Why Chocolate Melts and Jet Engines Don’t – Mark Miodownik’s Royal Institution Christmas Lecture

It was a bit of a rush last Thursday, getting to the Royal Institution in time for the recording of one of the 2010 Christmas Lectures – it was scheduled to start at 6pm but it was necessary to arrive by 5.30. After a rather tedious period of queuing, we wound our way up to the lecture theatre – children in the main theatre, adults up to the gallery.

The theatre eventually filled, and the warm-up, Matt Parker*, Standup Mathematician, took centre stage. He’s funny, and in a couple of minutes had the children in the palm of his hand; he also did the housekeeping announcements, and then Mark Miodownik appeared.

The filming took about two hours in total. My daughter and I went to the preview lecture, which unfortunately was based quite heavily on this evening’s talk, but it’s all dealt with in a slightly different way, and it’s all pretty interesting stuff anyway (I think the most popular part was the bit involving eating chocolate), so was well worth watching.

The three lectures in the series have Size Matters as their theme, and last Thursday’s (number two) looked at the way physics (and the influence of gravity) changes with scale. And Velcro, basketballs, crystals, chocolate, superalloys, and self-healing materials. It left us with the concept of future artificially living artefacts.

As always, it was the enthusiasm of the speaker that carried the audience. Worth remembering is the televising of all three lectures:

Why elephants can’t dance – 28 December; Why chocolate melts and jet engines don’t – 29 December; Why mountains are so small – 30 December: all at 8pm, on BBC4.

Update, 20 December: the Guardian newspaper’s Science Weekly podcast with Alok Jha this week goes behind the scenes at the rehearsal for lecture two, Why chocolate melts.

30 Dec: And it’s now possible to preorder the DVD of the lectures from the Royal Institution website – GBP6.00 UK or GBP9.00 elsewhere, including shipping.

*Matt Parker has an interesting press release out, about the (very close) correlation between mobile phone masts and birth rate. There’s an interesting article here, and a further Mobile phone radiation linked to people jumping to conclusions.

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