Sussex ecologist’s lectures are a Christmas TV hit

Professor Sue Hartley delivered her Royal Institution Christmas Lectures to an audience of young people at the RI's historic buildings in central London

Professor Sue Hartley

University of Sussex ecologist Professor Sue Hartley will be one of the festive TV highlights of 2009 when her Royal Institution Christmas lectures are screened during the holiday week.

The Royal Institution, London, a long-standing charity dedicated to making science accessible to the public, is possibly most famous for its Christmas lectures, which are demonstration-packed, fun-filled science events for young people. The lectures have featured every Christmas since 1825 and have been broadcast on television since the 1960s.

The theme of the lectures changes every year, and they are delivered by an expert in their field. This year, Professor Hartley was chosen to share her knowledge of and passion for plants in a series of five lectures under the title The 300 Million Year War. The lectures deal with the epic battle between plants and animals and how that conflict has shaped us and the world we live in.

Professor Hartley follows in the footsteps of great science luminaries such as Michael Faraday, Desmond Morris, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and Heinz Wolf. She is the fourth woman to give the lecture, the first being the brain scientist Susan Greenfield, (now Baroness Greenfield and Director of the Royal Institution) in 1994.

Professor Hartley says: "I really enjoyed doing the Royal Institution Christmas lectures - it was a lot of hard work but tremendous fun as well. The kids are a real inspiration - they are so excited and enthusiastic about science its a privilege to interact with them."University of Sussex Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing says: “The invitation to deliver the Royal Institution's Christmas lectures was a fitting accolade for Professor Hartley, her success as a scientist and her obvious talent as a communicator. The University of Sussex is delighted for her and we will all watch with pride."

Baroness Greenfield says: "I am happy that we have such a charismatic and engaging lecturer delivering on a topic of immediate interest to so many people."

The lectures took place earlier in December but will be screened on More 4 during Christmas week.

Professor Hartley is a world-leading authority on how plants and herbivores interact. She has served as vice-president of the British Ecological Society (2004-07) and has advised the Government and European Union on environmental issues.

She has also worked extensively with schools and young people in promoting the public understanding of science, and was one of four University of Sussex lecturers who took part in an Art of Science event for this year's Adur Arts Festival in June.

The lectures have already proved a huge hit with the live audiences. Science writer Ed Yong described the reaction of the junior audience to the first lecture on his blog, 'Not Exactly Rocket Science': "So well-judged is Hartley's talk that they lap up every word with rapt attention. When she asks for volunteers, the kids go mental. The talk was beautifully delivered, wonderfully interactive and incredibly informative."

Fellow blogger Susanna Scott (aka 'A Modern Mother') seemed equally impressed: "Wow. I can tell the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures made a lasting impression on my nearly eight-year-old daughter. Her exact words after seeing the engaging Professor Hartley were: ‘It was way better than I thought it was going to be’ and when explaining it to her four-year-old sister: ‘You don't know how fun it was’."

Notes for Editors

The Christmas Lectures will be broadcast over five days from tonight (21st December) to Christmas Day, at 7pm on More 4.

Professor of Ecology Sue Hartley is a member of faculty in the School of Life Sciences, at the University of Sussex

Visit the Royal Institution web site to find out more about the RI and its work

University of Sussex Press office: Tel: 01273 678 888 or email

Last updated: Monday, 21 December 2009