation", by the company founded by Carl von Linde
1894 - John Ambrose Fleming - The Work of an Electric Current
-- related: modern explanation of an electric motor
1895 - John Gray McKendrick - Sound, Hearing and Speech
1896 - Sylvanus Phillips Thompson - Light, Visible and Invisible
-- Light Visible and Invisible : a series of lectures delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, at Christmas, 1896 (1897) (, one of a number of editions; alt: Google books)
1897 - Oliver Lodge - The Principles of the Electric Telegraph
-- related: The Principles of Electric Wave Telegraphy (1906), by J. A. Fleming, M.A., D.Sc., F.R.S.m (Google books; alt.source:
1898 - Robert Stawell Ball (modern bio; period bio) - Astronomy
-- related: Atoms and Sunbeams, an essay in the 1900 volume Essays in Astronomy.
1899 - Charles Vernon Boys (obit)- Fluids in Motion and at Rest
-- another publication by C. V. Boys, F.R.S.: Soap Bubbles, Their Colours, and the Forces which Mould Them (1896)
1900 - Robert Stawell Ball - Great Chapters from the Book of Nature (illustration of the lecture)
-- that lecture was written up "with some omissions and additions" as The Earth's Beginnings (1901) (; alt.source: Google books). An excerpt appered in The National Geographic Magazine, Volume 13 (Google books)
1901 - John Ambrose Fleming - Waves and Ripples in Water, Air and Aether
-- Waves and ripples in water, air, and aether, Being a course of Christmas lectures delivered at the Royal institution of Great Britain (1902) (; alt.source: Google books)
1902 - Henry Selby Hele-Shaw - Locomotion : On the Earth, Through the Water, in the Air
-- related: Animal Mechanics (1902), by Sir Charles Bell and Jeffries Wyman (; alt.source: Google books)
1903 - Edwin Ray Lankester - Extinct Animals
-- the "correct shorthand report" of the Christmas Lectures was published as Extinct Animals (1905, also 1906; both from; alt.source: Google books)
1904 - Henry Cunynghame - Ancient and Modern Methods of Measuring Time
-- related: Time and Clocks: a Description of Ancient and Modern Methods of Measuring Time (1906), by H.H. Cunynghame M.A. C.B. M.I.E.E. (Google books)
1905 - Herbert Hall Turner - Astronomy
-- related: Astronomical Discovery (1904) (, alt.source: Google books)
1906 - William Duddell - Signalling to a Distance: "From Primitave Man to Radio-Telegraphy"
-- related: modern overview of the history of human communications
1907 - David Gill - Astronomy, Old and New
-- Gill was not fond of giving popular lectures, but did so for "filthy lucre," according to his memoirs (
1908 - W. Stirling - The Wheel of Life
1909 - William Duddell - Modern Electricity
-- related: a correction to the material given in the lecture, presented to the Royal Institution, including an illustration (Google books); also: timeline of Electricity and Magnetism: 1900-1909
1910 - Sylvanus Phillips Thompson - Sound: Musical and Non-Musical
-- small notes by Thompson on the lecture, from Silvanus Phillips Thompson, D.SC., LL.D., F.R.S.: His Life and Letters (1920), by Jane Smeal Henderson Thompson and Helen Gertrude Thompson (
1911 - Peter Chalmers Mitchell - The Childhood of Animals
-- Mitchell put together "the same story in a different fashion" from the Christmas Lectures as The Childhood of Animals (1912) (
1912 - James Dewar - Christmas Lecture Epilogues
1913 - Herbert Hall Turner - A Voyage in Space
-- A voyage in space; a course of six lectures "adapted to a juvenile auditory" delivered at the Royal Institution at Xmas 1913 (1915) (
1914 - Charles Vernon Boys - Science in the Home
-- related: Civic Science in the Home (1921), by George W. Hunter, Ph.D. and Walter G. Whitman, A.M.
1915 - Herbert Hall Turner - Wireless Messages from the Stars
-- the title of the individual lectures are intriguing, but are hard to track down online. In place, here is possibly related material: Cipher Messages from the Stars, an article by J.H. Moore, from the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Volume 33 (1921)
(further below)
posted by filthy light thief (20 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

Wow just under the wire
posted by wheelieman at 12:16 AM on January 1, 2011

Yeah, I was going to insist this be eligible for December prizes despite missing the deadline, before realizing: it was posted December 31st, 11:59 PM PST. Well played, sir.

(Incidentally, did the end of it get cut off? Or maybe just not finished in time?)
posted by Rhaomi at 12:16 AM on January 1, 2011

My guess would be that the author kept going until they ran out of time :)

This year's lectures, entitled "Size Matters" has been excellent. For those not in the UK & herefore without access to iPlayer I'm sure other sources will prove fruitful.
posted by pharm at 1:49 AM on January 1, 2011

This is such a cool post! Thanks, filthy light thief!
posted by the_royal_we at 1:57 AM on January 1, 2011

Along these lines, Robert Hooke's Cutlerian lectures to the Royal Society in the 1670's are interesting for their broad ambition during the early days of ∫cience.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:15 AM on January 1, 2011

These lectures really wouldn't have gotten off the ground if not for Faraday, who gave many of the first ones ("The Chemical History of a Candle", linked above, is a true classic). Faraday was the laboratory assistant of Humphry Davy, and undoubtedly inspired by Davy's somewhat flamboyant lecture style. Davy's earlier lectures to the Royal Institution were enormously popular for their use of laughing gas, of which Davy was a recreational user.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:44 AM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sue Hartley's The 300-Million-Year War last year was compelling. These lectures are a highlight of Christmas season for me.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:51 AM on January 1, 2011

Wow. Another Christmas present. Many thanks!

I received "The Chemical History of a Candle" as a present one year, and the scientific rigour and enthusiasm of the presentation still managed to penetrate my adolescent 20th century TV-damaged attention-span.

There may seem to be a huge gulf between making some frogs' legs twitch with a Leydon jar, and hacking a wii, but there's a common root in there somewhere.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2011

Leyden (or Leiden) jar. Sorry, Dutch friends.

Did I mention that I loved this post?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:52 AM on January 1, 2011

Damnation, it did get cut off. Another in a string of mishaps that shoved this post out to the very end of the old year. Firefox crashed on a number of occasions, as did my whole computer, so I started saving into a text file. With that, here's another 95 years of science lectures (well, not quite, but you get the idea):


1916 - Arthur Keith - The Human Machine Which All Must Work
-- the Christmas Lectures were written up as The Engines of the Human Body (1919) (; alt.source: Google books (1920)
1917 - John Ambrose Fleming - Our Useful Servants : Magnetism and Electricity
1918 - D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson - The Fish of the Sea
-- vaguely related: On Growth and Form (1917). First edition of Wentworth's best-known volume (Source:; see also: 1945 edition, also on
1919 - William Henry Bragg - The World of Sound
-- dedicated to juveniles (including those of the grown-up variety) who came to the Christmas Lectures and made such a kindly audience: The World of Sound (1920) (, which also has the 1921 edition)
1920 - John Arthur Thomson - The Haunts of Life
-- The Haunts of Life (1921), in which the lecturer has "kept in the printed pages as closely as I could to what I said at the time" (, with other editions available; alt.source: Google books)
1921 - John Ambrose Fleming - Electric Waves and Wireless Telephony
-- related: The Principles of Electric Wave Telegraphy and Telephony (Fourth Edition, 1919) (Google books; alt.source:
1922 - Herbert Hall Turner - Six Steps Up the Ladder to the Stars
1923 - William Henry Bragg - Concerning the Nature of Things
-- Concerning the Nature of Things (re-issued 2004 Google books scanned edition, an unabridged republication of the last English edition (1948) of the original publication by Bell (Third Edition, 1925, on
1924 - F. Balfour Browne - Concerning the Habits of Insects
-- the outcome of a course of lectures "adapted to a juvenile audience" was published as Concerning The Habits Of Insects (1925)
1925 - William Henry Bragg - Old Trades and New Knowledge
-- abstract / book review of Old Trades and New Knowledge: Six Lectures delivered before a "Juvenile Auditory" at the Royal Institution, Christmas 1925
1926 - Archibald Vivian Hill - Nerves and Muscles: How We Feel and Move
-- excerpt of the lecture, given by one of the two 1922 nobel laureates in Physiology and Medicine (Hill was awarded "for his discovery relating to the production of heat in the muscle"; see also: The Mechanism of Muscular Contraction, Hill's Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1923)
1927 - Edward Andrade - Engines (image from the lecture)
1928 - Alexander Wood - Sound Waves and their Uses
-- references to Wood's lecture and publication; related earlier work: The Physical Basis of Music (1913) (Google books)
1929 - Stephen Glanville - How Things Were Done in Ancient Egypt
-- related: modern website covering Daily Life in Ancient Egypt
1930 - A.M. Tyndall - The Electric Spark
1931 - William Lawrence Bragg - The Universe of Light (1934 book review)
1932 - Alexander Oliver Rankine (biography excerpt) - The Round of the Waters
1933 - James Hopwood Jeans - Through Space and Time
-- Through Space and Time (1934), "containing the substance" of what Jeans said at the Christmas Lectures, and "fortified in places" with what he said at "slightly more serious occasions" (
1934 - William Lawrence Bragg - Electricity
1935 - Charles Edward Kenneth Mees (Google quickview of this PDF) - Photography
-- more on Mees: Photography's research genius, an article in New Scientist 20/27, December 1979 edition, which notes that he was "delighted to when asked to be the Children's Christmas Lecturer at the Royal Institution in London in 1935"; The Kodachrome Process of Color Portraiture, a publication by C.E.K. Mees in the Abridged scientific publications from the Kodak Research, Volume II (1915-1916), which also has other articles by Mees
1936 - Geoffrey Ingram Taylor - Ships (image from the lecture)
-- a section (on Google books) from The Life and Legacy of G.I. Taylor (1996), which clarifies Taylor's lectures worked with Archimedes principle of water displacement
1937 - Julian Huxley - Rare Animals and the Disappearance of Wild Life
-- in a lecture ahead of it's time, Huxley foreshadowed his later involvement that would lead to the creation of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF); vaguely related: More Simple Science: Earth and Man (1936), by Julian Huxley and E. N. da C. Andrade, aka Edward Andrade
1938 - James Kendall - Young Chemists and Great Discoveries
-- first page of the 1940 write-up, and full copy of the 1953 edition (
1939 to 1942 - No lectures due to the Second World War
1943 - Edward Andrade - Vibrations and Waves
1944 - Harold Spencer Jones - Astronomy in our Daily Life
-- related: General Astronomy (1922) by Jones (; alt.source: Google books); also: modern discussion of Earth's orbit and rotation in our daily lives
1945 - Robert Watson-Watt - Wireless
-- though others had laid the groundwork for radar decades earlier, Watson-Watt patented radar for metrological purposes, and later pioneered the use of radar to detect aircraft
1946 - Hamilton Hartridge (first page of a bio) - Colours and How We See Them
-- related: Colours and How We See Them (Google quickview of a MS Word file), modern paper by Prof. John D. Mollon; see also: How do we see color?, part of a series of pages on color from Pantone Inc.
1947 - Eric K. Rideal - Chemical Reactions: How They Work
-- related: Chemical Reactions, a modern lesson on chemistry, aimed at a young readership
1948 - Frederic Bartlett - The Mind at Work and Play
-- The Mind at Work and Play (1951), online edition in 6 chapters (more web documents of similar sorts)
1949 - Percy Dunsheath - The Electric Current (image from the lecture)
-- for a period, Dunsheath was director of research at W. T. Henley Telegraph Co (now known as W T Henley Limited), who were once one of the major British submarine cable manufacturing companies
1950 - Edward Andrade - Waves and Vibrations
1951 - James Gray - How Animals Move (one figure and description from the publication)
1952 - F. Sherwood Taylor - How Science Has Grown
1953 - J.A. Ratcliffe - The Uses of Radio Waves
1954 - Frank Whittle - The Story of Petroleum (image from the lecture)
-- related videos: Story of Petroleum, part 1, part 2, and part 3 (1923 silent film, split on YouTube) The Story of Gasoline (1924, silent film, YT); The Diesel Story (1952, History of the Diesel Engine, YT)
1955 - Harry W. Melville - Big Molecules
-- related: Making Molecules, modern Royal Institution article
1956 - Harry Baines - Photography
1957 - Julian Huxley and James Fisher - Birds
1958 - J.A. Ratcliffe, J.M. Stagg, R.L.F. Boyd, Graham Sutton, G.E.R. Deacon, G. de Q. Robin - The International Geophysical Year
-- related: the year that lasted 18 months, which even had a belated, unofficial themesong)
1959 - Thomas Allibone - The Release and Use of Atomic Energy
-- related: A is for Atom (1953, animation on YouTube; alt.source:; Atoms for Peace (1957, black and white, audio in one-channel mono, YT; alt.source:
1960 - V.E. Cosslett - Seeing the Very Small
-- related: Modern Microscopy (1922, fifth edition) (, source of other editions; alt.source: Google books)
1961 - William Lawrence Bragg - Electricity
1962 - R.E.D. Bishop (Google quickview of PDF) - Vibration
1963 - Ronald King - Energy
-- related: Energy: Glossary at The Royal Institution
1964 - Desmond Morris - Animal Behaviour
-- though two years early for broadcasting of the Christmas Lectures, three decades after his lectures, Morris would go on to write and present The Human Animal on the BBC (now streaming on in various forms on various sites)
1965 - Bernard Lovell, Francis Smith, Martin Ryle, Antony Hewish - Exploration of the Universe
-- related: modern space exploration timeline, through 2001, and on the same site, more details on planetary and solar missions
1966 - Eric Laithwaite (obit) - The Engineer in Wonderland
1967 - Richard L. Gregory - The Intelligent Eye
-- related: a collection of papers by Gregory, available as PDF, Word, and HTML documents
1968 - Philip Morrison - Gulliver's Laws: The Physics of Large and Small
-- related: Scaling -- the Physics of Lilliput, online topic, adapted from PSSC PHYSICS, 2nd edition, 1965
1969 - George Porter - Time Machines (image of the lecture which was televised, though no recording survived)
-- related: a biography of Porter in Google quickview format, from a 30-page PDF, taken from The Life and Scientific Legacy of George Porter
1970 - John Napier - Monkeys Without Tails: A Giraffe's Eye-view of Man
1971 - Charles Taylor (obit) - Sounds of Music: the Science of Tones and Tune
-- related: The Science of Tuning Musical Instruments, modern website on tuning and frequency
1972 - G.G. Gouriet - Ripples in the Ether: The Science of Radio Communication
1973 - David Attenborough - The Language of Animals (image of the lecture)
-- YouTube Playlist of lectures
1974 - Eric Laithwaite - The Engineer Through the Looking Glass
-- Eric Laithwaite's lecture on gyroscopes part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and part 7; Google quickview of a PDF chapter from Engineer Through the Looking Glass.
Related: The Incredible Genius of Eric Laithwaite, a review of a lecture (and the fall-out) around a gyroscope demonstration at the Royal Institution (the year referenced is odd, but it's probably this Christmas lecture)
1975 - Heinz Wolff - Signals from the Interior
1976 - George Porter - The Natural History of a Sunbeam
1977 - Carl Sagan - The Planets
-- YouTube Playlist of the six lectures, in 6 parts each
1978 - Erik Christopher Zeeman - Mathematics into Pictures
-- related: Christmas Lectures and Mathematics Masterclasses, an article by Zeeman in the book The Popularization of Mathematics. His lectures went so well that they led to the development of a series of masterclasses for young people taking place at the Ri. And a decade after his lectures, Zeeman was awarded the Michael Faraday Prize for "for furthering the public understanding of science and mathematics through his lectures, writing, and media appearances." Three decades after the lectures, the Christopher Zeeman Medal was first awarded "to recognise and acknowledge the contributions of mathematicians involved in promoting mathematics to the public"
1979 - Eric M. Rogers (obit) - Atoms for Engineering Minds: A Circus of Experiments
-- his book, Physics for the Inquiring Mind, still inspires lectures and science experiments, and a collection of essays in science education was compiled in his memory.
1980 - David Chilton Phillips with Max Perutz in Lecture 5 - The Chicken, the Egg and the Molecules
1981 - Reginald Victor Jones (Google quickview of 4 page PDF) - From Magna Carta to Microchip
1982 - Colin Blakemore - Common Sense
1983 - Leonard Maunder - Machines in Motion
-- Machines in Motion, Google books preview of 1986 published lecture write-up
1984 - Walter Bodmer - The Message of the Genes
-- related: review of the lectures, and discussion of the Christmas Lectures since 1974.
1985 - John David Pye - Communicating
1986 - Lewis Wolpert - Frankenstein's Quest: Development of Life
-- vaguely related: Wolpert's short article Science is the best and only way to understand how the world works, in The Independant (2004)
1987 - John Meurig Thomas and David Phillips - Crystals and Lasers
1988 - Gareth Roberts - The Home of the Future
-- other visions, vaguely related: Disney's dated vision, part 1 and part 2 (YouTube, ~12 minutes), and the 2009 Microsoft vision of the future (BBC, 2m51s)
1989 - Charles Taylor - Exploring Music (image of the lecture)
-- Exploring Music: The Science and Technology of Tones and Tunes (Google books view of the 1992 published version of the lecture)
1990 - Malcolm Longair - Origins
1991 - Richard Dawkins - Growing Up in the Universe
-- Five lectures on YouTube, and a detailed Wikipedia entry
1992 - Charles J.M. Stirling - Our World Through the Looking Glass
1993 - Frank Close - The Cosmic Onion
-- The New Cosmic Onion: Quarks and the Nature of the Universe (2007, Google books preview), and the televised lectures: #1, #2, #3, #4
1994 - Susan Greenfield - Journey to the Centre of the Brain (image of the lecture)
-- "very broadly inspired" by her lectures, Greenfield published The Human Brain: A Guided Tour in 1997. Greenfield was the first woman to present at the Christmas Lectures, and four years later would be appointed director of the Royal Institution.
1995 - James Jackson - Planet Earth, An Explorer's Guide
1996 - Simon Conway Morris - The History in our Bones
-- Playlist of Broadcast Lectures parceled up into chunks on YouTube; vaguely related: Darwin was right. Up to a point, an article by Morris from 2009
1997 - Ian Stewart - The Magical Maze
-- It has largely fallen off the 'net, but BBC had a section of their website related to the lectures. See also: one of Stewart's lectures in the Christmas at the Royal Institution anthology
1998 - Nancy Rothwell - Staying Alive
-- Pre-show write-up in the BBC News
1999 - Neil F. Johnson - Arrows of Time
-- Televised lectures on YouTube: #1, #3, #4
2000 - Kevin Warwick - Rise of the Robots
-- related: "Rise of the Cyborgs," interview with Warwick; Kevin Warwick, Human Cyborg (short YT video); Wired article from 2000
2001 - John Sulston - The Secrets of Life
-- see also: One man and his worm, a 2002 Guardian article
2002 - Tony Ryan - Smart Stuff
-- Smart Stuff micro-site, with show transcripts, flash games, and a bit more
2003 - Monica Grady - Voyage in Space and Time
-- Channel 4 had a micro-site for the program, but it only lives on now
2004 - Lloyd Peck - To the End of the Earth: Surviving Antarctic Extremes
-- related video: Life in Antarctic Extremes, a lecture by Peck; also: Warming Will Change Arctic and Antarctic Ecosystems, an article on Marine Science Today, with input by Peck
2005 - John Krebs - The Truth About Food
-- Royal Institution micro-site (also available as text-only with links to PDF articles)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:00 AM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

... and my browser goes buggie again, with the comment cut off.


2006 - Marcus du Sautoy - The Num8er My5teries
-- related: information on the book and app, and the Guardian review; also related: TEDtalk - Symmetry, reality's riddle (YT, 20:17), Authors@Google (YT, 18:15), Music of Prime Numbers (YT, 66:29)
2007 - Hugh Montgomery - Back from the Brink: The Science of Survival
2008 - Christopher Bishop - Hi-tech Trek
-- review of "The Quest for the Ultimate Computer"; YouTube clips and longer portions in Windows Media; also, a 9min42sec section on Quantum Computing on YouTube
2009 - Sue Hartley - The 300-Million-Year War (image of the lecture)
-- Royal Institution micro-site
2010 - Mark Miodownik - Size Matters
-- RI micro-site; Lecture on YT, split into parts: 1, 2, 3, and again things get cut off (and the images are squished). There are some clips up from The Royal Institution: Lecture 1 - Why Elephants Can't Dance, Lecture 3 - Why Are Mountains So Small? (2:10), but no #2 or more. BBC has some preview clips: Microscopic Basketballs, The Liquid That Flows Upwards, A Tug Of War To Separate Two Books, How Do Geckos Stick To Walls?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on January 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Somebody @mefi really ought to stitch that back together for you, FLTF.

An amazing collection of people, though they rather let themselves down in 2000 with Kevin Warwick IMO. Still fondly remember Eric Laithwaite's lectures, that stuff was magical to me as a ten year old.
posted by pascal at 9:20 AM on January 1, 2011

Maybe a mod could stitch the whole thing back together?
posted by pharm at 9:24 AM on January 1, 2011

I've flagged the pieces as "HTML error," and I figured I'd let the mods find it when they get up and active. I figure it'll all get fixed sooner or later. If not, the broken bits are below the fold.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on January 1, 2011

Awesome job flt - it's gonna take a while to get through it all, but it's a new year - there's plenty of time!
posted by garnetgirl at 9:34 AM on January 1, 2011

Maybe a mod could stitch the whole thing back together?

I un-fucked the cutoff points in the post and the first followup comment. It cannot be stitched together into a single go because the whole is too long to fit.
posted by cortex at 9:54 AM on January 1, 2011

Ah, crap. I have officially made a post too long for MetaFilter.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:03 AM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Did someone say "Treaty of Westphalia?"

But seriously, filthy light thief, this is pretty excellent. I don't know when I'll have time to read all these but it's nice to know it's here!
posted by Alterscape at 7:04 PM on January 1, 2011

I have the "Growing up the in Universe" DVD tucked away for when my daughter's a bit older. Thank you for curating so much other interesting material from the series.
posted by rodgerd at 7:31 PM on January 1, 2011

Alterscape: Did someone say "Treaty of Westphalia?"

Just to answer my selfish interest, I compared the said treaty with my ramblings above. The treaty spanned 30 solid pages, when copied into MS Word, totaling 14,824 words. My post, plus two spill-over comments, was a thin 12 pages with 5,485 words.

Gadzooks, I carried on.

posted by filthy light thief at 5:00 PM on January 5, 2011

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