President to deliver Royal Institution’s 2022 Christmas Lectures

Date 23 September 2022

Professor Dame Sue Black will reveal the secrets of forensic science in this year's Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution.
Sue Black-Christmas Lectures

Professor Dame Sue Black, President of St John's and one of the world’s leading forensic investigators, will deliver this year’s Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution.

In a series of three Lectures to be broadcast on BBC Four in late December, Dame Sue will share the secrets of the real-life scientific detective process she uses to identify both the dead and the living.

With the public more fascinated by science and forensics than ever, Sue will reveal why we shouldn’t believe everything we see in our favourite TV crime dramas. Using stand-out cases from her career, she will explore the huge leaps forward forensic science has made, as well as some of its limitations, and what the future might hold. And she will reveal how real life can be far stranger than fiction.

Dame Sue has played a lead role in some of the world’s highest profile forensic investigations, helping to identify the victims and perpetrators of conflicts and disasters internationally, including the conflict in Kosovo where she was the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team, and the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification Operation.

Dame Sue said:

‘It is an enormous honour to be chosen to present the 2022 Christmas Lectures. I’m looking forward to revealing the crucial but often unseen work of forensic investigators and to fuelling some young imaginations with this amazing area of science. And as discussing and critically examining science is so important to its application in our lives, I’ll also be asking some challenging and thought-provoking questions about the future of forensic science, whether our identity, actually, is wrapped up more in our memories than it is in our bodies, and what that might mean for crime detection.’

Welcoming Sue as the 2022 Christmas Lecturer, Director of the Royal Institution, Katherine Mathieson, said:

'Through the pandemic, the climate crisis and other significant challenges facing the world, we’ve really seen science in practice; we’ve witnessed the scientific process of researching and gathering evidence in action, seen scientific advances as they happen and scientific exploration as it’s done. Our role at the Ri is to give everyone the opportunity to find out more about science, so we are delighted that Sue will be using the Christmas Lectures to lift the lid on such an important and far-reaching topic.’

The 2022 Christmas Lectures will be filmed in the Royal Institution’s iconic theatre and will be broadcast on BBC Four and iPlayer between Christmas and New Year.

About the 2022 Christmas Lectures

Royal Institution Lectures-Sue Black

In the 2022 Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution, Professor Dame Sue Black will give an unprecedented insight into her role in deciphering secret messages hidden within the body as she strives to name the unknown, reuniting dead and living bodies with their identity.

She will reveal how extraordinary clues in our bones can reveal everything from our age, sex and medical history, to our diets and ancestry, as well as how the trend for body modifications – from split tongues to Teflon horns – has become a surprising forensic tool. Sue will show how crimes can be solved from the smallest fragments of bones – using examples from her casebook – and contrasting the challenge of identifying someone from a single fragment, with the problem of identifying individuals in a mass grave which could have bones mixed from hundreds of skeletons.

She will also show how fingerprinting and DNA testing has helped resolve wrongful convictions, but how it can led juries astray too, with a special guest QC interrogating evidence live in the Ri Theatre, to reveal the limitations of this much-used tool of forensic science.

The lectures will also look at the future of identifying the living. Sue will reveal how she has developed a pioneering method of identifying criminals through the veins and wrinkles in their hands. And she will ask whether ultimately our identity is actually contained most in our memories, and whether this could ever be mapped for truly fool-proof identification.

Sue will be joined in each lecture by leading specialists including detectives, lawyers, pathologists, and dog handlers.

About the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures

The Christmas Lectures are the Royal Institution’s biggest demonstration-based science event for young people. The Lectures were initiated in 1825 by Michael Faraday and he presented 19 series himself, establishing an exciting new way of presenting science to young people.

The Christmas Lectures have continued annually since 1825, stopping only for four years during World War II. Many world-famous scientists have given the Lectures including Nobel Prize winners William and Lawrence Bragg, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Dame Nancy Rothwell and Jonathan Van-Tam. The Christmas Lectures were first broadcast on television by the BBC in 1936. Since 2010 they have been broadcast by BBC Four.

About the Royal Institution

The Royal Institution’s (Ri) vision is for a world where everyone is inspired to think more deeply about science and its place in our lives. Home to eminent scientists such as Michael Faraday, Humphry Davy, Kathleen Lonsdale and John Tyndall, its discoveries have helped to shape the modern world. Just as importantly these scientists recognised the importance of sharing their work with the wider public.