A fortnight at the Royal Institution

CHRISTMAS LECTURES Assistant and PhD student Michelle Reeve talks about the first fortnight of her BBSRC professional internship at the Royal Insitution

  • Michael Faraday giving a CHRISTMAS LECTURE IN 1855

    Michael Faraday giving a CHRISTMAS LECTURE IN 1855

    Credit: Royal Institution

I’ve been on my BBSRC Professional Internship at the Royal Institution for two weeks now, and what a fun two weeks it’s been!

The Ri is an amazing place. As a new starter, I’ve been on a lot of inductions, and I truly never realised just how much scientific history lies within its walls. Their archives and collections are just stunning, with particularly huge amounts of content relating to Michael Faraday. During my tour of the archives I held a Nobel Prize in my hands, a prototype (but real and working) Navy Colt 45 pistol, and saw a hand-written letter from Albert Einstein. As a scientist, this was some truly awe-inspiring stuff! And did you know (because I didn’t!) that as a member of the public you can contact the collections team at the Ri to book some time to look at certain items in the archives – all for free.

One of the most exciting things for me though, was a book from 1793 called Martyn’s Spiders – a beautifully illustrated book of British (yep you’ve guessed it!) spiders by a guy called Thomas Martyn, who had written lovely accounts and descriptions of the spiders. A little preview picture is below, but I’ve been invited to go look at the book in more detail and with a better camera, so I’ll write a post on it after I’ve done that.

  • Wolf Spider from Martyn's Spiders

    Illustration of what I think a wolf spider is by Thomas Martyn from Natural history of spiders  (1793). 

Aside from getting distracted by beautiful books and scientific artefacts, I have actually been working. Though my official role is to help out with the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, during my first week I was mainly working on things for the Family Fun Day. The Ri run these days a few times a year, and are packed full of child-friendly activities and demos all around a particular theme. This time the theme was 'blood', so I was helping to design fun activities related to blood and the heart. My circulatory system knowledge certainly increased during that week!

Then I started getting stuck in to the CHRISTMAS LECTURES. I met this year’s Lecturer Professor Danielle George, and met with colleagues about demonstrations for the Lectures this year. One of my main roles, along with the other Lectures Assistant Kate, is to work on communications - putting together ideas that can be pitched to various places in the media. The Lectures are broadcast on the BBC between Christmas and New Year, and of course we want lots of people to tune in, but the general mantra of the Ri is just to get people excited and thinking about science. For the general public, one of the main ways to learn about science is through the media, so it’s important that these media pitches do a good job of making science interesting and fun as well as to teach. The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are a great way for the Ri to work with the media to diffuse science to the wider audience and to get people excited and learn about what science can do and how it works.

  • The red corridor

    The red corridor at the Royal Institution

    Credit: Michelle Reeve

This is the first year that the Ri have had two Lectures Assistants (myself and Kate) – they normally only have one that they hire over this period each year. Everyone seems very excited to have an extra pair of hands, and I certainly haven’t been short of work! As well as the CHRISTMAS LECTURES work, and the Family Fun Day work, I’ve also got quite involved with the L’Oréal Young Scientist Centre. This is a fully-equipped lab found in the basement of the Ri, and is a facility for schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 18 to come and be scientists for a day. There are a number of workshops tailored towards different age groups, including Forensic Science, Making Your Own Shampoo and Extract Your Own DNA. Children are taught the fundamental scientific principles behind the experiments they are doing, and they get to do everything themselves, with supervision. For many of the children, it’s the first time they’ve been in a lab environment, and makes a brilliant introduction to what’s like to be a scientist or engineer. I’ve helped out with a few of these workshops now and they’re such good fun, for us and the children! I can’t recommend them highly enough.

I’m sure as the weeks go on I will only enjoy myself more. I’m loving this world of science communication, and learning how an organisation such as the Royal Institution works, especially with something as prestigious as the CHRISTMAS LECTURES. If you want to find out what goes on behind the scenes of the Lectures, and the Ri in general, then you can follow them on Instagram Instagram. They also tweet regularly @Ri_Science, and are on Facebook and tumblr.

You can read more blog posts by Michelle on her blog and follow her on Twitter @michelleareeve.

Find out more about 2014 Sparks will fly

Relive the CHRISTMAS LECTURES for free on the Ri Channel

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