The Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES Live!

Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

The Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES Live!

15 Dec, 202215 Dec, 2022

£8 /10

6pm – 8.30pm
Space Dome, First Light Pavilion

Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement are honoured and very excited to announce that we will be live streaming The Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES this winter for the first time.

Join us to hear Professor Dame Sue Black, one of the world’s leading forensic anthropologists, investigate the myriad of ways in which our bodies are tied to our identity, live inside our incredible Space Dome this winter.

About the lecture

In a series of three Lectures broadcast between Christmas and the New Year, Professor Dame Sue Black will reveal the secrets of the real-life scientific detective process she uses to identify both the dead and the living.

Sue 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’ll 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.

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

We’ll also look at the future of identifying the living. Sue will reveal how she’s developed a pioneering method of identifying criminals through the veins and wrinkles in their hands. And she’ll 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 such as detectives, lawyers, pathologists, and dog handlers.

The 2022 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are co-produced by the Ri and Windfall Films and will be broadcast on BBC Four and iPlayer between Christmas and the New Year.

About Professor Dame Sue Black

Professor Dame Sue Black DBE is a forensic anthropologist, anatomist and academic and is currently the President of St John’s College Oxford and Visiting Professor of Computing and Communications at Lancaster Universityhaving previously been Pro-Vice Chancellor at Lancaster University.

She attended the University of Aberdeen where she graduated with a BSc degree with honours in human anatomy in 1982, and a PhD degree for her thesis on ‘Identification from the Human Skeleton’ in 1986.

Having been a lecturer in Anatomy at St Thomas’ Hospital between 1987 and 1992, Sue then spent a decade working for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the United Nations, on the identification of victims and perpetrators of various conflicts. In 1999 she became the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team in Kosovo and in 2003 she undertook two tours to Iraq. In 2005 Sue participated in the United Kingdom’s contribution to the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification operation as part of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami international response.

Sue has been an innovator in developing techniques and building databases to confirm or disconfirm someone’s identify identity based on photographs of their hands or arms. This technique has become important in prosecution cases where the accused have taken photographs of their actions. In 2009, Sue used vein pattern analysis to confirm the identify of a suspect; the first time that the technique was used in a criminal conviction.

As an author, Sue has published numerous works including her latest book, ‘Written in bone: Hidden stories in what we leave behind’. She was a founder of The British Association for Human Identification and The British Association for Forensic Anthropology; has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, The Royal Anthropological Institute and The British Academy; and is life-time Professor of Anatomy for the Royal Scottish Academy.

Sue is married with three children and features in a larger-than-life portrait by Ken Currie titled Unknown Man which hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, while crime writer Val McDermid used Sue as inspiration for a character in her book ‘The Skeleton Road’.

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.

Today it continues its mission to build on its heritage and create opportunities for everyone to discover, discuss and critically examine science and how it shapes the world around us. An independent registered charity, the Ri provides science education, public engagement, and heritage activities for people of all ages and backgrounds across the UK and around the world. These activities include the world-famous CHRISTMAS LECTURES; public talks from the world’s greatest thinkers in its historic lecture theatre and livestreamed online; a successful YouTube channel with over 1.25 million subscribers, a national programme of Ri Masterclasses for young people in mathematics, engineering and computer science; hands-on science workshops in its L’Oréal Young Scientist Centre; award winning animations and films; and the preservation of its scientific legacy through the Faraday Museum and archival collections.


The Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES recordings will be taking place across three evenings. Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement will be hosting the second of these live streams. These events are live recordings in readiness for the programmes to aired on BBC FOUR between Christmas and New Year. Please note that there will be breaks in filming during the event.