Watch the Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES archive

Watch all the Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES back to 1966, when the lectures were first televised. 

Collage of past Christmas lectures
Credit: The Royal Institution

The origin of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES

The first series was delivered in December 1825 by the Royal Institution's Professor of Mechanics, John Millington. Two years later Michael Faraday gave his first of nineteen series of lectures, culminating with his 1860/61 series 'The chemical history of a candle' which produced perhaps the most popular science book ever published. As the Royal Institution's flagship lecture series, it was an obvious candidate for broadcasting by the BBC's fledging television service in 1936. In the post-1945 period several lectures were televised, but it was not until the 1966/7 series that they started being broadcast annually. 

Explore previous CHRISTMAS LECTURES

2021 Jonathan Van-Tam: Going viral: How Covid changed science forever

In the 2021 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Jonathan Van-Tam was joined by expert British scientists who all played vital roles in the Covid-19 pandemic, to reveal how new discoveries are set to change the future of medicine.

The invisible enemy

The perfect storm 

Fighting back

2020 Christopher Jackson, Helen Czerski, Tara Shine: Planet Earth: A user's guide

In the 2020 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, three expert scientists from different fields presented a unique 'user's guide' to Planet Earth. They unravelled astonishing global systems and remarkable natural wonders that combine to keep life on Earth alive. 

Engine Earth

Water world

Up in the air

2019 Hannah Fry: Secrets and Lies: The hidden power of maths

In a series of lectures packed with mind-boggling demos and live experiments, Hannah Fry shows us how to decode life's hidden numbers; to help us all make better choices, sort fact from fiction, and lead happier lives. But she also warns how our unwavering faith in figures can lead to disaster when we get the sums wrong. 

How to get lucky

How to bend the rules

How can we all win?

2018 Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght: Who am I?

In the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Alice Roberts and genetics expert Aoife McLysaght take us on a journey to answer this most fundamental question: who am I?

Where do I come from?

What makes me human?

What makes me, me?

2017 Sophie Scott: The language of life

In the 2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Sophie Scott explores how laughter provides a link to our animal past, how our voice box has changed the shape of our faces, and why we sound the way we do. She also uncovers the hidden code of communication, the most secret and sometimes more sinister side of human interaction - everything we say without opening our mouths - from contagious behaviours to the emotional clues in smell, and whether information wired directly into our brains is really a future we want. 

Say it with sound

Silent messages

The word

2016 Saiful Islam: Supercharged: Fuelling the future

The 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES describe something invisible that drives everything around us, from our bodies to mobile phones, from aeroplanes to all the stars in the universe: energy. In each lecture, Saiful Islam faces 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 learn about the energy that power 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. 

Let there be light!

People power

Fully charged

2015 Kevin Fong: How to survive in space

In December 2015, Tim Peake became the first Briton in space for more than 20 years and a new member of the European Astronaut Corps. As Tim adjusts to life onboard the International Space Station (ISS), Kevin Fong's CHRISTMAS LECTURES take us on a journey from planet Earth into Low Earth Orbit and beyond. 

Lift off!

Life in orbit

The next frontier

2014 Danielle George: Sparks will fly: How to hack your home

Electrical and electronics engineer, Danielle George takes three great British inventions - a light bulb, a telephone and a motor - and shows you how to adapt them and transform them to do extraordinary things. This is tinkering for the 21st 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. 

The light bulb moment

Making contact

A new revolution

2013 Alison Woollard: Life Fantastic

The 2013 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, presented by Alison Woollard from the University of Oxford, will explore the frontiers of developmental biology and uncover the remarkable transformation of a single cell into a complex organism. What do these mechanisms tell us about the relationships between all creatures on Earth? And can we harness this knowledge to improve or even extend our own lives? 

Where do I come from?

Am I a mutant?

Could I live forever?

2012 Peter Wothers: The modern alchemist

Wheh medieval alchemists staged spectacular stunts in front of royalty they never revealed the secrets of their mystical potions and fire-breathing creations. Today's chemists can perform equally impressive feats, but they do so to explain and explore the extreme frontiers of our material world. Watch Peter Wothers, the modern alchemist, as he unpicks the chemistry of the world around us - looking at air, water and earth - three of the original ancient Greek 'elements' that tantalised alchemists for centuries. 

Air: The elixir of life

Water: The fountain of youth

Earth: The philosopher's stone

2011 Bruce Hood: Meet your brain

In the 2011 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Bruce Hood explores what we know about how our brains work, and how these remarkable organs make us truly human. He looks at how you create your own version of reality, what makes your brain decide which information to trust and which to ignore (without you even knowing) and why you are programmed to read other people's minds. 

What's in your head?

Who's in charge here anyway?

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

2010 Mark Miodownik: Size matters

Beginning his journey into the world of scale with a furry friend, Mark Miodownik reveals why hamsters fare better than humans when jumping from the top of a skyscraper. We find out why mountains don't grow any taller, why the size of an elephant means it has trouble dancing, and why ants can lift many times their own body weight.

Elephants can't dance, but hamsters can skydive

Why chocolate melts and jet planes don't

Why mountains are so small 

2009 Sue Hartley: The 300 Million Year War

In the 2009 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Professor Sue Hartley explores the fight between plants and their predators, revealing the tricks plants hold up their sleeves, and how much of our daily lives - from our food to our drugs - is a by-product of this great war. 

Plant wars

The animals strike back

Talking trees

Dangerous to delicious

Weapons of the future

2008 Christopher Bishop: Hi-tech Trek

In the 2008 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Chris Bishop invites us on a journey into the high-tech world of computer technology. Along the way he explores the many technologies which have developed as a result of the computer revolution; including the interconnected world of the internet, the use of software to control hardware and the challenges involved in creating artificial intelligence.

Breaking the speed limit

Chips with everything

The ghost in the machine

Untangling the web

Digital Intelligence 

2007 Hugh Montgomery: Back from the Brink: The Science of Survival

In the 2007 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, geneticist Hugh Montgomery leads an exploration of human endurance and the very thing line between life and death. Hugh reveals how the body is equipped to perform exercise, adjust to high altitudes, and endure hot and cold climes. Discover how the human body responds when faced with peril, and why some people take flight, whilst others stay and fight. 

Peak performance

Completely stuffed

Grilled and chilled

Fight, flight and fright

Luck, games and stupidity

2006 Marcus du Sautoy: The num8er my5teries

In the 2006 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Marcus Du Sautoy breaks down popular misconceptions about mathematics by revealing how mathematics has helped build the modern world. Every time we download a song from iTunes, take a flight across the Atlantic or talk on our mobile phones, we are relying on the great inventions of mathematics. 

The curious incident of the never-ending numbers

The quest to predict the future

The story of the elusive shapes

The case of the uncrackable code

The secret of the winning streak

2005 John Krebs: The Truth About Food

John Krebs' 2005 CHRISTMAS LECTURES delved into a topic as relevant today as it was then: food. From the food of our evolutionary ancestors to the meals of the future, the lectures explore what food means to humans. What makes food delicious? Why have we evolved to prefer some foods to others? Are we really what we eat, and how concerned should we be about the future of food?

The ape that cooks

Yuck or yummy?

You are what you eat

When food goes wrong

Food for the future 

2004 Lloyd Peck: Antarctica

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Ice people

Ice life

Ice world 

2003 Monica Grady: Voyage in space and time

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Blast off

Mission to Mars

Planet patrol

Collision course

Anybody out there?

2002 Tony Ryan: Smart stuff

The 2002 CHRISTMAS LECTURES reveal the molecular miracles behind the everyday objects that define our modern world. From the planes, trains and trainers that get us from A to B, to the tasty burgers, chips and ice cream that refuel our bodies...everything around us is the product of ingenious chemical wizardry. Through unique experiments, demonstrations and audience participation events, this lecture series reveals the secrets of how it's all done and contemplates how it could be done even better. 

The spider that spun a suspension bridge

The trainer that ran over the world

The phone that shrank the planet

The plaster that stretches life

The ice cream that will freeze granny

2001 John Sulston: The secrets of life

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What is life?

How do I grow?

What am I?

Can we fix it?

Future of life?

2000 Kevin Warwick: Rise of the robots

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Anatomy of an android

Things that think

Remote robots

Bionic bodies

I, Robot

1999 Neil F. Johnson: Arrows of time - Living on the edge of chaos

The 1999 CHRISTMAS LECTURES take us on a journey through time. We will travel from the vast timescales of the Universe bounded by the intricate fabric of space-time itself, through our rapidly changing everyday world, to the ultimate limits of the unbelievably small quantum world upon which all of life ultimately depends. 

Back to the future

Catching the waves

The quantum leap

Living on the edge of chaos 

Shaping the future

1998 Nancy Rothwell: Staying Alive: The body in balance

From burning off that extra piece of pudding to keeping cool, our bodies are juggling all sorts of chemical reactions to keep us alive and healthy. Over the course of five lectures, Nancy Rothwell takes a closer look at the physiological processes that help our bodies stay in balance, and reveals what can happen when that balance tips the wrong way.

Sense and sensitivity

Fats and figures

Chilling out

Times of our lives

Pushing the limits

1997 Ian Stewart: The magical maze

In the 1997 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, mathematician Ian Stewart shares his enthusiasm for mathematics and how it governs almost every aspect of our lives, ranging from our birthdays to American game shows, calling in at panthers, petals, and the logic of chaos.

Sunflowers and snowflakes

The pattern of tiny feet

Outrageous fortune

Chaos and cauliflowers

Fearful symmetry

1996 Simon Conway Morris: The history in our bones

Palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris delivers five lectures on the important role fossils and bones play in helping us understand the past. In this set of engaging lectures and demonstrations, learn how fossils' markings have helped humans piece together the history of the planet. 

Staring into the abyss

The fossils come alive

The great dyings: Life after death

Innovations and novelty

Feet on the ground, head in the stars: The history of man

1995 James Jackson: Planet Earth: An explorer's guide

The 1995 CHRISTMAS LECTURES trace the story of how and why our views on the Earth have changed - from a fumbling suspicion that continents had moved around, through a detailed reconstruction of how the pieces fit together, to the present, where we can measure the motions directly and see them going on. It is a story in which chasing a clue to one puzzle has often produced unexpected results and paradoxes. 

On the edge of the world 

Secrets of the deep

Volcanoes: Melting the earth

The puzzle of the continents

Waterworld

1994 Susan Greenfield: Journey to the centre of the brain

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The electric ape

Through a glass darkly

Bubble bubble toil and trouble

The seven ages of the brain

The mind's I

1993 Frank Close: The Cosmic Onion

In the 1993 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, particle physicist Frank Close OBE looks at how our understanding of particle physics developed over the 20th century. The lectures will trace a hundred years of discovery and invention, culminating with a look into the crystal ball towards the next century.

A is for Atoms

To the centre of the sun

Invaders from outer space

Antimatter matters

An hour to make the universe 

1992 Charles J. M. Stirling: Our world through the looking glass

We are set apart from other animals both by use of language whose control is normally located in the left side of the brain and by the fact that unlike most other animals, which have mix handedness, we are predominantly right-handed. In the 1992 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, we look at first our own symmetry, overall in terms of handedness and our superficial appearance, and also below the surface at ours brains and other organs. Then we shall look at ourselves in the world at large, focusing on the symmetry of our fellow creatures and the artefacts that we have created. The connection of both of these to left-right relationships will be explored. 

Man in the mirror

Narwhals, palindromes and Chesterfield station

The handed molecule

Symmetry, sensation and sex

In the hands of the giants 

1991 Richard Dawkins: Growing up in the universe

The world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins presents the 1991 CHRISTMAS LECTURES on "our own growing knowledge of how life grows up in the universe". Combining beautiful writing with a range of illuminating demonstrations, the series features a variety of wildlife, a virtual reality Lecture Theatre, and special guests - including the late Douglas Adams reading an excerpt from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Waking up in the universe

Designed and designoid objects

Climbing mount improbable

Ultraviolet garden

The genesis of purpose

1990 Malcom Longair: Origins

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The grand design

The birth of the stars

The origin of quasars

The origin of the galaxies

The origin of the universe

 

1989 Charles Taylor: Exploring music

The 1989 CHRISTMAS LECTURES explore the basic science involved in our perception of music, starting with the ways in which musical instruments make the pressure changes. We shall investigate the factors that affect the quality of sound produced which stem both from the craftsmanship of the instrument maker and from the skill and artistry of the performer.

What is music?

The essence of an instrument

Science, strings and symphonies

Technology, trumpets and tunes

Scales, synthesisers and samplers

1988 Gareth Roberts: The home of the future

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Appliance science

Home, safe home

Electronics for pleasure

Home, smart home

Mixers, meters and molecules

1987 John Meurig Thomas and David Phillips: Crystals and lasers

In the 1987 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Professors John Meurig Thomas and David Phillips explore the science and applications of crystals and lasers, reviving some of the key experiments from the history and evolution of physical sciences and exploring what the future might bring. 

Introducing the characters

The architecture of crystals 

Semiconductors, superconductors and catalysts

Constructing a laser

Applications of lasers

Crystals, lasers and the human body 

1986 Lewis Wolpert: Frankenstein's quest: Development of life

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First take an egg...

The medium and the message

The right stuff

Genes and flies

Chain of command

Growing up and growing old 

1985 John David Pye: Communicating

People communicate all the time. A lecture is one special kind of communication, but we communicate with each other in a wide variety of different ways, for otherwise life itself would be impossible. The basic principles are really quite simple but the details are endless and fascinating. We will explore together the fundamental 'rules of the game' of communicating and use them to examine a wide range of different examples. 

No man is an island

Animal talk

The bionic bat

The pace of technology

The integrated body

Computers

1984 Walter Bodmer: The message of the genes

New developments in genetics have made it possible to study the chemistry of the genes to an extent that could hardly even have been imagined previously. Now we are beginning to see what it might be that turns a normal cell into a cancer cell, and why the body sometimes attacks itself to produce diseases such as diabetes in children or rheumatoid arthritis. When will the new genetics tell us why, or whether, one person may become a gifted painter, another a musician, another an athlete and another a mathematician? How far can we go in explaining the infinite variety of mankind?

We are all different

The spice of life

Genetic engineering

Bodies and antibodies

Normal cells and cancer cells

When will pigs have wings?

1983 Leonard Maunder: Machines in motion

The 1983 CHRISTMAS LECTURES discuss the ways in which our knowledge of motion continues to grow. We shall also explore how it is being used to extend the extraordinary variety of machines created for our use and convenience. In the future as in the past, it will be the task of the engineer to discover new ways of doing things and to invent, design and make the new machines. All our experience suggests there are exciting prospects ahead that as yet we can hardly imagine.

Driving forces

Gathering momentum

Vibration

Under control 

Fluids and flight

Living machines

1982 Colin Blakemore: Common sense

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Making sense

The sound of silence 

The sixth sense - and the rest

Show me the way to go home

Vive la différence

Enchanted loom

1981 Reginald Victor Jones: From Magna Carta to microchip

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES at the Royal Institution started in 1826, and there have now been more than one hundred and fifty in the series; and yet none has previously been on the theme of this year's lectures, which is measurement. Perhaps this is because the measurement is so much part of human life that we tend to take it for granted; but if we are to understand how our modern world, with all its achievements and its dangers, has evolved, then we need to know what measurement is, the principles by which measurements can be made, and why their applications have been of so much importance in the advance of science and in the development of technology

Principles, standards and methods 

The measurement of time

More and more about less and less

Outwards to the stars

Measurement and navigation in war

Some impacts of measurement on life: And can we take it too far?

1980 David Chilton Phillips: The chicken, the egg and the molecules

The 1980 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, five presented by David Phillips and one with Max Perutz, showcase the complexity and importance of the proteins that make up so much of life. The lectures weave through the DNA helix, unravelling the mechanism that links DNA and protein production, and asking 'which came first, the DNA or the protein?'.

What are chickens made of?

Machine tools of life

Muscle power

Eggs, genes and proteins

Haemoglobin: the breathing molecule with Max Perutz

Molecules at work 

1979 Eric M. Rogers: Atoms for engineering minds: a circus of experiments

When one learns what has been discovered about atoms one has to learn by hearsay, one has to accept the indirect methods and swallow the picturing by imaginative models. Then a keen listener must long for some experimental support or illustrations. That is what these lectures will offer in their 'circus of experiments'. The circus cannot cover all our new knowledge of atoms but it will, we trust, give visitors a feeling of friendly first-hand acquaintance, a contribution of confidence and understanding as well as a delight in seeing experiments

Getting to know atoms

Molecules in motion

Electrified atoms

Atoms that explode

Atoms and energy

Seeing atoms at last

1978 Erik Christopher Zeeman: Mathematics into pictures

These were the first CHRISTMAS LECTURES in its then 149-year history to be presented on the subject of mathematics and the series is still lauded as inspiring a new generation of mathematicians. Amongst the live audience was a budding young mathematician called Marcus du Sautoy who went on to present the Lectures in 2006 entitled 'The num8er my5teries'. Furthermore, the enthusiasm generated by the series led Professor Zeeman to establish the Ri’s Mathematics Masterclasses programme in 1981. They continue to enable thousands of young people across the UK to participate in the hands-on and inspired learning that is the hallmark of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES.

Linking and knotting 

Numbers and geometry

Infinity and perspective

Games and evolution

Waves and music

Catastrophe and psychology 

1977 Carl Sagan: The planets

What exists beyond Earth? Over six Lectures presented in 1977, American astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan explores the vast expanse of space that surrounds the third planet from the Sun.

The Earth as a planet

The outer solar system and life

The history of Mars

Mars before Viking

Mars after Viking

Planetary systems beyond our sun

1976 George Porter: The natural history of a sunbeam

British scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry Sir George Porter explains the power of light, from the role it plays in stimulating life to supplying energy to our homes, in this selection of engaging and entertaining CHRISTMAS LECTURES from 1976.  In this series of six videos filmed at the Ri, Sir George Porter, former Director of the Ri and Baron Porter of Luddenham, takes the audience through a plethora of demonstrations and explanations on the importance of sunbeams. 

First light

Light and life 

A leaf from nature

Candles from the Sun

Making light work

Survival under the Sun

1975 Heinz Wolff: Signals from the interior

In his 1975 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Heinz Wolff explores how to investigate your inside without breaking the skin. Each lecture will take a particular set of signals, consider their origin and why they are important, demonstrate how they are detected and measured, and explain how the instrumentation works. The lectures will also illustrate how much modern medicine is becoming dependent on a proper application and understanding of engineering and physical principles.

You as an engine

Pumps, pipes and flows

Spikes and waves

Probes, sondes and sounds

Looking through your skin

Signals from the mind

1974 Eric Laithwaite: The engineer through the looking glass 

Professor Eric Laithwaite presents his second televised series of CHRISTMAS LECTURES exploring the world of engineering. A sequel to his 1966 series, 'The Engineer in Wonderland', Laithwaite was the first person to present two series of Lectures on national television. His five lectures explore the varied work of engineers across gravitation, inertia and electromagnetism, including the controversial fourth lecture where Laithwaite used the behavioural gyroscopes in an attempt to challenge the validity of Newton’s Laws of motion and the laws of thermodynamics.

Looking glass house

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow

The Jabberwock

The time has come the Walrus said

It's my own invention

1973 David Attenborough: The language of animals 

Breaking the cardinal rule of broadcast television – ‘never work with animals or children’ – Sir David Attenborough demonstrates the varied means by which animals convey information to one another and reveals a collection of diverse and complicated behaviours.

From visual signals to distinctive scents, the series explores the vast repertoire of animal language as well as the diverse meaning of messages, whether it be attracting a mate or acting as a warning signal.

Beware!

Be mine

Parents and children

Simple signs and complicated communications (unfortunately, we don't have a copy of this lecture in our archive. Could you help us find it?)

Foreign languages 

Animal language, human language

1972 Geoffrey G. Gouriet: Ripples in the ether: the science of radio communication

In his 1972 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Geoffrey G Gouriet explores the past, present and future of radio communications, and the science that lies behind it. Radio waves are all around us, continuously being produced and received through man-made devices enabling us to connect with each other and communicate information. Geoffrey Gouriet, through the course of six Lectures, takes us on a journey through history from the first telephone to the 'Viewphone' and with the aid of exciting demonstrations, he explains how devices in our house like the TV translate broadcasted signals into moving pictures.

How it all began

Getting rid of the wires

The sound of broadcasting

Pictures with and without wires

But electrons aren't coloured!

Vision of the future 

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1971 Charles Taylor: Sounds of music: The science of tones and tune

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Making and measuring the waves

From small beginnings

Growing and changing

Craftsmanship and technology

On the way to the ear

The end of the journey

1970 John Napier: Monkeys without tails: A giraffe's eye-view of man

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Man has a very short neck and no tail

Man comes in several different sizes and shapes

Fancy having to climb trees in order to eat

Man chooses a sensible place to live at last

Why choose to walk on two legs when it is much safer on four?

What's the idea of shooting at us?

1969 George Porter: Time machines

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In the beginning...

Clockwork harmony

The tick of the atom

Big time, little time

Faster, faster

To the ends of time

1968 Philip Morrison: Gulliver's laws: The physics of large and small

In the 1968 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, physicist Phillip Morrison explores the science of scale through the eyes of Jonathan (also known as Dean) Swift's classic book, Gulliver's Travels

The world of captain Gulliver

Meat and drink sufficient for 1728 Lilliputians 

A prodigious leap?

Lilliput and Brobdingnag since the Industrial Revolution

Dwarf and giant numbers

Beyond the map

1967 Richard L. Gregory: The intelligent eye

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Ancient eyes and simple brains 

Learning to see things

Playing with illusions

How illusions play games with us

Human eyes in space

The future- Machines that see?

1966 Eric Laithwaite: The engineer in wonderland

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The white rabbit

Only the grin was left

The caucus race

Curiouser and curiouser

If only I were the right size to do it

It's the oldest rule in the book