It is now 192 years since the CHRISTMAS LECTURES were first delivered and 81 years since the first broadcast. In all that time, the ethos of the Lectures - making the latest scientific research and knowledge fun and accessible for a younger audience - hasn’t changed and we continue to inspire a lifelong interest in science for children.
Always engaging and often explosive, they remain one of the most significant events in the annual science calendar. And having been continuously broadcast for more than half a century, they are a much-loved Christmas tradition for families throughout the world.
The 2017 Lecturer, Prof Sophie Scott, has said that watching Carl Sagan’s 1977 Lectures was like ‘being let in on a magical secret’. Fast forward 40 years, and Prof Scott is a leading neuroscientist at UCL undertaking cutting-edge research into ‘laughter’, a fundamental element of human behaviour that is still little understood.
As such, she is the embodiment of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES, making science fun and engaging for children and adults alike, capturing their imaginations, and balancing scientific integrity with accessibility.
Year after year our young theatre audience remains captivated by a heady mix of fascinating facts and amazing demonstrations.
And thanks to television and digital media the CHRISTMAS LECTURES reach far beyond the 1200 or so people who squeeze themselves into our world famous lecture theatre for three nights in December.
As we develop the Christmas Lectures, and take them further afield through international tours and digital reach, they continue to be a much-loved centrepiece through which we open young eyes to the world of science.
About the Lectures
Through the three Lectures on ‘The language of life’, Prof Sophie Scott took us on a fascinating tour of the most fundamental of human and animal behaviours, revealing our unstoppable urge to communicate.
From chirping crickets to hissing cockroaches, Prof Scott revealed the ways in which evolution has honed animal bodies to most effectively send and receive messages, and how even the most modern human communications, from emojis to beatboxing, can be linked back to our ape ancestry.
Filmed in our iconic lecture theatre in London, Prof Scott addressed three big questions in communication: how do we and animals send messages with sound? How much can we communicate without ever speaking a word? And how do we turn our thoughts into language?
The results were truly breath taking. As ever, there were dramatic demonstrations, cutting edge technology and the help of some very special guests ranging from opera singers to the latest robots.
The CHRISTMAS LECTURES have a remarkable tradition of reaching an audience of millions each year by combining the TV broadcast of live theatre shows with a social media and traditional media campaign.
BBC4 Broadcast Views - 1.6 million viewers
Filming of the Lectures
Over 1,500 11 to 17 year olds, including families, school groups, community groups, disadvantaged students and international students attended the filming of the three CHRISTMAS LECTURES in 2017 including live screenings.
In 2017, we again took to social media to promote the Lectures and, in particular, to add value to their broadcast with online commentary and engagement in real time.
We exceeded the success of our social media activity in 2016, across Twitter impressions, likes, retweets and mentions.
We also used Snapchat for the first time this year, keeping the hundreds of excited children amused as they waited expectantly in the long queue snaking down Albermarle Street on filming nights.
For our younger viewers we ran an online ‘design your own emoji campaign’, asking them to tell us what emoji they felt was missing and why, as a fun and simple way to engage with an element of the Lectures. We chose our favourites from the brilliant submissions we received to feature as emoji of the day on the Ri website and other digital platforms. We will continue to build on this success with similar activities to support next year’s Lectures.
The 2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES PR campaign began in August with the announcement of the Lecturer and topic in the Guardian, and further media coverage in The Times, The Observer, The New Statesman, Evening Standard, BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, National Geographic Kids, The Week Junior, etc.
To build on the success of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES broadcast, we are developing more and more ways to open young eyes to the world of science.
CHRISTMAS LECTURES Family Fun Day, 17 February 2018
Families got the chance to get hands-on with the 2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES at the February Ri Family Fun Day. The event was an action-packed day of talks, demonstrations and experiments that provided the 750 attendees with the opportunity to explore the intriguing world of communication.
I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! - At the start of 2018 we once again ran our popular online schools activity ‘I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!’, a forum for children to have their burning questions on the 2017 Lectures answered by scientists. The 18 experts who took part included the Lecturer, Sophie Scott, and a host of specialists from academia, the media and business. School uptake for this event was much higher than the previous year with 898 registered school users from 36 schools.
Privacy Debate Kit - Along side ‘I’m a scientist...’, we trialed a ‘debate kit’ on the subject of communication and privacy, to provide teachers with an effective and structured resource to introduce ethical issues in science that are otherwise difficult to bring out in the classroom. Young people throughout the UK developed critical thinking skills, recognised that they have a stake in science and gained a new found confidence to question the ways in which it can benefit society.
Ri Unconference 2018: A matter of privacy - Following on from the Debate Kits, the Ri held an Unconference on the 16th of May 2018 at our building in London, bringing together 150 students from around the UK to share their ideas about the future of science and policy. The day centered on the topic of privacy, with discussions exploring privacy in our interaction with technology, human rights and policy, and national security.
The ‘Not at’ CHRISTMAS LECTURES at The Big Bang Fair - We also brought the CHRISTMAS LECTURES to the Big Bang Fair for the first time! The ‘Not at’ CHRISTMAS LECTURES - the language of life was the headline show at the flagship event of National Science Week in March, the Big Bang Fair. Taking place at the NEC in Birmingham each year, our participation helped us to engage directly with an audience of over 80,000 students!
For more than 20 years the CHRISTMAS LECTURES’ team have traveled to Japan the summer after the broadcast to repeat the shows for live audiences and televised on Japanese National TV. Through a partnership with Singapore Science Centre, the Lectures are also taken to Singapore and appear on MediaCorp TV.
In 2018, the Lectures will continue their international tour to Singapore and Japan, as well as go to Hong Kong for the first time!