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TV | RI Christmas Lectures - ‘How Covid changed science forever’ with Professor Jonathan Van-Tam



In the 2021 CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Royal Institution, Jonathan Van-Tam will be joined by expert British scientists who all played vital roles in the Covid-19 pandemic, to reveal how new discoveries are set to change the future of medicine.


With millions of lives at stake and no treatments or vaccines to hand, these scientists fell back on tried and tested principles of contact tracing and isolation.



Alongside this, they accelerated their research to achieve the impossible. They raced to understand the virus’s biology, to find treatments and create vaccines that could bring the pandemic under control.

And they succeeded. Within 11 months the first vaccine was produced – a process that often takes 10 years.


Jonathan will show how public health measures, combined with ground-breaking science will have an impact far beyond Covid-19.


He will be joined by six Guest Lecturers, cellular immunologist Katie Ewer, mathematical biologist Julia Gog, clinical microbiologist Ravi Gupta, pharmacologist Tess Lambe, chartered mechanical engineer Cath Noakes, and microbiologist Sharon Peacock.



Together they will demonstrate biomedical breakthroughs that could help fight other infectious diseases, genetic disorders and even cancer. From advances in early detection techniques – lateral flow tests, blood tests and wearable tech which can detect illnesses before symptoms are even noticeable – to rapid genome sequencing that could be used to speed up cancer diagnosis or assess organ donor compatibility, to the world’s first mRNA vaccines which could be used to treat Malaria and HIV.


Data has been shared across the world and rapid clinical trials have tested the efficacy of new drugs. Biological and epidemiological science will never be the same again.

Episode 1: The Invisible Enemy

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam dives into the microworld of viruses, revealing how these invisible invaders can infect our bodies and how a revolution in testing may transform medicine forever.


With the help of immunologist Professor Katie Ewer and virologist Professor Ravi Gupta, this action-packed lecture reveals the inner workings of the virus by blowing it up and inviting the audience to take part in a heist mission. Can they hijack our cell machinery to replicate? Up against the virus is our immune system, designed to fight back.


We also dive into a nose to uncover the wonders of snot and whittle down the winner of a game of antibody bingo to crack how our immune system can defeat this invisible enemy.


One of the most impressive scientific advances of the past two years has been the development of new testing techniques in our battle against Covid-19. We peel back the mysteries of PCR, hack into a super-sized lateral flow and show how modern diagnostic technology could shape the future of medicine.


Episode 2: The Perfect Storm

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam uncovers what drives a virus to world domination and reveals how maths may be the secret weapon to thwart it.

Joined by airborne infection expert Professor Catherine Noakes and mathematician Professor Julia Gog, the team face the disgusting fallout of a super-sneeze, reveal the shocking invisible forces inside our masks and unravel the mathematical models of contagion with a gigantic game of lucky dip.


In this lecture, no science is off the table. From microbiology to engineering, the Covid-19 pandemic has pooled the talent of scientists in every discipline to work together in ways never seen before. Can the audience be the scientific heroes of the hour and crack the riddle at the end of the show?



Episode 3: Fighting Back

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam dives into the microworld of viruses, revealing how these invisible invaders can infect our bodies and how a revolution in testing may transform medicine forever.

With the help of immunologist Professor Katie Ewer and virologist Professor Ravi Gupta, this action-packed lecture reveals the inner workings of the virus by blowing it up and inviting the audience to take part in a heist mission. Can they hijack our cell machinery to replicate?


Up against the virus is our immune system, designed to fight back. We also dive into a nose to uncover the wonders of snot and whittle down the winner of a game of antibody bingo to crack how our immune system can defeat this invisible enemy.


One of the most impressive scientific advances of the past two years has been the development of new testing techniques in our battle against Covid-19. We peel back the mysteries of PCR, hack into a super-sized lateral flow and show how modern diagnostic technology could shape the future of medicine.


 

The Christmas Lectures are the most prestigious event in the Royal Institution’s calendar, dating from 1825 when Michael Faraday founded the series. They are the world’s longest-running science television series and always promise to inspire and amaze each year through explosive demonstrations and interactive experiments with a live theatre audience.


The lectures will be broadcast on BBC Four at 8pm on 28, 29 and 30 December.

Also available on BBC iPlayer after broadcast.