Ah, the Royal Institution. Not a latter-day Bedlam for the blue of blood, but one of London’s foremost scientific centres of excellence. It was here that a certain Mr Faraday cobbled together the first electric generator and changed the world forever. The venerable organisation has just announced its autumn schedule of public events (another of Faraday’s legacies). If you’ve never been along before, we suggest that you make like a boffin and get down to that lecture theatre. This will be the last season of evening talks before the hallowed halls and theatres are closed to the public for a year of renovation. So, it’s good to hear the RI are offering guided tours of their bemarbled headquarters during the upcoming Open House Weekend.
One thing the RI does really well is diversity. This time round, the series includes interactive lectures, MP panellists, family events, ‘science for the terrified’ and debates about the latest scientific headlines (so probably stem cells, then). The programme is well curated; the sundry selection of topics including Australian wine, code breaking, seed biology, Islamic science and the obligatory black holes (from which nothing can escape, not even lecture programmes). There will be around 50 events between September and December, and here’s a small flavour.
The series kicks off with Dava Sobel, who you may remember from such works as
Longitude, 1998’s must-read-on-the-Tube equivalent to the Da Vinci Code. After a long break from writing, she’s back with a forthcoming book that promises to paint an intimate family portrait of the planets of our solar system.
There’s a growing body of evidence that, far from being bird-brained, certain types of crow are better toolmakers than chimpanzees. Alex Weir re-examines this pecking order during his October lecture (we’ll buy a pint for anyone who dares ask him why Kia-Ora was too orangey for crows, but not for dogs).
One November event is sure to be a sell out:
Imagine if chocolate had never been invented. All cakes would be lemon. We’d have to have secret stashes of vegetables. And what would happen to Belgium?
Yes, it’s the shameless, thinly disguised Willy Wonka tie-in. But definitely worth going along, if only to get your fingers sticky courtesy of a post-lecture chocolate tasting with the ‘Academy of Chocolate’. In fact, food is a running theme throughout the four months, culminating in the famous Christmas Lectures series, presented this year by Sir John Krebs. The culinary theme is sure to unsettle a few seasonal stomachs, reeling from their eighteenth helping of reheated turkey. If the Radio Times manages to promote this conclusion to the lecture series without using the phrase ‘food for thought’, we’ll volunteer to go up on stage and eat our hats.
The Royal Institution can be found on Albemarle Street (map). Tickets usually cost £8, but often include a glass of wine and the chance to meet the speakers. Tickets can be bought on the door, but popular events (e.g. black holes, chocolate) can sell out, so advance booking is recommended. The full programme of lectures can be found here.