Royal Institution celebrates women in science

The Ri will celebrate women in science with its first ever all women line-up for a year of Friday Evening Discourses.

  • Geneticist Aoife McLysaght will present the March 2014 Friday Evening Discourse

    Geneticist Aoife McLysaght will present the March 2014 Friday Evening Discourse


Since 1826 the Royal Institution (Ri) has welcomed some of the world’s greatest scientific minds, including 50 Nobel Prize winners, to its lecture theatre to share their latest research with the public.

In 2014 the Ri celebrates the achievements of women in science today with its first ever all women line-up for a year of Friday Evening Discourses.

Over the course of the year, leading scientists from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland will give a Friday Evening Discourse – a traditional monthly lecture open to both Ri members and non-members - on cutting-edge science in areas as diverse as crystallography, molecular evolution, the neuroscience of memory, genetics and obesity, geometry and electrochemistry.

The 2014 speakers include Lesley Yellowlees, the first woman president of the Royal Society of Chemistry; Pratibha Gai who was named the 2013 European Laureate in the 15th annual L'Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Awards; and Sophie Scott, well-known neuroscientist, columnist and stand up comedian.*

Gail Cardew, the Ri Director of Science and Education, said: “I am delighted that in 2014 we will showcase some of the world-class scientific research being carried out by women.

“My favourite aspect of the Discourses is that our members and the general public are able to hear from the scientists in person and learn about such a diverse range of intellectually fascinating areas of science in the intimate setting of our historic lecture theatre.

She added: “The Ri’s mission is to encourage everyone to think further about the wonders of science and so I am very pleased that a selection of these 2014 Discourses will be made available online on our video platform, the Ri Channel, so that anyone anywhere in the world will be able to benefit too.”

Judith Howard, Professor of Chemistry at Durham University, who will open the programme with the 2014 Bragg lecture 'A century of symmetry discovered: a crystallographer’s tale' on Friday 31 January said: “I am delighted to be the first of this year’s female Friday Evening Discourse speakers, and to talk on this subject in the same year as the UNESCO International Year of Crystallography.

“Crystallography is also a discipline where women have made very significant contributions. It is a subject represented by the UK’s only female Nobel laureate, my Oxford DPhil supervisor, Dorothy Hodgkin, who was awarded the prize for chemistry in 1964 and also gave a Discourse at the Ri in 1968.”

She added: “In 2013 we celebrated the centenary of the development of the X-ray crystallography technique by William Henry and William Lawrence Bragg, and it will be amazing for me to present my Discourse in the very same lecture theatre that father and son Bragg spoke in many times during their respective tenures as Director of the Royal Institution.”

The first woman to present a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution was British archaeologist Joan Evans (1893-1977) on 8 June 1923, whose lecture was entitled 'Jewels of the Renaissance'.

Other well-known women who have given a Discourse at the Ri to date include zoologist Jane Goodall in October 1965; Barbara Ward, an early pioneer of sustainable development who spoke in 1973; and Kathleen Lonsdale who presented twice about crystallography in 1949 and 1961 and returned in January 1970 to talk about women in science.

Full details of the first four Friday Evening Discourses of 2014 taking place between January and April can be found on the Ri website at

2014 line-up

Prof Judith Howard, Department of Chemistry, University of Durham
Prof Eleanor Maguire, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London
Aoife McLysaght, Trinity College Dublin, Molecular Evolution Lab
Prof Sophie Scott,  Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London
Prof Sadaf Farooqi, Metabolic Research Laboratories, University of Cambridge
Prof Pratibha Gai, The York JEOL Nanocentre, University of York
Pippa Wells, Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire
Prof Lesley Yellowlees, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Prof Caroline Series, Warwick Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick
Our Friday Evening Discourses always take place on the last Friday of the month except for July and August.

Ri blog

To coincide with the Ri’s 2014 calendar of Friday Evening Discourses, Frank James, the Ri’s Professor of the History of Science, will publish a monthly blog on the Ri website to highlight the scientific and other achievements of the many women associated with the Ri over its 215 year history. His first entry profiles Kathleen Lonsdale; the X-ray crystallographer, Quaker and pacifist whose research at the Ri was conducted under the shadow of World War II.

Please visit to find out more.


During the latter half of 1825 ‘Three or four Evenings were given in the Laboratory’ as Michael Faraday recorded in his notebook at the end of the year. These events, which Faraday seems to have started on his own authority, were the beginnings of the Friday Evening Discourses.

In 1846, for the first time, more than a thousand people crammed into the theatre (the same space now holds 450) to hear Faraday describe his discovery of the magneto-optical effect. The Discourses had become the window on science for the Victorian world.

Most major scientific figures since 1825 have spoken at Discourses. Notable talks include Faraday announcing the existence of the technology of photography in 1839 and J.J. Thomson announcing the existence of the fundamental particle later called the electron in 1897.

More than fifty Nobel prize winners have delivered Friday Evening Discourses including Patrick Blackett, Max Born, Francis Crick, Pierre Curie, Sergei Kaptitza, Guglielmo Marconi, Linus Pauling and Abdus Salam.

Discourses have not only covered the sciences, but other areas of culture as well. They have been delivered by art historians such as Nikolaus Pevsner and Kenneth Clark; politicians such as Shirley Williams, the co-founder of the Social Democratic Party; writers and poets such as H.G. Wells and Dorothy Sayers, as well the athlete Roger Bannister and the violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Speakers have also hailed from all over the world, including the American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, the Indian neuroscientist VS Ramachandran and the Japanese robotics expert Makoto Kikuchi.

Friday Evening Discourses 2014