Why elephants can't dance but hamsters can skydive
revealed in the Ri Christmas Lectures on BBC Four this Christmas
Friday 3 December, London UK. The historic Royal Institution Christmas Lectures will return to their home on the
BBC this Christmas, airing on BBC Four on 28, 29 and 30 December at 8pm. As well as explaining why an elephant
wouldn't make the grade on Strictly Come Dancing, the science lectures will reveal why hamsters can skydive
without a parachute, why an ant can lift over 100 times its bodyweight, why chocolate is so amazing and how we
could build a lift to the moon.
The Christmas Lectures will be a firm fixture in the Christmas calendars of families up and down the country. The Ri
Christmas Lectures have been entertaining and educating children and adults alike since 1825 and have been an
inspirational force for many budding scientists, including TV talent Dallas Campbell from Bang Goes the Theory, who
took up a career in science after watching the lectures.
This year's series will be given by Dr Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist from King's College London, who will
explore the extraordinary world of size and scale in the three part lecture series called ‘Size Matters'.
Dr Miodownik, an experienced science communicator, will travel from the microscopic world beneath our fingertips,
to the tallest mountain on Earth and into the universe. Here is a sneak preview of some of the science he'll be
unraveling in the lectures:
- Why elephants can't dance: Although they're one of the biggest and most charismatic animals on Earth,
elephants can't dance because of their low area to volume ratio. Their legs are big and heavy to support
their weight, but this impairs their ability to jump, change direction and dance, like an elegant ballerina.
- How hamsters can sky dive: The size of an animal determines its likelihood of surviving a fall from an
aeroplane or a tall building. Smaller animals hit the ground with a proportionally lower force. That's why,
whilst falling out of an aeroplane is fatal for humans, hamsters live and spiders don't even feel the impact.
Don't try this at home!
- Why chocolate tastes so melt-in-the mouth good: Chocolate melts in your mouth thanks to the crystal
structure of the cocoa butter that is used to make it. The crystal structure is created when molecules fit
together and build to make up the cocoa butter fat. Getting this crystal structure right is the trick and it's not
easy - there are six different crystal structures and only one works for chocoholics.
- Why ants are so strong: An ant can lift 100 times its own body weight compared to an Olympic weightlifter,
who can only lift double their own weight on a good day. This is because, being so light, ants only use a small
amount of their muscles to hold themselves up, leaving the rest of their strength for lifting. So, as things get
bigger they get proportionally weaker.
- Can we build a lift to the moon? Until now there has not been a material strong enough to withstand the
huge gravitational forces that dominate as you start to move up into space. But recently we discovered
super strong materials, which make steel look as soft as butter by comparison, and which could indeed make
it possible to build an elevator to the moon.
On giving this year's lectures, Dr Miodownik said:
"I'm delighted to be delivering this year's Ri Christmas Lectures on BBC Four. I watched the lectures when I was small
and it feels amazing to be on the other side of the show. Hopefully, this year's lectures will help inspire another
generation of young scientists.
There'll be something for all the family to see and do, so tune in and join me on BBC Four this Christmas time."
For more information, press tickets and interviews contact:
020 7612 8846
020 7670 2991
For press photos:
Journalists can log on and download the pictures from http://www.bbcpictures.com/
Notes to Editors
2010 Ri Christmas Lectures
- The 2010 Ri Christmas Lectures will be broadcast on BBC Four:
- Lecture one: ‘Why elephants can't dance' - 8pm Tuesday 28 December
The first lecture investigates the materials science of the animal kingdom including the physical rules that govern
an animal's strength, life span and even dance moves. From an ant to an elephant, Dr Mark Miodownik will
explore the pros and cons of the very small and the very large.
- Lecture two: ‘Why chocolate melts and jet engines don't' - 8pm Wednesday 29 December
The second lecture zooms into the microscopically small realm beneath our fingertips to explore the tiny world we
have created inside mobile phones, jet planes and chocolate. The lecture will explore the curious things start to
happen as we zoom in - looking at why gravity becomes less and less important, and stickiness and quantum
mechanics start to dominate.
- Lecture three: ‘Why are mountains so small?' - 8pm Thursday 30 December
The final lecture in the series will investigate large scale objects and the forces that shape them. For example,
could we ever build a tower to reach the moon? This lecture will investigate if certain engineering challenges are
remotely possible and show that one of the major hurdles is the force that keeps space together - gravity.
- The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are produced by Windfall Films and sponsored by Microsoft Research.
- BBC Four is available for free to anyone who has access to digital TV - no subscription is required. BBC Four broadcasts from 7pm every evening on Freesat channel 107, Freeview channel 9, Sky Digital channel 116, Tiscali channel 20 and Virgin Media channel 107.
Interesting facts about the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures
- The prestigious Christmas Lectures, started by Michael Faraday in 1825, began at a time when organised education for children was scarce. The lectures provided demonstration-packed science lessons for young people, which are still enjoyed by millions to this day.
- After being an influential figure in starting the lectures, Michael Faraday took his first Christmas Lecture series in 1827and then another 18 times across a 35 year period. His most famous lecture was ‘The Chemical History of a Candle', which was transcribed and published into a book, that is still used in modern day science teaching. The Royal Institution and the book are celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2010.
- A portrait of Michael Faraday giving a Christmas Lecture in 1855 appeared on the back of a £20 between 1991 and
2001. Michael Faraday replaced William Shakespeare to appear on the note for a decade.
- There have been over 100 lecturers including Michael Faraday, William Henry Bragg, Bernard Lovell, David
Attenborough and Nancy Rothwell.
- Eight Christmas Lecturers have been awarded Nobel Prizes.
- Thousands of young people have attended the lectures in years gone by and through this, many will have been inspired to go into science themselves. This year's lecturer, Dr Mark Miodownik recalls watching a Christmas lecture in 1977 by Carl Sagan on ‘The Planets'.
- The first televised lectures were on BBC Two in 1966 and were presented by Eric Robert Laithwaite and entitled ‘The Engineer in Wonderland'. This year the lectures return to their home at the BBC for the first time in ten years.
- Millions of people have watched the Christmas Lectures on television while enjoying their Christmas break each year.
- There's nothing the Christmas Lectures haven't covered in the world of science and you can download a detailed list of past lecturers and all past lectures by visiting: www.rigb.org/christmaslectures2010
Dr Mark Miodownik
Dr Mark Miodownik is a materials scientist from King's College London. He received his PhD in turbine jet engine alloys from Oxford University in 1996 and has a joint appointment in both the Engineering Division and Physics Department of King's College London. He co-directs the Material's Library and actively explores and researches the psychophysical properties of materials to understand why materials feel, smell and taste the way they do.
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