CHRISTMAS LECTURES to celebrate the past, present and future of energy

Saiful Islam will present the 2016 series marking 80 years of television history since its first BBC broadcast in 1936, making it the world’s oldest science series.

Saiful Islam, the 2016 Christmas Lecturer
Paul Wilkinson


In BBC television’s 80th anniversary year, the 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES ‘Supercharged: Fuelling the future’ will celebrate the Royal Institution’s rich heritage of scientific discovery and the much loved programme’s contribution to British culture. The BBC Four series will focus on energy as its scientific theme and will be presented by Saiful Islam, Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Bath.

In this year’s commemorative series, demonstrations will be inspired by classic television moments from past Lectures which include Sir David Attenborough’s ‘The language of animals’ from 1973, George Porter’s ‘The natural history of a sunbeam’ from 1976, Nancy Rothwell’s ‘Staying alive’ from 1998, Peter Wothers’s ‘The modern alchemist’ from 2012 and Danielle George’s ‘Sparks will fly’ from 2014. Saiful will be joined on stage by a host of very special guests – past Christmas Lecturers.

Over three demonstration-packed shows, Saiful will take us on a journey through scientific history, starting by recreating Michael Faraday’s famous 19th century experiments in spectacular 21st century style, and ending by exploring his own cutting-edge area of expertise – the materials needed to create next-generation clean energy devices such as lithium batteries, solar cells and hydrogen fuel cells.

Saiful will close the 2016 series by looking to the future and challenging the young audience to answer one of the biggest questions facing society today – how can we generate the vast amount of energy our modern society needs and still protect our planet for the benefit of future generations?

Saiful said: “To be the Christmas Lecturer for this 80th anniversary year is a huge honour. I’m excited that our celebration of energy offers a wonderful opportunity to explain how current cutting-edge research on clean energy technologies is founded on the Royal Institution’s rich heritage of discovery by greats such as Michael Faraday. And I’m also looking forward to recreating some memorable moments from previous lectures with the help of some very special guests.”

The topic of ‘energy’ was chosen to celebrate the life and work of Michael Faraday, one of the UK and Royal Institution’s most significant scientific figures, whose belief in the value of science education for children led to the first CHRISTMAS LECTURES in 1825. Faraday went on to present 19 series.

Faraday’s discovery of electro-magnetic induction in the Royal Institution’s basement laboratory led him to develop electrical devices such as the transformer and generator, which still underpin our technology today. Earlier in 2016, Faraday’s laboratory notebooks gained global recognition for their scientific value when they were inscribed on to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register.

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor, BBC Four said: “The CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Royal Institution are a much loved part of the BBC’s Christmas schedule and how better to celebrate their anniversary than with this very special series of lectures from Saiful Islam exploring the extraordinary world of energy. With classic moments from the past 80 years and some very special guests as well as a look ahead at cutting edge research, these lectures promise to be a real treat.” 

Gail Cardew, Professor of Science, Culture and Society at the Royal Institution, said: “Saiful has two qualities that make him a perfect choice for this celebratory year: like Faraday he understands the importance of igniting a passion for science in young people, and his research carries forward the incredible legacy of Faraday’s discoveries into the 21st century.

“We have received so many letters and emails over the years from people who have incredibly fond memories of watching the CHRISTMAS LECTURES with their families as a child, and are now enjoy watching them with their own children, and even grandchildren. This 80th year anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate how the Lectures have captured the hearts and minds of so many people and to look ahead to how we can build on this legacy to inspire even more generations to come.”

The 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films for BBC Four.

The 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES will be filmed in the Royal Institution’s iconic theatre on 10, 13 and 15 December 2016. Tickets to the filming of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES are available by a ballot in September open to members and patrons of the Royal Institution and UK registered schools only. Find out how to join the Ri and apply for tickets to this once in a lifetime show.