|(Top) Michael Faraday, David Attenborough: Star speakers
April 15: For almost two centuries, young audiences have been enthralled by lectures given each Christmas in the Royal Institution by the leading lights in science, from Michael Faraday, the father of electricity and magnetism, to Sir David Attenborough.
Now there is a plan to abandon the historic London venue and stage this year’s Christmas lectures thousands of miles away in Bangalore, where audiences sometimes spill on to the stage, though the city has been in the news for the wrong reasons after actor Rajkumar died.
The one-off move to India would mark the most radical change in the history of the lectures, which date from the mid-1820s, but one that does not surprise Indian scientists.
Last year about 1,500 live audience members and almost a million viewers on Channel Five watched each night.
The Christmas lectures have been held every year, stopping only during the Second World War. This time the threat comes not from bombs but a lottery-funded redevelopment plan by the architect Sir Terry Farrell, which will not be finished until the autumn of next year.
The Royal Institution director, Baroness Susan Greenfield, said yesterday: “It is not definite yet but it is something we would like to do.” She added that the British high commission was helping to investigate the possibilities.
One of those being considered to give this year’s Christmas lectures is Professor Trevor Cox, of the University of Salford, who said: “An increasing number of Indian students come to British universities to study science.
“It would be a wonderfully positive signal from UK science to reciprocate, tapping into India’s great enthusiasm for science.”
Another shortlisted lecturer is Professor Marcus du Sautoy, of Oxford University, author of The Music of the Primes. He said: “India has such a great mathematical heritage. Also there are some really enthusiastic kids out there who love maths, judging by the e-mails I receive from India.”
Bangalore’s many science institutions ' the Indian Institute of Science, the National Centre for Biological Sciences, the Raman Research Institute and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, among others ' provide a reservoir of senior scientists and students who’d be drawn to lectures by visiting foreign scientists.
“Experience tells us that the audiences in Bangalore for popular lectures by top scientists can be very large,” said Professor Roddam Narasimha, former director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore.
“The lecture halls always tend to overflow with people,” he added. Narasimha recalled how nearly 100 college and university students had to be accommodated on the stage at NIAS during a talk by British scientist Kevin Warwick three years ago.
“The move to Bangalore fits in with what I think is the changing geography of science,” echoed Raghunath Mashelkar, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. “India is emerging a hub for research and innovation.”
The Daily Telegraph and our bureau