Jonathan Van-Tam (pictured) will deliver the lectures titled: ‘Going Viral: How Covid changed science forever’Wikimedia Commons

Three Cambridge scientists are among six guest lecturers to assist epidemiologist Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the Government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, in delivering this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on “How Covid changed science forever.”

Professors Julia Gog, Sharon Peacock and Ravi Gupta were selected to co-host the lectures with Van-Tam for their contributions to the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three-part lecture series will explore how public health measures, combined with cutting edge science and engineering, will have an impact far beyond COVID-19. Developments such as early detection techniques, rapid genome sequencing, and the world’s first mRNA vaccines could be used to treat cancer, Malaria and HIV in the future.

The Royal Institution, which was founded in 1799 with the aim of promoting new technologies and teaching science to the general public, has hosted Christmas Lectures since 1825, when they were created by Michael Faraday.

The lectures seek to present scientific subjects to a non-specialist audience, including young people, in an engaging way. They are the world’s oldest scientific television programme, first broadcast in 1936, although it was not until 1966 that this was done annually.

Faraday delivered 19 lecture series in his lifetime. Other notable lecturers include Nobel Laureates William and Lawrence Bragg, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, and Dame Nancy Rothwell.

A Professor of Mathematical Biology and Fellow of Queens’ College, Julia Gog advised the UK government through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and SPI-M, the group working on infectious disease modelling and epidemiology.

Sharon Peacock, a Professor of Public Health and Microbiology, is Chair of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium. In this role, she oversaw the delivery of large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres and the UK government,

Ravi Gupta is Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease. During the pandemic he used his expertise in RNA virus genetics and biology to define the process whereby new variants likely arrive, and also reported some of the first data on Pfizer vaccine-induced antibody responses against the virus in the UK.

The guest lecturers’ experience at the intersection of health science and policy making will provide insights into how advances in scientific research were rapidly adapted for the government’s response to the pandemic and can now be used in the treatment of many other diseases.

As Deputy Chief Medical Officer to the Government for England, Van-Tam’s role is nominally to provide independent advice to the government on medical issues, but the pandemic saw him, and many other medical and scientific advisers, take on very public duties, often appearing alongside Boris Johnson in televised news conferences to explain policy decisions to the general public.


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Lucinda Hunt, Director of the Royal Institution, said: “We are delighted that Jonathan will be joined by such an exciting and expert group of scientists during this year’s series of three Christmas Lectures.

“They will work together to take us on a journey through the world of viruses – how they arise, how they proliferate, and how science and society responds – just as they are doing in tackling the current pandemic. What a strong and positive message that will be for our young audience, about the power of collaborative science.”

Patrick Holland, BBC Director, Factual, Arts and Classical Music Television, said: “Scientists across the world have responded to the Covid crisis with expertise and ingenuity that is humbling for us all. It is no exaggeration to say that the path of history has been changed because of the work of vaccine scientists and epidemiologists.

“Jonathan and his team will give us another exciting and thought-provoking series of Lectures, covering so much more than COVID-19. This will be a celebration of science and of the scientists whose advances are shaping our world.”

The 2021 lectures will be recorded on the 14th, 16th and 18th December at the Royal Institution and broadcast on BBC Four between Christmas and New Year.