Saturday, March 05, 2016

Royal Institution Celebration

Faraday giving a Christmas Lecture at the Ri
courtesy Wikipedia
On Weds to the Royal Institution for an event to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the first broadcast of a Christmas Lecture, with Sir David Attenbrough and the Duke of York.

Chris Bishop, who is a Trustee, did most of the speaking and took us fluently and fascinatingly through the history of the Ri and some of the new things it is doing.

He explained that it had been supposed that the first televising of the Ri Christmas Lectures was in 1966 when David Attenborough was Controller of BBC 2 and initiated the first regular BBC Television broadcasts. However an archivist found an entry in the Radio Times for 1936 showing the broadcast of the Christmas Lectures that year. This is astonishing given that the BBC only began regular TV transmission in October of that year, and they were from Alexandra Palace which is 7 miles away. But in fact this was a 15 minute special lecture by GI Taylor based on his Christmas Lectures on Ships.

Bishop also demonstrated the two main types of explosion:
  • a deflagration with gun cotton and 
  • a detonation with about 1km of Detonating Cord filled with PETN looped all around the room, so that we could see the very slight delay between the ignition at one end and the shockwave emerging at the other, even though the shockwave travels at over 7k m/s.
David Attenborough with Chris Bishop
courtesy Helen Mason OBE
There was a short interview with David Attenborough in which he explained that when he had been Controller of BBC 2 he insisted that the Ri lectures should be live. But when some years later, after he had resigned from this post, he gave the Christmas lectures and found it very onerous. He claims he asked "who was the idiot who insited they went out live" and was told "you, sir."

The Duke of York also spoke of attending the lectures - his father insisted that they attend some and listen to them all. They inspired a love of physics but alas at his school he couldn't do physics but only General Science.

After the hour in the lecture hall there was a reception where I met an old business friend as well as various new people. We were also shown Faraday's correspondence album which had pictures of his correspondents, including Victoria and Ada Lovelace.

The only sadness in this otherwise splendid event was that there were four male speakers and no female. The Ri is usually pretty good about this and it was a pity to slip up at such a high profile event.

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