The science of thrill (Discourse)

7.20pm to 8.45pm, Friday 28 February

The Theatre

The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London

This event has already taken place

  • Credit: Brendan Walker


Free for Ri Members and Ri Patrons


Ri Young Members £7


Standard £20


Concession £15

Event description

Why did the world's earliest loop-the-loop coasters have nurses on permanent standby? Exactly how far do you need to be dropped in the pitch black for it to become terrifying? And why do you (maybe) enjoy it?

This talk explores the art and science to creating thrilling adventures in real life, with examples from over the last fifteen years.

Join thrill engineer Brendan Walker as he explores everything from the psychophysiology to the theatrical set design needed to stage these intricate ride experiences.

About the speaker

Professor Brendan Walker is a true polymath. His expertise span art, design, science, technology, and engineering. He has spoken at Tate Modern about his work, hosted the Global Design Forum for Sir John Sorrell, and facilitated sessions for Crafts Council, as well as developing and delivering science and technology Christmas public lectures.

He currently holds the post of Professor of Creative Industries at Middlesex University, and has previously held posts as Deputy Head of Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art, and Principal Research Fellow in Computer Science at the University of Nottingham.

Brendan is an entrepreneur, and founder-director of Studio Go Go Limited – a 21st century ride design company supported by Innovate UK. He recently gave the keynote at the inaugural symposium of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions industry in Florida. He is also founder-director of Thrill Laboratory, and regularly features in character as 'the Thrill Engineer', which has included appearances on The One Show, Bang Goes The Theory, Blue Peter and Dick and Dom.

He is an experienced public speaker and broadcaster. He presented 3 series for Channel 4 (Titanic The Mission, The House The 50s Built and Terror In The Skies), before joining the BBC Coast team.

More about Discourses

Discourses are one of the Ri’s oldest and most prestigious series of talks. Since 1825, audiences in the theatre have witnessed countless mind-expanding moments, including the first public liquefaction of air by James Dewar, the announcement of the electron by JJ Thomson and over 100 lectures by Michael Faraday. In more recent times, we have had Nobel laureates, Fields medal winners, scientists, authors and artists – all from the cutting-edge of their field. Discourses are an opportunity for the best and brightest to share their work with the world.

Steeped in nearly two centuries of tradition, a Discourse is more than just a lecture. To keep the focus on the topic, presenters begin sharply at 7:30pm without introduction and we lock the speaker into a room ten minutes ahead of the start (legend has it that a speaker once tried to escape!). Some of our guests dress smartly for our Discourse events to add to this sense of occasion.

Find out more about the history of the Friday Evening Discourses on our blog.


Discourses are free for Ri Members and Ri Patrons. Join us today and support us on our mission.

Food and Drink

The Atrium cafe will be open before and after the talk. Check out the delicious menu and call 020 7670 2973 or email to reserve your table.

Timing note

Please be aware that this Discourse starts at 7.30pm, but all attendees must be seated in the theatre by 7.20pm. 

The doors will open at approximately 6.45pm.

Latecomers will be admitted to the gallery.


This event will be filmed and on the Ri's YouTube channel within a few months. Subscribe for free to hear when new videos are released.


The theatre is on the first floor and there is step-free access from the street via lift.

The closest underground station is Green Park, which is step-free.

There is space at floor level in the theatre for wheelchair users.

Seating is usually unreserved for our events. If you and your group require seating reservations, please do let us know by email and we’ll be more than happy to help. Email:

Carers can receive a free ticket to an event by emailing

Our theatre is equipped with an Audio Induction Loop. 

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