The Royal Institution in Mayfair has kept a low profile these past couple of years while its Albemarle Street HQ has undergone a major revamp. But now it's back. And how.
The venerable science venue, perhaps best known for its Christmas lectures, was reopened this afternoon by none other than Her Majesty. Well, one other actually, as hubby was along too. Oh, and throw David Attenborough, Heston Blumenthal and a range of Lordly dignitaries into the mix as well. Londonist felt very humble.
The afternoon started with an unplanned drive past by Chris Eubank in that stonking black juggernaut of his. "Oh dear, there's going to be trouble," muttered a policeman to his colleague. But there was not. In fact, Eubank unwittingly made use of a quirkier part of the Ri's legacy. Albemarle Street was the first in London to be made one-way, to prevent traffic bottlenecks outside the Institution's hugely popular lectures.
Back on plan, the Queen was led from room to room by the Ri's Director Susan Greenfield, whose lime green dress was uncomfortably close to the colour worn by HM. Our Head of State certainly looked impressed with the new facilities, and grinned with delight as Heston Blumenthal rustled up some liquid nitrogen ice cream for her. But the sugar-shy monarch politely turned down a taste test, unlike the Dukes of Edinburgh and Kent, who swallowed samples like eager school boys. The 7th Earl of Onslow had at least two helpings.
The once fusty Royal Institution now sports a glass atrium and dining facilities in an effort to get more normal folk into the building. "You should be able to say 'where shall we go tonight? I know, let's go to the Royal Institution'," said Greenfield.
It's certainly a place we'll be visiting often. The events line-up includes a debate about human spaceflight, science book groups in the cafe, a series of sci-fi screenings and a talk on the science of beer. Attending a lecture at the Ri feels as much an honour as a pleasure, to know you're in the same room once commanded by the likes of Michael Faraday and Humphrey Davy.
And the Ri finally flaunts this peerless heritage—14 Nobel prizes, 10 chemical elements, X-ray crystallography, the vacuum flask; all earned or discovered within these hallowed and refurbished walls and now the subject of permanent exhibitions. Once the facilities are fully operational later this summer, you'll be able to talk to a holographic Faraday, and watch scientists mucking about with a Mossbauer spectrometer in part of the Ri's on-site laboratory.
Welcome back, Royal Institution. You've been missed.