Dr Gail Cardew appointed Professor of Science, Culture and Society

The Royal Institution awards Dr Gail Cardew a personal professorship in Science, Culture and Society to lead the institution’s charitable public engagement activities and champion its mission to encourage people to think more deeply about the wonders and applications of science.

  • Gail filming the ExpeRimental video 'Balancing sculptures'

    Gail filming the ExpeRimental video 'Balancing sculptures'

    Credit: Royal Institution

News

The Trustees of the Royal Institution, chaired by Sir Richard Sykes FRS, have formally awarded Dr Gail Cardew FSB a personal professorship in Science, Culture and Society.

In this new role, Gail will continue her valuable work in placing the Ri at the forefront of public science engagement on a national and international stage and will deepen the Ri’s evidence-based research approach to driving forward digital and technological innovation in science communication. This approach already underpins the Ri’s award-winning video activities through the Ri Channel and is one which will be integrated across the Royal Institution’s wider programme of science, education and heritage activities over the next three years. 

Gail is a recognised expert in public engagement and a committed advocate for the UK’s excellence in this field. She first joined the Royal Institution in 2000 and in 2011 was appointed as the Director of Science and Education, responsible for the development of the Royal Institution’s science communication, science education and science policy activities. She is also Chair of the board that governs the direction of the EuroScience Open Forum and selects host cities – the ESOF Supervisory Board – as well as a member of many international and national committees e.g. the Advisory Board for the Gothenburg Science Festival and the Editorial Board of the Euroscientist. From 2006 to 2012 she was Vice President of EuroScience, and in 2012 and 2015 she sat on the Canadian Foundation for Innovation Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee. In 2014 she was appointed a Fellow of the Society of Biology.

Reflecting on her appointment, Gail said: 

“I believe the Royal Institution’s decision to create this Chair will send a clear signal out to the science, education and public engagement communities that the Ri not only values the importance of public engagement, but also recognises the essential role professionals have in the process of communicating science. The public engagement field now is a rich and complex one, in which professionals no longer just need to be practising scientists; more importantly, they need to be extremely knowledgeable about the nature of science, in terms of its social and cultural roles, research into the public’s views on science and informal science education more generally.

“During my 15 years leading the Ri’s science and education activities, the team has focused on delivering our mission to encourage the public to think more deeply about the wonders and applications of science by broadening and diversifying the Royal Institution’s audiences and deepening its relationship with everyone it engages with. We want everyone, regardless of age, background or location, to have the opportunity to understand and appreciate the contribution science has on every aspect of our lives. For public engagement activities to have a genuine impact on an individual’s perception and appreciation of science and engineering, it needs to be more than just a fleeting encounter; it needs to nurture a person’s natural curiosity and to build a relationship with science that continues and deepens throughout someone’s entire life. 

“To help achieve this, we are committed to reaching out to and engaging with people who are not confident in their knowledge and understanding of science, with those who are not lucky enough to have a science centre on their doorstep to visit, or have other social, cultural or economic barriers to accessing high quality science communication. I believe taking advantage of cutting-edge digital technology and understanding how and why this technology can be used most effectively in the multi-faceted field of science communication will be crucial in achieving this aim.

“It is my hope that the creation of my professorship in Science, Culture and Society will encourage higher education organisations across the UK and beyond to establish more positions like this in recognition and support of the essential role expert science communicators can play in all societies and cultures.”

Since its foundation in 1799 the Royal Institution has appointed Professors to deliver its programmes. These include not only the established Chairs of chemistry, natural philosophy and physiology held by figures such as Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, John Tyndall, William Bragg, Lawrence Bragg, George Porter and Anne McLaren, but also Chairs specific to the skills and expertise of individual figures. These include Botany, held by James Smith, founder of the Linnean Society, Experimental Medicine, held by the Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar, and Mathematics, held by Christopher Zeeman who instigated the Ri Mathematics Masterclasses.

Prof Julia Buckingham, Ri Trustee, Chair of the Ri Science and Education Committee and Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, said:

“Having worked closely with Gail on the Royal Institution’s Science and Education Committee for many years, I can attest to her personal passion for science communication and her unwavering commitment to inspiring and engaging the next generation of scientists and engineers. As an internationally renowned expert in science communication, this appointment is much deserved and I look forward to continuing our work in shaping the future direction of the Royal Institution and its continued contribution to science communication and informal science learning.”

Congratulating Gail on her appointment, Prof Richard Catlow FRS, former Director of the Royal Institution Davy Faraday Research Laboratory (DFRL) and Dean of the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MAPS) at University College London, said:

“Gail’s appointment as Professor of Science, Culture and Society is a much deserved recognition and celebration of her significant commitment to and expertise in science communication. Her innovative and imaginative approach to public engagement has enabled the Royal Institution to reach out to and engage with new and diverse audiences in the UK and around the world. The impact of this approach, such as the revitalisation of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES, the establishment of the Ri’s digital presence through the Ri Channel, an increasingly sold out Public Programme and many more areas of success, is testament to her outstanding leadership and a wonderful reflection of her personal commitment to ensuring that everyone in our society has the opportunity and encouragement to understand and appreciate the wonders of science.”

Frank James, Professor of the History of Science at the Royal Institution, said: 

“I am delighted at Gail’s appointment not only for herself, but also because it signals the importance that the Royal Institution attaches to appreciating the relations of science, culture and society. It seems to me that such understanding provides a highly innovative evidence-based way of developing strategies to promote more effective public engagement with science and cognate areas.

"I am very much looking forward to continuing to work with Gail, especially in developing historical and thus longitudinal approaches to these highly complex and diverse relationships.”