New Season of Late Openings at the Royal Institution

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Nothing warms the heart quite like seeing a queue of people snaking down the dark London streets in anticipation of an evening of science. And that’s just the sight that greeted me when I turned up at the Royal Institution for the first in their new Friday Lates season.

The Royal Institution (Ri) has been at the forefront of public engagement with science for over 200 years and they’ve always sought to encourage people to think further about the wonders and applications of science. And the long queue winding its way down Albermarle Street was testament to this.

Museums and galleries have been using late openings for a while, and they have been very successful with huge amounts of visitors wanting to avoid the weekend crowds. And now the RI has followed suit with its adult-only evenings. Pay one admission fee and all events inside are free.

And the RI kicked off with a cracking evening of events: demonstrations on how to set off your own gunpowder, workshops on the psychology of dance and experiments throughout the building from whether it’s possible to flirt with a robot to experiments on what happens to your judgment when you find someone attractive.

And all supported with pop-up bars throughout this beautiful Grade I listed building.

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I threw myself in to The Marriage Game, an analysis of your personality and approach to dating all worked out by reviewing your gambling instincts in a card game. Do you stick or twist?? Turns out I’m a twister, always prepared to try my luck for a better hand, which does actually explain quite a lot.

As well as games and demonstrations, there was also the opportunity to get guided tours of all the rooms and galleries in the building. And in the theatres, a series of lectures were put on.

For the first evening, the theme was love, sex and relationships so lectures looked at what we could learn from the genetics of animal attraction, the secrets of animal sex and the powerful effects of magnetism in the world today.

The lectures were both fun and fascinating – demonstrations of how the sex chromosomes in sea turtles are impacted by environmental factors, how clownfish are all born male but become female as and when it is necessary, and even the observations that female penguins and bonobos have been known to exchange sex for vital resources such as stones and food.

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The lecturers were superb. These weren’t dusty, dry deliveries but very exciting immersive events with even a few 1980s pop classics thrown in for good measure.

And fertility advice is always better from scientists than Cosmo. Here’s an unorthodox one for you. Turns out, evolutionary scientists believe that threesomes (2 men, 1 woman) are better for fertility as men produce better quality sperm in competitive environments.

So there you go!

There were a few first night gremlins – the fire alarm went off three times. Clearly a lot of fun was being had in the gunpowder room!! But nevertheless this was a fabulous evening. It was just so great, so heartwarming to see so many people flood in for an evening of science. I even spotted a few couples holding hands. Aah, date night and science experiments. What could be more romantic than that?

For more details on the Friday Lates season, visit the Royal Institution website.

Image credits: photographer Katherine Leedale.

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