Last month I gave a talk to a group of Imperial College Alumni, all of whom had made a generous donation to the university and still take an interest in what goes on there.

An interest keen enough to drag them to a lecture theatre on a grey October evening to hear one of the College’s researchers give an account of their latest work. On this occasion the task fell to me and I opted to tell the tale of our quest to determine the structure of the 3C protease from foot-and-mouth disease virus (a topic we’ve published on just recently).

I do enjoy this kind of challenge — though it takes a good deal of preparation — and sought to make the story accessible to a general audience by giving an account not only of the scientific results but also of our travails in the laboratory and in our search for funding. Having recently completed the biography of Thomas Henry Huxley, who has a strong connection with the College, I also wanted to weave some of my late-found admiration for that great 19th century scientist into the tapestry.

I lecture
iLecture to Alumni.

Thanks to the College’s burgeoning audio-visual department, you too can attend the lecture. A video was recorded and last weekend I spent a few hours inter-cutting the slides that I showed on the night, hoping to make the package a bit more digestible.

It does go on just a wee bit (I couldn’t help warming to my theme!) so I have few illusions about people sitting through the whole lot. There’s an introduction by the rector and I get started at about 8:20 with an historical introduction, mostly devoted to Huxley. The description of foot-and-mouth disease and the virus that causes it begins at 17:00 and I finally start on describing the work that we have done at about 34:30. These times are min:sec, not hr:min!

Anyway… for those who may be interested, you can catch the video within your browser on my web-site. Alternatively, the College* also has a web-page on the lecture that provides a RealPlayer version. Or, and I am inexplicably and disporportionately chuffed by this, you can even download it via iTunes!

You wouldn’t think from the video that I had to take myself outside and walk around the block in the fresh air just before the lecture to steady my nerves. Speaking to the public is much harder than speaking to other scientists – but also much more fun, once you get going.


*For reasons that I’m afraid don’t properly understand, the College versions have a slighlty squashed aspect ratio. However, this has the advantage of making me look a bit thinner!

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8 Responses to iLecture

  1. Matt Brown says:

    It’s great that imperial are devoting more resources to recording lectures. I’ve never looked into it, but it’d be good to have a dedicated repository for videos of talks from all institutions – perhaps with two channels for public and academic interest. Does that already exist?

  2. Stephen Curry says:

    There is a depository of free lectures on iTunes – called iTunes U (the link will take you into the program if you have it installed). Lots of US universities seem to have made stuff available but some UK institutions are now also getting in on the act. It’s mostly undergraduate courses, I believe. Some good stuff – I have listened to some lectures on Biochemistry from MIT, for example.
    Imperial is getting into the habit of putting more general lectures online – just search for “Imperial College” within iTunes to see what’s on offer. The “video podcasts” section is where most of the public lectures are to be found.

  3. Sara Fletcher says:

    Oxford university have been doing the iTunes things for a while, it’s a good idea but I don’t know how many people are bothered to trawl the archives. I like what TED have done, with a series of high profile speakers giving shorter talks. But I will go and check out Stephens!

  4. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Sara – and good luck!
    Agree with you that TED talks provide briefer and quite varied fare. Did you see Sagmeister’s on “The power of time off” which I mentioned recently?

  5. Henry Gee says:

    I looked at the photos, Stephen, and they’re definitely you.

  6. Stephen Curry says:

    Yes Henry, but what nobody realises (and please don’t tell anyone) is that I used a stunt double for the trickier parts of the lecture.
    My devastating analysis of the evolutionary implications of our findings starts at about 47:00…

  7. Richard Wintle says:

    Excellent – I saw the photo above on Flickr but didn’t stop by to see what it pertained to. Will check out the lecture for sure.
    Thanks also for the link to iTunes U – what a good idea (he said, without actually having explored any of the content).

  8. Ian Brooks says:


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