Audience at Royal Institution Christmas Lecture

Three Cambridge researchers are among six leading UK scientists who will share the presenting duties with Professor Jonathan Van-Tam during this year’s Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution.

Professors Julia Gog, Ravi Gupta and Sharon Peacock, each of whom have played a key role in the UK’s response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, will lead the on-screen exploration into their area of scientific expertise, with two Guest Lecturers appearing in each episode.

Together, they will offer insights to the Christmas Lectures’ young audience into the world of viruses – how they arise and proliferate, and how we humans respond – from testing and modelling to vaccine development and infection control. They will reveal why discoveries and advances made during the on-going pandemic will have an impact far beyond COVID-19 and are set to change the future of medicine.

The Guest Lecturers will support the 2021 Christmas Lecturer Jonathan Van-Tam to demonstrate that tackling pandemics is a collaborative and interdisciplinary scientific effort.

Professor Julia Gog OBE, is Professor of Mathematical Biology at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge and the David N. Moore Fellow and Director of Studies in Mathematics at Queens' College, Cambridge. During the pandemic she has contributed to scientific advice to the UK government through SAGE and SPI-M, the group which provides input based on infectious disease modelling and epidemiology.

Professor Ravi Gupta, is Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease. Using his expertise in RNA virus genetics and biology, Ravi’s work during the pandemic has included reporting the first genotypic-phenotypic evidence for immune escape of SARS-CoV-2 within an individual, defining the process by which new variants are likely to arise, and defining the immune escape and transmissibility advantage of the Delta variant as the driver behind its global expansion.

Professor Sharon Peacock CBE, is Professor of Public Health and Microbiology in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge. During the pandemic Sharon has Chaired the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, delivering large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres and the UK government, and helping to inform UK public health interventions and policies. 

Also taking part as Guest Lecturers are:

  • Professor Katie Ewer, a cellular immunologist and Associate Professor at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford.
  • Professor Teresa Lambe OBE, an Associate Professor based in the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford.
  • Professor Catherine Noakes OBE, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings at the University of Leeds.

Lucinda Hunt, Director of the Royal Institution, said: “We are delighted that Jonathan will be joined by such an exciting and expert group of scientists during this year’s series of three Christmas Lectures.

“They will work together to take us on a journey through the world of viruses – how they arise, how they proliferate, and how science and society responds – just as they are doing in tackling the current pandemic. What a strong and positive message that will be for our young audience, about the power of collaborative science.”

Patrick Holland, BBC Director, Factual, Arts and Classical Music Television, said: “Scientists across the world have responded to the Covid crisis with expertise and ingenuity that is humbling for us all. It is no exaggeration to say that the path of history has been changed because of the work of vaccine scientists and epidemiologists.

“Jonathan and his team will give us another exciting and thought-provoking series of Lectures, covering so much more than COVID-19. This will be a celebration of science and of the scientists whose advances are shaping our world.”  

In the 2021 Christmas Lectures, ‘Going viral: How Covid changed science forever’, epidemiologist and one of England’s two Deputy Chief Medical Officers, Jonathan Van-Tam, will take a deep dive into many and varied viruses, including COVID-19, and reveal why discoveries and advances made during the on-going pandemic – from early detection techniques to new vaccines – mean biological science will never be the same again.

The 2021 Christmas Lectures will be broadcast on BBC Four and iPlayer between Christmas and New Year.

The 2021 Christmas Lectures are co-produced by the Ri and Windfall Films for BBC Four and iPlayer. They were commissioned by Patrick Holland, Director, Factual, Arts and Classical Music Television and Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History. The Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Tom Coveney. The Series Producer is Henry Fraser and the Executive Producer is David Dugan. 

Adapted from a press release by the Royal Institution

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