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

The 2016 programme marks 80 years of television history since its first BBC broadcast in 1936, making it the world’s oldest science series.

  • Saiful Islam

    Saiful Islam, 2016 Christmas Lecturer

    Credit: 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.



For more details and interviews please contact:

Hayley Burwell
Head of Marketing and Communications
Royal Institution
T: 020 7670 2991


These Lectures will describe something invisible that drives everything around us… from our bodies to mobile phones; from aeroplanes to all the stars in the universe… ENERGY.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it just transforms from one form to another – the challenge is whether we can harness and use it for our own purposes when it changes from one form to another. The three Lectures will take us on an incredible journey through these powerful transformations to inspire the next-generation of scientists.

In each lecture, Prof Saiful Islam will face a big question – what is energy and where does it come from, how can we best make use of it, and how can we store energy to use later on? Along the way we will learn about the energy that powers our homes, the energy that powers our cars and see how the most important machine of them all, the human body, compares to all the gadgets we carry around with us.

Whilst Saiful will have access to amazing cutting-edge technology, it will quickly become clear that we are a long way from meeting the energy demands of the future. The real solutions and great breakthroughs will come from tomorrow’s researchers, quite possibly the young people watching the lectures.

Prof Saiful Islam

Saiful is Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Bath, having previously completed a Chemistry degree and PhD at University College London, a postdoctoral fellowship on oxide superconductors at the Eastman Kodak Labs in Rochester, New York, USA, and a lectureship at the University of Surrey. His research interests include computer modelling of new materials for lithium and sodium batteries, solid oxide fuel cells and perovskite solar cells.

Saiful has had a long association with the Royal Institution. He grew up in Crouch End, London, overlooking Alexandra Palace, the site of the first BBC television broadcast of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES on 22 December 1936. He also attended talks in the Ri’s famous theatre by another Christmas Lecturer, George Porter, while still at school and returned to present his own schools lecture on superconductors a few years after his PhD under Richard Catlow FRS, the then Director of the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory at the Royal Institution.

Saiful’s research is supported by the EPSRC, and he has received several awards including the Wolfson Research Merit Award from the Royal Society and the Sustainable Energy Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He has presented more than 60 invited talks at international conferences, and has around 180 publications.

He sits on the Diversity Committee of the Royal Society and is a member of the British Humanist Association.

Follow Saiful on Twitter at @SaifulChemistry

2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters

The Royal Institution would like to extend its sincere gratitude to Schlumberger and EPSRC for their generous support. To find out how you can join our community of CHRISTMAS LECTURES supporters, please contact


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 and Dame Nancy Rothwell.

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES were first broadcast on television by the BBC in 1936 which makes them the world’s oldest science series. They have been broadcast on television every year since 1966 on the BBC and in later years on Channel Five, Channel Four and more4. In 2010, the Lectures returned to BBC Four and in 2015 the broadcast reached nearly 2 million viewers.