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The Annual Christmas Lectures

The department traditionally holds a public lecture every Christmas and invites local schools to come along and learn from some of our leading academics about the science we do and the issues it affects.

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2023 Decoding the Spectrum: Saving Civilisation from Solar Storms

Solar flares pose a serious threat to modern-day civilisation. Space weather forecasting helps us to limit the potentially catastrophic damage caused by such events. We need a way to measure the magnetic field of the Sun from a distance of 93 million miles. In this lecture we explore how we have learned about most of the Universe – by decoding the information in the radiation arriving at Earth.

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2022 Quantum Gravity: A Journey to the Event Horizon

Dr Alex Peach

December 13 + 14 2pm Online only

“Quantum Gravity: A Journey to the Event Horizon” will take us on a whirlwind tour of Gravity, Black Holes, and all things Quantum. We’ll fly through extra-dimensions with String theory, swim about in quantum foam with Loop Quantum gravity and peak into the unseen realm of Dark Matter.

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xmas image 2021

2021 Soft matters! When solids flow and liquids jam

Professor Suzanne Fielding

December 14 + 15 2pm Online only

This lecture will explore the fascinating physics of soft materials that defy our everyday ideas of solid and liquid: from familiar household liquidsthat jam up when stirred too vigorously, to solids that yield and flow under large enough loads, and materials that bounce on short timescales ye flow on longer timescales.

Along the way we will encounter avalanches and mudslides; traffic jams and log jams; complicated turbulent flows; and biological tissues, swarming bacteria, shoals of fish and flocks of birds.

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2020 How to build an epidemics simulation

Professor Frank Krauss

December 14 + 15 2pm Online only

How do we simulate the spread of epidemics in the population? 66 million people live in the UK. Informed by data, we constructed a model to simulate the spread of the disease in the population. We will discuss how we translated census and other data into virtual people and their behaviour. In our simulation, infected people transmit the virtual virus - SARS-CoV-2 - through social contacts which we model carefully. We will demonstrate how we create these contacts and the measures to control the spread of the virus.

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2019 The Worm Who Lived Forever?

Dr Chris Saunter

December 2019

Ageing is one of the defining aspects of humanity as a species and as individuals. Despite the role of ageing in our lives, there is no detailed understanding of how the many different and complicated processes involved work together to age us. This will change one day, as the last 20 years has seen continuous growth in scientific research aimed at understanding and then slowing ageing.

We are building a “Healthspan Machine” in Durham. This studies the effects of compounds designed to increase lifespan and healthspan on the nematode worm C. elegans, where healthspan is the period of an animal’s life for which it remains healthy. This machine uses hundreds of Raspberry Pi computers and cameras to track the motion of tens of thousands of worms during their few weeks of life, providing researchers with high quality data measuring the effects of their work.

This talk will look at the scientific and ethical context of lifespan and healthspan extension, the role of C. elegans and our healthspan machine in studying aging, and how the explosive growth in computer power has contributed to building a healthspan machine.

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2018 The mystery and mastery of photons

Professor Charles S. Adams

December 17 + 18 2018

We know that light is made of photons, considered to be one of the fundamental constituents of the Universe. Being inherently quantal, photons inherit all the mystery of our quantum World, but oddly this quantumness remains remarkably elusive and controlling individual photons remains tricky. This lecture will demonstrate some of the mysterious properties of photons and consider what might be possible if we can control them.

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Previous lectures in this series

Year Lecturer Title of Lecture


Prof Ifan Hughes & Dr Steven Wrathmall Decoding the Spectrum: Saving Civilisation from Solar Storms


Dr Alex Peach Quantum Gravity: A Journey to the Event Horizon


Prof Suzanne Fielding Soft matters! When solids flow and liquids jam


Prof Frank Krauss How to build an epidemics simulation


Dr Chris Saunter The Worm who lived forever?
2018 Prof Charles Adams The Mystery and Mastery of Photons
2017 Professor Martin Ward The James Webb Space Telescope


Prof Ruth Gregory The Decay of the Universe


Prof Tom McLiesh

The Subtle Science of Soft Slimy Stuff!


Dr Pete Edwards

Universe Missing! - The 2014 Durham Physics Xmas Lecture

2013 Dr Del Atkinson Thanks for the memory - From hard rocks to hard disks: How magnetic information changed the world
2012 Prof P Richardson 2012: The year of the Higgs Boson
2011 Prof M Ward The Ultimate Fate of the Universe
2010 Prof B K Tanner Sounds Fantastic
2009 Prof J Girkin Making light work for Doctors
2008 Dr G Love Light: Skies, Eyes and Spies
2007 Prof G Weiglein 'The LHC - Exploring the mysteries of matter, space and time'
2006 Dr M R C Hunt Nanotechnology: the next big thing is small
2005 Dr C Done Extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life
2004 Dr I G Hughes Cool things to do with lasers
2003 Dr P J Edwards A recipe for the universe
2002 Prof E W N Glover The hunt for the Higgs
2001 Dr R P Cowburn The incredible shrinking world of nanotechnology
2000 Dr C Done Black holes - fact, fiction or fantasy?
1999 Prof R L Davies New eyes on the universe: telescopes for the millennium
1998 Dr P D Hatton Superconductivity: money, science and applications
1997 Prof D R Flower Galactic nebulae
1996 Prof A D Martin Neutrinos
1995 Dr R M Sharples New light from the cosmos - astronomical technology in the 1990's
1994 Dr A P Monkman A practical guide to lasers
1993 Dr T Shanks Einstein's universe
1992 Prof W J Stirling The fundamental particles - the building blocks of matter
1991 Dr C S Frenk The universe: What is the matter?
1990 Prof B K Tanner In record time
1989 Prof A W Wolfendale Where do cosmic rays come from?
1988 Dr C J Maxwell Hunting elementary particles
1987 Dr B K Tanner & Dr N R Berhoeft There is no resisting a semiconductor
1986 Dr T Shanks & Dr J R Lucey Stepping out into the universe
1985 Dr D R Flower Interstellar matter
1984 Dr K E Turver Very energetic gamma ray astronomy
1983 Dr B K Tanner & Dr S R Hoon Magnetic fluids
1982 Dr F D Gault Elementary particle physics: a GUT response
1981 Prof A W Wolfendale The new astronomies
1980 Dr B K Tanner & Dr Dr S R Hoon The physics of music
1979 Dr R Fong Einstein's universe
1978 Dr J M Breare & Dr A D Martin What are we made of?
1977 Dr J V Major & Dr K J Orford Resonance revealed
1976 Dr B K Tanner & Dr W D Corner A magnetic attraction
1975 Dr K J Orford Energy conversion