Michael Faraday is the father of Christmas science

There are many things that bring about the feeling of Christmas. Some of them are very personal, like my mother littering the house with decorations I made as a child: when I see those faded baubles, hear the rustle of the dilapidated paper chains and get leered at by that frankly terrifying angel with its loo-roll exoskeleton, I know it’s Christmas.

Then there are the things that we all share, things which have become part of cultural memory. An advert for a soft drink that has nearly 40% of your RDA of sugar in one can. The roll call of Christmas hits. Dodgy looking carol singers. Christmas pudding, mince pies and turkey – the festive foods we profess to love so much but we only choose to eat once a year. And the TV – holiday specials, classic films, the Queen’s speech and of course the Christmas lectures. Beamed out from the Royal Institution’s Faraday theatre during that perfect lull in the day between breakfast and the afternoon’s forced march across town to see revel-weary friends and family, the lectures have come to define Christmas for me. So, how do I know it’s Christmas? It is, strangely enough, time for science. There’s something delicious about a time of year rooted in faith being hijacked by a discipline so rooted in doubt.

The Christmas lectures are approaching their 100th year and are one of the best evocations of science communication in the world today. Perhaps surprising when one considers how traditional the format of a lecture is, how alien to so many people the concept of it must be, and yet how powerful it remains. In the days of digital, interactive, on-demand and ‘multi-screening’, we can still be captured by a story, the storyteller and a sense of occasion. The odd explosion doesn’t go amiss either.

The RI’s association with science communication makes it the natural choice to host our competition final there next year. If you were looking for a shameless plug (Christmas is so commercial these days), here it is: our science communication competition is still open (deadline 8 January) and you should hold 21 March 2016 in your diaries for the live final. I hope you can make it and bring your friends and family with you to enjoy the show. I’m delighted to announce that Andrea Sella will be closing the event for us, ably demonstrating the power science has to enthral a crowd. I had the opportunity to see his Faraday Prize lecture in February of this year and I am very sure you will not want to miss him, nor our finalists. 

Andrea also writes his 100th classic kit article in this issue – so we’ve given him a few extra pages to celebrate his ‘century’. His is an amazing column that we have never fallen out of love with, and which consistently ranks as some of our most popular content.

As is traditional at this time of year, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a splendid New year. I hope that you enjoy this issue and we’ll be back in 2016. See you then.

Adam Brownsell, editor