The CHRISTMAS LECTURES turn a skyscraper into a computer game!

The Shell building on London's South Bank comes alive with a Tetris-style game played live on its windows.

  • The Shell building on London's South Bank is transformed into a giant Tetris-style game

    The Shell building on London's South Bank is transformed into a giant Tetris-style game

    Credit: Newscast
  • Harrison Wood, 14, plays a Tetris-style game on the Shell building

    Harrison Wood, 14, plays a Tetris-style game on the Shell building

    Credit: Newscast


Professor Danielle George, an electrical engineer from The University of Manchester, and her behind the scenes team transformed the windows of an iconic London skyscraper, the Shell Centre, into a giant computer game using hundreds of light bulbs on the evening of 11 December 2014. The Tetris-style game was the spectacular finale to the first programme in a demonstration packed series called ‘Sparks will fly: How to hack your home’ filmed at the Royal Institution of Great Britain and due to air on TV this Christmas.

The ambitious live demonstration, part of the renowned CHRISTMAS LECTURES tradition since 1825, revealed how viewers can change the world from their very own home by taking control of the devices and everyday objects we use every day.

Throughout the three-part series, Danielle will take three great British inventions and demonstrate how viewers can adapt, transform and ‘hack’ them to do extraordinary things. Inspired by Geordie inventor Joseph Swan, the starting point for designing this game was the humble light bulb.

A volunteer from the live audience Harrison Wood, age 14, from Shoreham Academy in Brighton was selected at random on the night and whisked from the Royal Institution theatre in Mayfair to Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank to take control of the game as a surprise pre-Christmas treat for tourists and visitors on the South Bank.

  • Audience volunteer Harrison Wood

    Credit: Newscast

On his way to the demo, Harrison said: “This is incredibly exciting and a very unexpected turn of events! I'm so lucky to get picked. I'm a huge computer games fan but I've never played one like this before, definitely not one this big!"

The entire demonstration was created using only affordable everyday items such as desktop lamps (provided by B&Q), LED connected light bulbs (provided by Philips Hue) and baking paper stuck on the windows to diffuse the light. The child’s handheld controller was made from intelligent putty called Sugru and a MaKey MaKey board communicated the child’s instructions to a laptop. The laptop then sent the instructions into the building using WiFi.

A team of 28 volunteers spent a whole day setting up the 182 lamps in front of 182 windows to create a 14 by 13 screen of ‘pixels’.

Professor George said: “In this year’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES we wanted to show that with a bit of knowledge, some hard work and a spark of imagination, amazing things are possible. What better way to bring a classic arcade game back to life than on such an iconic building in London? The best thing is, by looking at the devices and objects around us in a new way, and having fun doing it, anyone can learn skills that could help with solving the world’s problems, something that engineers like me are working towards every day.”

The Tetris-style demonstration was made possible with the help of a fantastic collaboration of organisations and individuals including Shell, B&Q, Phillips Hue, South Bank Employers’ Group, Jubilee Gardens Trust, and London Hackspace.

For more information on the entire series, please visit You can watch past CHRISTMAS LECTURES for free on the Ri’s science video channel:


For more details and interviews please contact:

Hayley Burwell

Head of Marketing and Communications, Royal Institution


T: 020 7670 2991

Notes to editors

Broadcast dates

The 2014 three part CHRISTMAS LECTURES will be broadcast on BBC FOUR at 8pm on 29, 30 and 31 December.

The 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are produced by Windfall Films for BBC FOUR.

About the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES Sparks will fly: How to hack your home

A revolution is happening. Across the world people are taking control of the devices we use every day, customising them, creating new things and using the sparks of their imagination to change the world. Now it’s your turn, and you can start with the things you have around you.

Electrical engineer, Prof Danielle George will take three great British inventions – a light bulb, a telephone and a motor – and show you how to adapt them and transform them to do extraordinary things. This is tinkering for the twenty-first century, using the full array of cutting edge devices that we can lay our hands on: 3D printers, new materials, online collaboration and controlling devices through coding.

Inspired by the great inventors and standing on the shoulders of thousands of people playing at their kitchen table or in their shed, Danielle will announce the new rules of invention and show you how to use modern tools and technologies and things from your home to have fun and make a difference to the world around you.

Anything could happen. Sparks will fly.

Lecture 1: The Light Bulb Moment

Filming date: Thursday 11 December 2014

Broadcast date: 29 December, 8pm

Inspired by fellow Geordie inventor Joseph Swan, Prof Danielle George attempts to play a computer game on the windows of a skyscraper using hundreds of light bulbs.

When Joseph Swan demonstrated the first working light bulb in 1878 he could never have dreamed that in 2014 we’d be surrounded by super-bright LED screens and lights that could be controlled using mobile phones. In this lecture, Danielle will explain how these technologies work and show how they can be adapted to help you realise your own light bulb moments.  She’ll show you how to send wireless messages using a barbeque, control a firework display with your laptop and use a torch to browse the internet.

Lecture 2: Making Contact

Filming date: Saturday 13 December 2014

Broadcast date: 30 December, 8pm

Inspired by Alexander Graham Bell, Prof Danielle George attempts to beam a special guest into the theatre via hologram, using the technology found in a mobile phone.

When Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the first telephone in 1876, he could never have dreamed that in 2014 we’d all be carrying wire-free phones in our pockets and be able to video chat is crystal clear HD across the world. In this lecture, Danielle will explain how these technologies work and show how they can adapted to help keep you connected to the people around you. She’ll show you how to control paintball cannons with a webcam and turn your smartphone into a microscope whilst also investigating a device that allows you to feel invisible objects in mid-air.

Lecture 3: A New Revolution

Filming date: Tuesday 16 December 2014

Broadcast date: 31 December, 8pm

Inspired by the Royal Institution’s very own Michael Faraday, Prof Danielle George attempts to use simple motors to construct the world’s greatest robot orchestra.

When Michael Faraday demonstrated the first electric motor in 1822, he could never have dreamed that in 2014 we’d be surrounded by mechanical devices capable of performing nearly every human task. In this lecture, Danielle will explain how these robotic and motor-driven appliances work and show how they can adapted to help you kick start a technological revolution. She’ll show you how to turn a washing machine into a wind turbine, how Lego can solve a Rubik’s Cube and how the next Mars rover will traverse an alien world.

About Danielle George

Prof Danielle George is Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and a Professor in the Microwave and Communications Systems research group at the University of Manchester.  She completed her BSc in Astrophysics, MSc in Radio Astronomy at The Victoria University of Manchester based at Jodrell Bank Observatory, and her PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with UMIST.  She worked at Jodrell Bank Observatory as a senior Radio Frequency Engineer until 2006 when she took up a lectureship post in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. She was awarded a Professorship earlier this year at the age of 38. 

Danielle’s expertise in radio frequency and microwave communications has a wide range of applications across a number of industries. To date most of her research and development work has been carried out on a variety of aspects relating to ultra low noise receivers for Space and Aerospace applications. She is the UK lead for amplifiers in the $1B astronomical instrument, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the $1B Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope and has worked with NASA and ESA on the development of instrumentation for researchers exploring the Big Bang. She has worked with agriculturists on the development of instrumentation to measure water usage, and with a number of multi-national companies such as Rolls Royce where she worked on industrial gas turbine engines.

She thoroughly enjoys the teaching aspects of her career and lectures to both undergraduates and postgraduate students, in particular Electronic Circuit Design to undergraduates and Microwave Systems to MSc students. She is passionate about raising public awareness of the positive impact engineering has on all aspects of our everyday lives and highlighting to young people the immense depth and breadth of opportunities a career in engineering can offer.

The middle one of three sisters, Danielle grew up in Newcastle where her parents still live. Fascinated by science from an early age, she was given a telescope by her parents when she was eight years old and would regularly get up in the middle of the night to watch lunar eclipses. She credits this experience as the moment she first realised how physics and mathematics could be applied in a practical sense outside the classroom and as the first step on her path to her current career.

She now lives in Manchester with her husband Richard.

Follow Danielle on Twitter at @EngineerDG


The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are the Royal Institution’s biggest and most famous, demonstration-based science events for young people. They are broadcast on UK television every Christmas and have formed part of the festive tradition for generations – often being compared to the Queen’s Christmas message and the carols from Kings.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have been inspiring children and adults alike since 1825. The Lectures were initiated by Michael Faraday at a time when organised education for young people was scarce. He presented 19 series himself, establishing an exciting new way of presenting science to young people.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have continued annually since the 1825 series, stopping only during World War II. Many world-famous scientists have given the Lectures including Nobel Prize winners William and Lawrence Bragg, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Lord George Porter and Dame Nancy Rothwell.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have been broadcast on television since 1966, first on the BBC and then on Channel Five, Channel Four and more4. In 2010, the Lectures returned to BBC Four and in 2013 the broadcast reached over 2 million viewers.

2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters

The Royal Institution would like to extend its sincere gratitude to the following 2014 supporters Schlumberger Limited, The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - Raspberry Pi and the IET. Thank you also to the consortium of support we have received from the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Commission of the Exhibition of 1851, The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

BBC iWonder

CHRISTMAS LECTURES interactive guides

For the first time ever, the CHRISTMAS LECTURES will be accompanied by three BBC iWonder guides, presented by Prof Danielle George. ‘How can I make my smartphone smarter?’ and ‘How can I get light using an LED and a potato?’ are simple hands-on guides for kitchen scientists aged 8 to 80, and ‘Can LEDs save the planet?’ explores how the extraordinary science behind LEDs might help cut our electricity bills and with them our carbon footprint.

iWonder is a new online format from the BBC aimed at inspiring and feeding curiosity, that encourages audiences to delve deeper into topics sparked by key BBC broadcasts.

 Find out more at:

I’m an Engineer, Get Me Out of Here

This year the Royal Institution is teaming up with the I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here organisation to give everyone all over the world the opportunity to have their 'Sparks will fly' CHRISTMAS LECTURES questions answered online by a team of engineers, hackers and inventors in their interactive forum.

The site will be open for questions from the very first broadcast of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES on 29 December and will run throughout January 2015. Everyone can ask questions, and teachers can book their classes into half hour Live Chats with the engineers.

Find out more at: