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.
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"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.
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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.
- John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (1842–1919) – Physics 1904 with William Ramsey for the discovery of Argon
- Joseph John Thomson (1856–1940) – Physics 1906 for studies of electrical connection through gases
- Ernest, Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871–1937) – Chemistry 1908 for work on the chemistry of radioactive substances and the disintegration of the elements
- William Lawrence Bragg (1890–1971)- Physics 1915 joint with WH Bragg, for determining the molecular structure of crystals using x-rays
- William Henry Bragg (1862–1942)- Physics 1915 joint with WL Bragg, for determining the molecular structure of crystals using x-rays
- Charles Scott Sherrington (1857–1952) – Chemistry 1932 shared, for his discovery of the function of neurons
- Henry Hallett Dale (1875–1968) – Medicine 1936 joint with Otto Loewi, for their work on the chemical transmission of nerve impulses
- Peter Brian Medawar (1915–1987) – Medicine 1960 for his work on making permanent skin grafts
- 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
- 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
- Andrew Fielding Huxley (1917–2012) – Medicine 1963 for explaining how nerves use electricity to send signals around the body
- Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910–1994) – Chemistry 1964 for determining the structure of important biochemical substances including vitamin B12 and penicillin using X-ray techniques
- 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
- Anthony Hewish (1924–) – Physics 1974 for his work on the discovery of pulsars
- 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
- Potassium – isolated from caustic potash by Humphry Davy in 1807 using electrolysis.
- Sodium – Humphry Davy first isolated sodium in 1807 from molten sodium hydroxide.
- Barium – isolated by electrolysis of molten barium salts by Humphry Davy in 1808.
- 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.
- Calcium – isolated by Humphry Davy in 1808 from a mixture of lime and mercuric oxide using electrolysis.
- 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.
- Magnesium – first produced/discovered in 1808 by Humphry Davy using electrolysis of a mixture of magnesia and mercury oxide.
- Strontium – known in mineral form but isolated as an element in 1808 by Humphry Davy from a mixture of strontium chloride and mercuric acid.
- 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.
- Argon – discovered in 1894 by Lord Rayleigh and William Ramsey.
Since 1799, the Royal Institution has had fifteen presidents and one Acting-President.
- 1799 – George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea
- 1813 – George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer
- 1825 – Thomas Pelham, 2nd Earl of Chichester
- 1827 – Edward Adolphus Seymour, 11th Duke of Somerset
- 1842 – Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland
- 1865 – Sir Henry Holland, 1st Baronet
- 1873 – Algernon George Percy, 6th Duke of Northumberland
- 1899 – Henry George Percy, 7th Duke of Northumberland
- 1918 – Alan Ian Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland
- 1930 – Lord Eustace Percy, later (1953) raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Percy of Newcastle
- 1945 – Robert John Strutt, 4th Baron Rayleigh
- 1948 – John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon, 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara
- 1963 – Alexander Fleck, 1st Baron Fleck
- 1968 – William Wellclose Davis (acting)
- 1969 – Harold Roxbee Cox, Baron Kings Norton
- 1976 – Prince Edward, Duke of Kent
The leadership of the Royal Institution has had various titles:
- Director of the Laboratory
- Director of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory
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.
Until 8 January 2010, the Director of the Royal Institution was Baroness (Susan) Greenfield, but following a review, the position was abolished for being "no longer affordable". Greenfield subsequently announced that she would be suing for discrimination. 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."
Baroness Greenfield later dropped the discrimination case.
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:
- Patron: Her Majesty The Queen
- Vice Patron: HRH The Prince of Wales
- President: HRH The Duke of Kent
- Honorary Vice-President: Sir John Ritblat
- Chairman: Sir Richard Sykes
- Board of Trustees (appointed 16 May 2011): Prof. Chris Bishop, Howard Covington, Hugh Harper, Prof. Sir Peter Knight, Prof. Sir David Wallace, Prof. Julia Buckingham, Prof. Alan Davies, Dr Martin Knight, Rod McGregor, Lord Robert Winston.
The Institution's palatial home has been greatly enlarged and redeveloped since 1799, and is a Grade I listed building. The structure's last refurbishment was a £22m project completed in 2008, intended to create a "science salon" for the public. As well as the famous Faraday Lecture Theatre, the building contains several function rooms, a substantial library, modern research facilities and a public restaurant. The Trustees are exploring selling the building in an effort to recoup the organisation's debts, currently £7m.
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.
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" RiChannel.org 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 Royal Institution of Australia
- Jha, Alok (18 January 2013). "Royal Institution puts historic Mayfair building up for sale". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
- "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1936". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- RI Presidents since 1799, Royal Institution website, accessed 26 February 2011
- Gammell, Caroline; Alleyne, Richard (12 January 2010). "Baroness Greenfield's redundancy 'only way to get rid of her'". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
- Frank James & Vivianne Quirke "L'Affaire Andrade" in The Common Purposes of Life (Ashgate, 2002)
- BBC (8 December 2009). "Science body confirms review". BBC. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- BBC (9 January 2010). "Royal Institution former chief suing for discrimination". BBC. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- Press Statement — Baroness Greenfield and the role of Director at the Royal Institution, Royal Institution, UK, 8 January 2010.
- Board of Trustees, Royal Institution, UK.
- Details from listed building database (208514) 21 Albemarle Street- Grade I. Images of England. English Heritage.
- Details from listed building database (208513) 20 Albemarle Street – Grade I. Images of England. English Heritage.
- Ri Channel www.richannel.org
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