Shaun Fitzgerald

Director of the Royal Institution

  • man in blue suit in front of a bookcase

    Shaun Fitzgerald

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson


An academic and business leader, Shaun Fitzgerald is the Director of the Royal Institution. He leads the Ri in its mission to create opportunities for everyone to discover, discuss and critically examine science and the way in which it shapes the world around us.

Shaun has enjoyed a long association with Cambridge University and as well as leading the Ri, he is also a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University’s Department of Engineering, and a Teaching Fellow in Engineering at Girton College. Prior to joining the Ri, Shaun was the CEO of Breathing Buildings Ltd, a leading technology company pioneering hybrid ventilation systems. And prior to founding Breathing Buildings in 2006, he was a Research Associate at The University of Cambridge’s BP Institute, and undertook a number of business development roles in the private sector. From 1995 to 1997 he was Geothermal Programme Manager, at Stanford University.

Shaun is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers. He has published widely in academic journals.

Scientific inspiration

There are two huge things for me which led me into science. I still remember my Year 9 (it was called 3rd year back then) science teacher Mr Davies collaring me after one lesson, “Shaun, why are you not working hard in your other subjects?” Why would a science teacher care about my other subjects?! Weirdly, it was his care about non-science subjects which caused me to up my efforts across the board and also drive even harder to find out more in science.

The second inspiration was when my parents decided to install double glazing in their house. I asked, “Why just double glazing rather than triple?” No good answer was forthcoming, so the game was on. There had to be a reason, and my love and desire for answers in science was set ablaze. I’ve never looked back, and the joy of asking questions and often having to figure things out myself has been truly stimulating ever since.

Favourite experiment/demo

I love experiments which reveal things you don’t expect, and the best are those where even current theory fails to fully explain the phenomenon. In the fullness of time scientists will likely develop our understanding of such experiments but the beauty of science is that there will always be new observations which we can’t explain.

Best things about the Ri

The fact that when you come to the Ri (and that includes the building, website or TV programmes), you know your brain will be stretched. I liken the Ri to a gym. You go to a gym to improve your physical fitness. Well, we all know that our brain needs exercise too and the Ri is the ultimate gym for your brain! The range of in-depth exposés into science issues of today which the Ri offers is truly staggering. It is also a unique place in that it really is a place for discussion – you get the opportunity to engage with the world’s leading figures in science, and in turn this also provides the opportunity to air your concerns through questions too.

The outreach activities for STEM are amazing – the inspiration the Ri provides for young people to fall in love with science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (yes, I mean STEMM!) is so valuable.

Any organisation is but nothing without a team and the Ri team is truly incredible. It is an amazing organisation to be part of, whether that is as a member, employee, volunteer, trustee, patron or corporate supporter.

Lastly, in terms of the building you might think everyone would cite the lecture theatre as the most amazing thing. Well, my most recent research has been in the world of ventilation so I am drawn to the opening roof in the Greenhouse. See the 24 May 2018 Discourse for further explanation!

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