Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

Brad Roth
3 min readDec 24, 2021


Professor Faraday lecturing at the Royal Institution, December 27, 1855, from a painting by Alexander Blaikley, commemorating the Attendance of HRH the Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Alfred, at the Juvenile Course of Lectures, 1855–1856.

Tonight is Christmas Eve.

At this time of the year, I think of the great English physicist Michael Faraday giving the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Above is a famous illustration of Faraday delivering one of his talks.

Below is a photo of the statue of Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution in London.

Faraday was very closely associated with the Royal Institution. He was first appointed as laboratory assistant there in 1813, became director of the laboratory in 1825, and Fullerian Professor of Chemistry there from 1833 to 1867. It was there too that he conducted his electricity experiments; as superintendent of the institution, he also lived in a flat there with his wife Sarah, until the couple were given a house near Hampton Court in 1858. Photograph, caption, and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee

I’m fond of Michael Faraday because he discovered electromagnetic induction. Induction is the process that underlies transcranial magnetic stimulation of the brain, a technique that I worked on in the 1990s at the National Institutes of Health. In Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie and I write

In 1831 Michael Faraday discovered that a changing magnetic field causes an electric current to flow in a circuit. It does not matter whether the magnetic field is from a permanent magnet moving with respect to the circuit of from the changing current in another circuit. The results of many experiments can be summarized in the Faraday induction law: ∮ Eds = — d/dtBdS.

I usually associate the Royal Institution with Victorian scientists like Michael Faraday, John Tyndall, and James Dewar. But the Royal Institution — nowadays referred to as the Ri — is alive and well! I love its vision:

A world where everyone is inspired to think more deeply about science and its place in our lives.

The Ri continues to host the Christmas Lectures every year. This year, the lecture is — of course — about Covid-19. Its title is “ Going Viral: How Covid Changed Science Forever.” England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, will be joined by top UK scientists to examine the science of viruses. Typically these lectures contain many demonstrations and are especially aimed at a young audience, but I like them too. Eventually, the Ri will post these lectures online for all to see. I can’t wait.

I learned on the Ri website that 2021 is the 200th anniversary of Faraday’s invention of the electric motor.

The Royal Institution will begin a year-long series of activities from September, to mark the 200th anniversary of Michael Faraday’s development of the world’s first electric motor, the science charity announced today.

Activities will begin on Friday 3 September — 200 years to the day since Faraday’s world-shaping breakthrough — with an opportunity to name one of 200 seats in the very same theatre in which Faraday lectured on many occasions to an audience of Ri Members and the general public. The ‘200 seats for 200 years’ fundraising campaign is designed to help secure the future of the Ri, after it’s income was severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Royal Institution also has a lot of great videos. Here are some I enjoyed, which are related to Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

Merry Christmas.

How do Medicine and Physics Overlap?
Celebrating Crystallography — An Animated Adventure
How Does Convection Work? — Christmas Lectures with George Porter
Michael Faraday’s Electric Frogs
Rutherford, Radioactivity and the Future of Physics — with the Cosmic Shambles Network

Originally published at http://hobbieroth.blogspot.com.



Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.