Blog: Behind the scenes at the Ri Christmas Lectures - Part 2 - by Emma Denby

The Christmas Lectures have been a long standing tradition hosted by The Royal Institution (RI) every year since 1825 and has been graced by many great minds over the years. So when the opportunity came up to work as a technician on the 2019 lectures, I couldn't resist the chance to try to be part of it. When I was accepted for the post I nearly fell off my chair.


As an Assistant Technician at Sheffield Hallam University, I work in the wood and metalwork workshops to provide technical help to students and their projects. I come from a fine art background and previously worked as a Sculpture Technician at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Science and art have always been a huge element of my interests as they work well together. I use science to gain insights into different areas of knowledge and then find ways to access and communicate those ideas through creative outlets. This is also something that the RI has achieved very well in its science communication programmes by making complex scientific concepts understandable through the clever ways they are visualised.

After getting over the initial shock of feeling like an imposter on a TV set, I had an amazing time working on the Christmas Lectures. Having the creative freedom to respond to unusual briefs and creating some really fun props was brilliant. One of the highlights was making a functional exploding volcano with the chemistry specialist Jemma. There could never be too many explosions in the Christmas Lectures! Among many other fun projects I found myself learning a great deal about how to fabricate unusual objects that I'd never considered before and using different materials and substances that were more familiar in a laboratory than a workshop. Despite my lack of knowledge in some areas, this was a very welcome change to my usual day-to-day work. The experience was made thoroughly enjoyable and exciting by my fellow comrades from the RI Team: Fran, Dom, Mike, Jemma and Malc. Whether it was assisting with rigging up the set or trying to pump up hundreds of balloons 5 minutes before rehearsals, there was always something to keep you on your toes!


One of my heroes, Carl Sagan was a host of the Christmas Lectures back in 1977. Those episodes will always be my favourite due to his positive attitude towards science and the way it was delivered to the audience. His aim was always for knowledge to be accessible to everyone. I think that this way of thinking really spurred me on to apply for this experience as it was something that I thought I would be good at, despite the fact I didn't have a science background. As someone that never thought they would have the opportunity to work on such an amazing platform for science communication, I was honoured to work in the same place that such great minds have worked in before. I thank the Technician Commitment sincerely for making this possible and for facilitating such a wonderful experience.

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