Professor Bruce Hood presents his lecture on the brain. (© The Yomiuru Shimbun)

Professor Bruce Hood presents his lecture on the brain. (© The Yomiuru Shimbun)

Professor Bruce Hood presents his lecture on the brain. (© The Yomiuru Shimbun)

Country director Jeff Streeter reports from the latest science lecture in a prestigious series that the British Council has been bringing to Japan since 1990.

When the first series of Royal Institution Christmas Lectures began in London in 1825, the future Queen Victoria was still a little child of six and the Edo period in Japan still had over forty years left to run.

The lectures were set up – and  later frequently given by – Michael Faraday (1791-1867), a distinguished British physicist who has been described as ‘one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.’

Last month’s Japan lecture, ‘Meet your brain’, was delivered by Bruce Hood from the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.

Professor Hood described the brain as ‘undoubtedly the most complex material in the universe,’ so to give a talk on such a topic that would reach out successfully to a wide audience, and especially children, was no easy matter.

Yet, that was exactly what he did, blending clear and concise explanation with a wide range of dazzling and fun experiments that kept the audience gripped and engaged (Professor Hood was able to call upon a wide range of helpers, from fellow professors to audience volunteers), and left them hugely entertained, as well as enlightened.

In recent decades, these lectures have been televised to reach and inspire whole generations of young people in the UK with the beauty and majesty of science. In that time, they have developed their own tradition and their own following in Japan.

I hope the lectures have also helped to inspire a new generation of scientists in a country already renowned for its high levels of scientific and technological achievements. It was great to hear this comment from one student:

I saw the lectures in Tottori when I was a junior high school student and they motivated me to become a scientist, and I am now studying biology at Tohoku University.”

Mr Hata, General Manager at The Yomiuiri Shimbun, our main partner and the newspaper with the world’s highest circulation, is just as enthusiastic: ‘I hope to see a Nobel-prize winner from Japan in the future who was motivated by attending the lectures in Japan.’

This year, with the help of many other supporters, we have been especially proud to take the lectures to the Tohoku region, devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

The lectures were also filmed at Keio University’s excellent facilities in Yokohama, so TV viewers in Japan will be able to see the Christmas Lectures on Japanese public television station NHK later this year in October.’

I am sure that, like me, and a live audience of hundreds of Japanese school children, they will find them enlightening, inspiring and a lot of fun. And I hope that they will also share my feeling that a tradition that begun nearly two hundred years ago still has a lot to say to us about the importance of sharing the excitement of science, knowledge and ideas.

Learn more about the British Council’s work in Japan.

Watch Professor Hood’s 2011 Christmas Lectures on the Royal Institution’s TV channel.