Jul
02
2008

I've got tickets to a science lecture!

Enthralled science lecture crowd: Pretty soon they'll all be holding up their lighters.
Enthralled science lecture crowd: Pretty soon they'll all be holding up their lighters.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Back a century or so ago, if you didn’t feel like going out to dinner, or attending George Bernard Shaw’s latest production, you’d get all gussied up and go to…a public science lecture.

Historian Lisa Jardine has written a very interesting point-of-view piece regarding how, during the late 19th and early 20th century, science lectures at London’s Royal Institution held their own for attracting audience share.

Crowds of high-society types decked out in evening dress often filled the institute’s Faraday Theater for the celebrated lectures held there on Friday nights. One such event had Pierre Curie demonstrating his and his wife’s latest discovery, radium, before a sold-out throng of neck-craning attendees. Madame Curie was there too, seated in the front row among other distinguished scientists such as Lord Kelvin (at the time propriety and the Institution’s rules didn’t allow a woman to participate in a lecture, and Jardine goes a bit into to this, too). But the point is, the Curies were big stars and attendance was so overwhelming that for the first ever one-way streets were created to handle the carriage traffic.

The Royal Institution building - along with its celebrated Faraday lecture theatre - has been refurbished recently, and Jardine hopes that new science lectures to be held there will help re-ignite a severely lagging public interest in the field. There’s a ton more distractions out there to compete with but who knows, if done right, science demonstrations and discovery lectures could be the next big “thing to do”.

Although the Royal Institution’s mission has been "Teaching the application of Science to the common Purposes of Life", they also managed to make it enticing. After all, science can be both fun and amazing (the cryogenics demonstration put on here at the Science Museum of Minnesota still delights me even after seeing it at least 4 dozen times!)

You can read Lisa Jardine's piece here .

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Thor's picture
Thor says:

I didn't spend last night in a lecture hall, but had sort of the same experience that Jardine writes about while watching a great show on PBS about the history and science of fireworks. So maybe this sort of things still does exist, just in a different medium. And hey, I'm learning a bunch of scientific stuff reading this blog, too!!!

posted on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 11:16am

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