The 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES take over London!

A skyscraper is turned into a computer game, the BT Tower is adorned by lightbulbs and the Coventry House screen in Piccadilly is taken over by the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES.

  • Tetris-style game appears on the Shell Centre on London's South Bank

    Credit: Newscast
  • Harrison Wood, 14, plays Tetris on the Shell building

    Credit: Newscast
  • Credit: Eric Dassen

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Professor Danielle George, an electrical engineer from The University of Manchester, transformed the windows of an iconic London skyscraper, the Shell Centre, into a giant computer game, took control of the Coventry House screen, and beamed the #xmaslectures message across the iconic BT Tower.

On the evening of 11 December 2014 hundreds of light bulbs in windows of the Shell Centre created a spectacular finale to the first programme in a demonstration packed series called ‘Sparks will fly: How to hack your home’ filmed at the Royal Institution of Great Britain and due to air on TV this Christmas.

The ambitious live demonstration, which transformed the building into a playable Tetris-style game, part of the renowned CHRISTMAS LECTURES tradition since 1825, revealed how viewers can change the world from their very own home by taking control of the devices and everyday objects we use every day.

Throughout the three-part series, Danielle will take three great British inventions and demonstrate how viewers can adapt, transform and ‘hack’ them to do extraordinary things. Inspired by Geordie inventor Joseph Swan, the starting point for designing this game was the humble light bulb.

Before the Tetris-style spectacular, an exploration of the power of the light bulb started with children in the lecture theatre seeing their portraits beamed across London to the 30ft wide Coventry House screen in Piccadilly. Over 50 photographs cycled across the display, illuminating London’s skyline with excited faces of CHRISTMAS LECTURES attendees. 

  • Coventry House screen

    CHRISTMAS LECTURES on Coventry House

    Credit: Eric Dassen

  • Coventry House screen

    CHRISTMAS LECTURES on Coventry House

    Credit: Eric Dassen

  • Coventry House screen

    CHRISTMAS LECTURES on Coventry House

    Credit: Eric Dassen

  • Coventry House screen

    CHRISTMAS LECTURES on Coventry House

    Credit: Eric Dassen

And it wasn’t just the Coventry House and the Shell Centre. The iconic BT tower displayed a light bulb design and the #xmaslectures hashtag for eight hours between 12pm and 8pm.

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For the spectacular conclusion, a volunteer from the live audience Harrison Wood, age 14 from Shoreham Academy in Brighton, was selected at random on the night and whisked from the Royal Institution theatre in Mayfair to Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank to take control of the game as a surprise pre-Christmas treat for tourists and visitors on the South Bank.

On his way to the demo, Harrison said: “This is incredibly exciting and a very unexpected turn of events! I'm so lucky to get picked. I'm a huge computer games fan but I've never played one like this before, definitely not one this big!"

  • Audience volunteer Harrison Wood

    Credit: Newscast

The entire demonstration was created using only affordable everyday items such as desktop lamps (provided by B&Q), LED connected light bulbs (provided by Philips Hue) and baking paper stuck on the windows to diffuse the light. The child’s handheld controller was made from intelligent putty called Sugru and a MaKey MaKey board communicated the child’s instructions to a laptop. The laptop then sent the instructions into the building using WiFi.

A team of 28 volunteers spent a whole day setting up the 182 lamps in front of 182 windows to create a 14 by 13 screen of ‘pixels’.

Professor George said: “In this year’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES we wanted to show that with a bit of knowledge, some hard work and a spark of imagination, amazing things are possible. What better way to bring a classic arcade game back to life than on such an iconic building in London? The best thing is, by looking at the devices and objects around us in a new way, and having fun doing it, anyone can learn skills that could help with solving the world’s problems, something that engineers like me are working towards every day.”

The Tetris-style demonstration was made possible with the help of a fantastic collaboration of organisations and individuals including Shell, B&Q, Phillips Hue, South Bank Employers’ Group, Jubilee Gardens Trust, and London Hackspace. Thank you to Clear Channel and the BT Tower for making the incredible takeovers possible.

More information

The 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES will be broadcast at 8pm on BBC Four on 29, 30 and 31 December.

For more information on the entire series, please visit www.rigb.org/christmas-lectures. You can watch past CHRISTMAS LECTURES for free on the Ri’s science video channel: www.richannel.org

For more details and interviews please contact:

Hayley Burwell

Head of Marketing and Communications

Royal Institution

E: hburwell@ri.ac.uk

T: 020 7670 2991

About the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES