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Royal Institution of Great Britain

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Title: Royal Institution of Great Britain  
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Subject: Michael Faraday, Primo Levi, Steven Pinker, James Dewar, List of organisations with a British royal charter, John Tyndall, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, Susan Greenfield, Arnold Wolfendale
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Royal Institution of Great Britain

For other uses, see Royal Institution (disambiguation).

The Royal Institution of Great Britain (often abbreviated as the Royal Institution or RI) is an organisation devoted to scientific education and research, based in London.


The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 by the leading British scientists of the age, including Henry Cavendish and its first president, George Finch, the 9th Earl of Winchilsea, for

"diffusing the knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction, of useful mechanical inventions and improvements; and for teaching, by courses of philosophical lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life."

Much of its initial funding and the initial proposal for its founding were given by the Society for Bettering the Conditions and Improving the Comforts of the Poor, under the guidance of philanthropist Sir Thomas Bernard and American-born British scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. Since its founding it has been based at 21 Albemarle Street in Mayfair. Its Royal Charter was granted in 1800. The Institution announced in January 2013 that it was considering sale of its Mayfair headquarters to meet its mounting debts.[1]


Throughout its history, the Institution has supported public engagement with science through a program of lectures, many of which continue today. The most famous of these are the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, founded by Michael Faraday.

The Institution has had an instrumental role in the advancement of science since its founding. Notable scientists who have worked there include Sir Humphry Davy (who discovered sodium and potassium), Michael Faraday, James Dewar, Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg (who jointly won the Nobel prize for their work on x-ray diffraction), Max Perutz, John Kendrew, Antony Hewish and George Porter. In the 19th century, Faraday carried out much of the research which laid the groundwork for the practical exploitation of electricity at the Royal Institution. In total fifteen scientists attached to the Royal Institution have won Nobel Prizes. Ten chemical elements including sodium were discovered at the Institution, as well as the electric generator and the atomic structure of crystals.

Nobel Laureates

  1. John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (1842–1919) – Physics 1904 with William Ramsey for the discovery of Argon
  2. Joseph John Thomson (1856–1940) – Physics 1906 for studies of electrical connection through gases
  3. Ernest, Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871–1937) – Chemistry 1908 for work on the chemistry of radioactive substances and the disintegration of the elements
  4. William Lawrence Bragg (1890–1971)- Physics 1915 joint with WH Bragg, for determining the molecular structure of crystals using x-rays
  5. William Henry Bragg (1862–1942)- Physics 1915 joint with WL Bragg, for determining the molecular structure of crystals using x-rays
  6. Charles Scott Sherrington (1857–1952) – Chemistry 1932 shared, for his discovery of the function of neurons
  7. Henry Hallett Dale (1875–1968) – Medicine 1936 joint with Otto Loewi, for their work on the chemical transmission of nerve impulses[2]
  8. Peter Brian Medawar (1915–1987) – Medicine 1960 for his work on making permanent skin grafts
  9. John Cowdery Kendrew (1917–1997) – Chemistry 1962 with Perutz, for determining the structures of haemoglobin and myoglobin using X-ray crystallography and (new at the time) electronic computers
  10. Max Ferdinand Perutz (1914–2002) – Chemistry 1962 with Kendrew, for determining the structures of haemoglobin and myoglobin using X-ray crystallography and (new at the time) electronic computers
  11. Andrew Fielding Huxley (1917–2012) – Medicine 1963 for explaining how nerves use electricity to send signals around the body
  12. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910–1994) – Chemistry 1964 for determining the structure of important biochemical substances including vitamin B12 and penicillin using X-ray techniques
  13. George, Baron Porter of Luddenham (1920–2002) – Chemistry 1967 for work on chemical reactions triggered by light, and for photographing the behaviour of molecules during fast reactions
  14. Anthony Hewish (1924–) – Physics 1974 for his work on the discovery of pulsars
  15. Sir John Gurdon (1933–) – in 2012, he and Shinya Yamanaka were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells

Chemical Elements

  1. Potassium – isolated from caustic potash by Humphry Davy in 1807 using electrolysis.
  2. SodiumHumphry Davy first isolated sodium in 1807 from molten sodium hydroxide.
  3. Barium – isolated by electrolysis of molten barium salts by Humphry Davy in 1808.
  4. Boron – discovered by Humphry Davy who first used electrolysis to produce a brown precipitate from a solution of borates in 1808. He produced enough of the substance to identify it as an element but it wasn't until 1909 that pure boron was produced.
  5. Calcium – isolated by Humphry Davy in 1808 from a mixture of lime and mercuric oxide using electrolysis.
  6. Chlorine – Elemental chlorine was discovered in 1774 but was thought to be a compound and was called "dephlogisticated muriatic acid air". Humphry Davy named it Chlorine in 1810 after experimenting with it and declared it was an element.
  7. Magnesium – first produced/discovered in 1808 by Humphry Davy using electrolysis of a mixture of magnesia and mercury oxide.
  8. Strontium – known in mineral form but isolated as an element in 1808 by Humphry Davy from a mixture of strontium chloride and mercuric acid.
  9. Iodine – Discovered by Bernard Courtois in 1811, he lacked the resources to investigate the substance but gave samples to various researchers. It was named by Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac who thought it either a compound of oxygen or an element. A few days later Humphry Davy stated it was a new element leading to wrangling between the two over who identified it first.
  10. Argon – discovered in 1894 by Lord Rayleigh and William Ramsey.



The leadership of the Royal Institution has had various titles:

  • Director of the Laboratory
  • Director of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory
  • Director

The position was abolished in 2010.[4] The Institution's last director was Susan Greenfield.

Andrade controversy

In 1952, Edward Andrade was forced to resign following a complicated controversy over the management of the Royal Institution and his powers as Director, involving a power struggle with Alexander Rankine who was Secretary. Following various resignations and general meetings of members, Andrade was awarded £7,000 by arbitration: the arbitrators blamed the problems on "a lack of clear definition of roles ... an outdated constitution, and the inability of the protagonists to compromise". Andrade launched a lawsuit to set the arbitration aside which he lost.[5]

Greenfield controversy

Until 8 January 2010, the Director of the Royal Institution was Baroness (Susan) Greenfield, but following a review,[6] the position was abolished for being "no longer affordable".[4] Greenfield subsequently announced that she would be suing for discrimination.[7] The RI's official statement stated that:

"The Ri will continue to deliver its main charitable objectives under the direction of chief executive officer, Chris Rofe and a talented senior team including Professor Quentin Pankhurst, the Director of the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory, Dr Gail Cardew, the Head of Programmes and Professor Frank James, Head of Collections and Heritage."[8]

Baroness Greenfield later dropped the discrimination case.[9]

The Royal Institution today

Today the Royal Institution is committed to "diffusing science for the common purposes of life". Membership is open to all, with no nomination procedure or academic requirements, on payment of an annual subscription. School membership is free.

The Institutions patrons and trustees include:

The Institution's palatial home has been greatly enlarged and redeveloped since 1799, and is a Grade I [1]

The Institution (today abbreviated as the Ri) has a substantial public science programme and science for schools programme, holding over one hundred events per year on a wide variety of topics. The Christmas Lectures continue today as a series of five televised lectures aimed at children. The Friday Evening Discourses are monthly lectures given by eminent scientists, each limited to exactly one hour, a tradition started by Faraday. These lectures are open to all members of the Royal Institution and their guests. Many other events and lectures are held both at Albemarle Street and at other venues around the country.

Scientific research headed by Professor Quentin Pankhurst continues to be done under the auspices of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory (DFRL), and indeed this is considered to be one of the UK's most notable labs in nano-science[by whom?].

Fellows of the Royal Institution may use the initials FRI after their names. Members may use MRI and associate members may use AMRI after their names.

In December 2011 the Royal Institution launched the Ri Channel,[13] a new website showcasing science videos and archive content from the Royal Institution, including past Christmas Lectures.

The Faraday Museum

In 1973 the Royal Institution opened a museum dedicated to Michael Faraday. It is in the main building in Albemarle Street and is open to the public during weekday office hours. The highlight of the exhibition is Faraday's original 1850s laboratory (not a reconstruction as often cited). Opposite this lab is the current state-of-the-art nanotechnology lab.

The Ri Channel

In late 2011 the Ri launched a new video channel. Claiming to be the "Smart place for science" brings together the best science videos from a wide range of institutions and independent filmmakers. The site has taken an innovative approach to online video publishing a range of learning resources,searchable transcripts and subtitles alongside individual video files.

  • The Ri Channel

The Royal Institution of Australia

The Royal Institution of Australia, the only other Royal Institution in the world,[14] was opened in Adelaide on 8 October 2009 by HRH, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.

See also


External links

  • The Royal Institution of Great Britain
  • The Ri Channel
  • The Davy Faraday Research Laboratory
  • All parts and information you will need to build a Faraday DC Homopolar Magnet Motor.
  • The Science Media Centre

Coordinates: 51°30′35″N 0°08′33″W / 51.5098°N 0.1425°W / 51.5098; -0.1425

Template:Science and technology in the United Kingdom

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