Sussex ecologist to deliver Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures

University of Sussex ecologist Professor Sue Hartley has been chosen to give this year's prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.

The lectures, which began with Michael Faraday in 1825 and are aimed at a junior audience, will be broadcast on More 4 during Christmas week.

Professor Hartley's five lectures will explore the ingenious weapons that have emerged in the evolutionary "arms race" between plants and animals for the past 300 million years. Using a variety of strange and wonderful species to illustrate her themes, she will talk about plant poisons, how animals use plants for their own defences and new environmental threats to our green world.

She says: "I am delighted to be offered the opportunity to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas lectures this year. With all the environmental challenges we face at the moment, there has never been a more important time to encourage young people to get involved in science and I feel privileged to be contributing to that process."

Previous eminent scientists to have delivered the lectures include James Dewar, David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins. Professor Hartley is only the fourth woman to be given the honour.

Director of the Royal Institution Baroness Susan Greenfield, who was the first woman to give the lectures, says: "I am happy that we have such a charismatic and engaging lecturer delivering on a topic of immediate interest to so many people. "

In congratulating Professor Hartley, University of Sussex Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing says:  "I am sure that viewers of this year's Christmas Lectures will be captivated by Professor Hartley. She has that special gift of being able to deliver sound science in an entertaining and accessible way. This is a great honour for her and for the University of Sussex."

Professor Hartley is a world-leading authority on how plants and herbivores interact. She has served as vice-president of the British Ecological Society (2004-2007) and has advised the Government and EU on environmental issues.

She has also worked extensively with schools and young people in promoting the public understanding of science, and is one of four University of Sussex lecturers taking part in an Art of Science event for this year's Adur Arts Festival (June 5-21).


Notes for editors

Professor Sue Hartley's Grasses Bite Back research video and University of Sussex profile

Information about the Royal Institution:

  • The Christmas Lectures were initiated by Michael Faraday, at a time when organised education for young people was scarce and have continued annually, since 1825, interrupted only during World War II. Watching the lectures has become a British Christmas tradition since they were first broadcast on TV in 1966 and have always inspired generations of children to explore their scientific curiosity.  In a climate where numbers of children following science through to A-Level and higher education is falling, this iconic series of lectures has never been more relevant. When interviewed on the Today Programme, Peter Hatfield, 2009 Young Scientist of the Year named the Christmas Lectures as the reason he became interested in science.  This year's lectures are supported by Microsoft Research. 
  • The Royal Institution is the leading science-based community delivering balanced, relevant understanding of science and its impact on our rapidly changing world. It is dedicated to increasing knowledge, excitement and involvement in science and technology for current and future generations. Since 1799, at the headquarters on Albemarle St, the beginnings of the modern world: electricity, molecular biology and much more have been created.  The Ri is where scientists such Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday, James Dewar, William and Lawrence Bragg and George Porter discovered 10 chemical elements, won 14 Nobel Prizes.  For more information contact:
  • Kristen Dodd The Royal Institution +44 (0)20 7670 2991 +44 (0)77 5878 5851

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 10 September 2009