Since its introduction in 1966, Bedales’ annual science lecture has attracted leading scientists including two Nobel Prize winners, three life peers and three directors of the Royal Institution; lecturers have included Robert Winston and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. The lecture is named after brothers Thomas and Peter Eckersley who attended Bedales in the early 1900s.  Peter was a pioneer of British broadcasting, and became the first Chief Engineer of the BBC in 1922; Thomas worked for Marconi as a theoretical research engineer. As a memorial to the late Thomas and Peter, and as a tribute to their outstanding contribution to scientific progress and thinking, a group of their friends established a fund to endow an annual lecture at the school where their interest in Science was first kindled and encouraged. Find out more about Thomas and Peter below.  

Photo Montage
  • Eckersley Lecture: through the years
  • Peter Eckersley
  • Thomas Eckersley






2020 Why is life the way it is? Professor Nick Lane

The 2020 Eckersley Lecture was delivered by Nick Lane, Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London. Nick Lane is best known for his critically acclaimed books that include Life Ascending 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books), The Vital Question and Oxygen: the molecule that made the world.

Professor Lane’s research focuses on three major transitions in evolution: the origin of life itself; the origin of the eukaryotic cell; and the evolution of fundamental traits shared by all eukaryotic cells, notably sex, sexes, speciation and senescence. The lecture itself will be a unique opportunity to hear about research into the most fundamental areas of evolutionary biology, given by an excellent speaker and communicator of scientific ideas.

2019 The History of the Periodic Table Dr Peter Wothers

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table, so it seemed appropriate that this year’s Eckersley lecture should reflect Mendeleev’s marvellous monument to the elements. This year’s speaker is Dr Peter Wothers, a Teaching Fellow in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and Director of Studies in Chemistry at St Catharine’s College. A fantastically engaging speaker, Peter has a keen interest in the history of chemistry and has amassed a significant collection of early works

on the subject, and so is doubtless the right person to further our understanding of the most iconic image in science.

Peter is involved with the Chemistry Olympiad, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, setting challenging papers for Sixth Form students, and is Chair of the Steering Committee for the International Chemistry Olympiad. Working with colleagues and teachers across the country, he created the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge with both an international online competition and a demanding written paper aimed at 6.1 (year 12) students in the UK. He is the author of numerous textbooks intended to bridge the gap between Sixth Form and University level chemistry, including Why Chemical Reactions Happen with James Keeler. Peter is heavily involved in promoting chemistry to young students and members of the public, including presenting the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, The Modern Alchemist, in 2012. He was awarded the 2011 President's Award by the Royal Society of Chemistry for his out-reach activities, and in 2014 was awarded an MBE for services to chemistry.

2018   Professor Sir Roger Penrose

Professor Sir Roger Penrose is a decorated mathematical physicist and philosopher of science. Best known for his work on general relativity, Roger shared the Wolf Prize for Physics with long-time friend and collaborator, Stephen Hawking, for their work on singularities (such as black holes) that he proved can arise from the gravitational collapse of massive, dying stars. Roger's innovative twistor theory, a key tool in quantum theory, provides a pathway to a theory of quantum gravity. The most well-known of his mathematical discoveries is Penrose tiling, a form of tiling which is non-periodic and so has no translational symmetry, which has subsequently been observed experimentally in quasicrystal structures. 

Roger’s numerous awards in physics and mathematics include the Eddington Medal, the Royal Medal, the Copley medal, and the de Morgan Medal. Roger was elected to the Royal Society in 1972, knighted in 1994, and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2000. He has also written a number of popular books include The Road to Reality, The Emperor’s New Mind, and, most recently, Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the Physics of the New Universe. 


The Past, Present and Future of Memory

Professor Eleanor Maguire FMedSci, FRS

Professor Eleanor is currently a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, UK, where she is also the Deputy Head.  In addition, she is an honorary member of the Department of Neuropsychology, National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. Eleanor heads the Memory and Space research laboratory at the Centre. She has won a number of prizes for outstanding contributions to science and has also been elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society. 


Is Life Quantum Mechanical? The emerging science of quantum biology

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Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE  

Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE is a physicist, author and broadcaster based at the University of Surrey, where he also holds a chair in the Public Engagement in Science. He received his PhD in theoretical nuclear physics in 1989 from Surrey before working as Postdoctoral Fellow at UCL. He returned to Surrey and was awarded a five year EPSRC Advanced Research Fellowship in 1994. He was promoted to professor of physics in 2005


Cosmology with Microwave Background Radiation

Professor Anthony Readhead

Robinson Professor of Astronomy at Caltech (The California Institute of Technology). Since the late 70s, has made significant contributions to our understanding of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Director Owens Valley Radio Observatory and the Chajnantor Observatory in Chile.

2014 The Science Delusion

Dr Rupert Sheldrake

After obtaining his PhD, Sheldrake became a fellow of Clare College, working in biochemistry and cell biology with funding from the Royal Society Rosenheim Research Fellowship. His theory of 'Morphic Resonance' has come in for a lot of criticism from other scientists.


Will We Survive the 21st Century?

Lord Robert Winston

Advises the House of Lords on Education, Science, Medicine and the Arts. Was Chairman of House of Lords Select Committee on Science, Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.


The Limits of Science

Professor Peter Atkins

Prolific author, also founding chairman of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry Committee on Chemistry Education, and is a trustee of a variety of charities.


Will the world End in 2012?: The Astronomical Evidence

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell FRS FRAS

Discovered the first Radio Pulsars that led to a Nobel Prize for Antony Hewish & Dr Martin Ryle. President of the Royal Astronomical Society and first female President of the Institute of Physics.


The Foundation of The Royal Society in 1660

Dr Allan Chapman

Founder Member and President of the Society for the History of Astronomy. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.


The Genius of Michael Faraday

Sir John Meurig Thomas

Director of the Royal Institution. Gave the 1987 RI Christmas Lecture. He has authored over one thousand scientific articles and several books. The mineral Meurigite is named after him.


Utopia Theory: The Physics of Society

Philip Ball

Science writer, author of many books. Editor of Nature magazine for over 20 years. Holds a degree in chemistry and a doctorate in physics.


The Brain: The Final Frontier

Prof Michael O’Shea

Founding Director of the Sussex Centre for Neuroscience; Co-Director of the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics.


Nanotechnology: Small is Beautiful

Prof Brian Johnson FRS

Former governor of Bedales. He was also Head of Inorganic Chemistry at Cambridge and a Master of Fitzwilliam College.


The 21st Century Brain

Prof Steven Rose

Established the Brain Research Group, focusing on the biological processes in memory formation and treatments for Alzheimer’s.


Astronomy from Space

Prof Ken Pounds CBE FRS

Member of the Science and Engineering Research Council; President of the Royal Astronomical Society; First Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.


It’s All on the Surface

Prof Charles Stirling FRS

Delivered the 1992 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Organises Science Week in South Yorkshire.


Civil Engineering

Prof Patrick Dowding FRS

He was consultant to the design team for the Thames Barrier. Chairman Designate of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.


The Evolution of Life

Prof Richard Fortey FRS

Had a long career as a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. His research interests include, above all, trilobites and he has named numerous trilobite species.


Mechanical Engineering

Prof Graham Parker

University of Surrey Head of Mechanical Engineering, and Head of the Mechatronic Systems and Robotics Research Group.


Imaging and Surgery: The Road Ahead.

Prof I. R. Young OBE FRS

A pioneer of MRI, he performed the world’s first scan of the head in 1978 then led the team that designed the world’s first superconducting MRI system at Hammersmith Hospital in 1981.



Prof Anthony Campbell

His chemiluminescent technology received the Queen's Anniversary Prize; selected as one of the top 100 inventions by universities in the past 50 years, now used in over 100 million clinical tests per year.


The Detection of Molecules in Deep Space

Prof Ian Smith FRS

Emeritus Professor in the School of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham and a Senior Research Fellow in the Cambridge Department of Chemistry.


The Quantum Society and the Quantum Self

Danah Zohar

Studied Physics and Philosophy at MIT, postgraduate work in Philosophy, Religion & Psychology at Harvard. Runs workshops on spiritual intelligence, spiritual capital and their connection with sustainability.


The Study of Bird’s Brains


Prof Sir J.R. Krebs

Is a cross bencher in the House of Lords. Chairs the National Network of Science Learning Centres, serves on the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.



Sir Walter Bodmer FRS

Was one of the first to suggest the idea of the Human Genome Project and was the President of HUGO. Has made major contributions to cancer genetics. Gave the RI Christmas Lecture in 1984.


Magic, Folk Medicine, Drugs and Chemistry

Dr Keith Jones

Leader of Medicinal Chemistry Team Three in the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute of Cancer Research.



Prof Max Perutz

Worked out the first protein structure of Haemoglobin. Gave the RI Christmas Lecture 1980. He was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for chemistry.


So Many Species and So Little Time

Prof Sir John Lawton CBE FRS

Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and former Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council. Currently Vice President of the RSPB.


Advances in Organ Transplantation


Dr David White

In conjunction with Professor Sir Roy Calne, he undertook much of the original experimental and clinical work that led to the development of the immunosuppressive drug Cyclosporin A.


Birth of the Cosmos

Prof Paul Davies

Prizes include the 2001 Kelvin Medal and Prize and the 2002 Faraday Prize. He was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2007. The asteroid 6870 Pauldavies is named after him.


The Voyager Exploration of the Outer Planets

Dr Garry Hunt

Worked for NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) as sole British scientist on the 'Voyager' planetary probes. ITN space adviser. Regular on ‘The Sky at Night’.


Why Is It Dark At Night?

Prof Sir Hermann Bondi KCB FRS

Born in Austria, he came to Britain in 1937 but was interned on the Isle of Man during World War 2. He was released by the end of 1941 and worked with Fred Hoyle on radar systems.


Sensation and Perception in People and Animals

Prof Colin Blakemore FRS

He writes regularly on science and, in 1988, he produced a 13-part series, Mind Machine, for the BBC. In 1989, he was awarded the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize for public communication.


Chemical Influences on Behaviour

Prof Derek Bryce-Smith

Found that intensive farming removed chemicals such as Zinc and Magnesium, essential for proper brain & nervous system function and Chromium for maintaining blood sugar levels.


The Evolution of Macromolecules: DNA & Proteins

Prof Sir David Phillips

Received a life peerage as Baron Phillips of Ellesmere. Gave the RI Christmas Lectures in 1980. Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology.


Nuclear Energy and the Future

Sebastian Pease

Old Bedalian 1934 - 1940. Director of the Culham Laboratory for Plasma Physics and Nuclear Fusion.


Time, Temperature and Life

Prof J.L. Monteith FRS

Has researched the environment in agri-culture, crop micro-climate, physiology of crop growth, radiation climatology heat balance in animals & physical and physiological variables in agriculture.


Introduction to Catastrophe Theory

Prof Erik Zeeman FRS

Set up the Department of Mathematics at Warwick University. Gave the RI Christmas Lecture 1978 out of which grew the Maths Master Classes for 13 year olds that flourish in forty centres around the UK.


The Development of Cellular Patterns

Prof Louis Wolpert FRS CBE

Gave the RI Christmas Lecture 1986. Emeritus Professor of Biology at University College London.


Signals from Space

Dr Gareth Wynn Williams

Involved with Infrared/Radio studies of Galaxies and Star Formation regions. Chair of the Astronomy Graduate Program in Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.


The Radiocarbon Revolution

Prof Colin Renfrew

Created a life peer in 1991 as Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn


Host and Dose in Disease

Prof Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick

First woman president of the Royal College of Physicians.


Our Golden Age of Science

Nigel Calder

Science writer with subjects ranging from particle physics to social psychology. Editor of New Scientist. First TV professional to win the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the popularisation of science.


The Smallest Particles of Matter

Dr Otto Frisch FRS

Emeritus Professor of Physics at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. Head of the Critical Assembly Group for the Manhattan Project during WW2.


Science and the Sea

Sir Alistair Hardy

Founded the Religious Experience Research Centre in 1969, after retiring as a professor at Oxford.


Science in the Modern World

Prof Sir Lawrence Bragg

Nobel Prize Winner in 1915 at the very early age of 25  (youngest-ever laureate). Gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1931, 1934 &  1961.

Peter Eckersley was born in 1892 and attended Bedales School from 1902-1911. Whilst at Bedales he and his friend Robert Best became interested in the emerging field of radio transmission and carried out some amazing experiments at ‘Wavy Lodge’ (below).

After attending Manchester University, he served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War achieving the rank of Captain. He then went on to become the first engineer at the experimental station 2MT set up by Marconi in an ex-army hut at Writtle, Essex. He also became an on-air announcer. Eckersley found that he had a flair for radio broadcast entertainment and put on many performances, along with his small team of colleagues, from the studio in the old army hut. The programmes would consist of records, spoofs, plays and other music. The station was initially allowed to transmit its test transmissions for only half an hour a week.

Dame Nellie Melba made one of the first broadcasts from 2MT at 7.10 pm on 15th June 1920 consisting of a concert of opera music to entertain the listeners. The broadcast opened with a recital of Home Sweet Home and finished with the National Anthem.

By May 1922, seeing the commercial potential of radio broadcasting, Marconi's company was in talks with wireless set manufacturers and other interested organisations to set up more broadcasting stations around the country under an umbrella organisation called the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

On 18 October 1922 the British Broadcasting Company was formed - with the government granting the BBC a licence to operate - and 14 November 1922 saw the official opening of the BBC London station 2LO, with Captain Peter Eckersley, the first engineer at 2MT, appointed as the BBC's first Chief Engineer.

Thomas Lydwell Eckersley was born on 27 December 1886 in London. In his early life he was interested in engineering and in scientific devices and had a desire to emulate his father and build bridges.

At the age of 11 he went to Bedales School and developed an interest in mathematics. He left at the age of 15 to attend University College London to read Engineering but found that he wasn’t really suited to it and achieved a second class degree. On leaving university he went to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and worked on the influence of alternating magnetic fields. Through this work he became interested in magnetic detectors for radio waves and experimented with radio apparatus at home.

In 1910 he left the NPL and went to Trinity College, Cambridge to read Mathematics as an advanced student. After achieving his BA, he spent some time in the Cavendish Laboratory continuing his work on the effect of high-frequency fields on magnetic substances. Realising that he preferred theoretical to practical work, he left to take up a post with the Egyptian Government Survey as an Inspector and one of his duties was to make astronomical observations with the Reynolds 30-inch reflecting telescope.

During the First World War he served with the Royal Engineers (training his own ‘hush-hush’ signal unit) and the Cairo Expeditionary Force.

After the War, he joined the Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Company as a Consulting Engineer studying Variation Densities and Ionisation Effects, publishing many papers. He then went on to become the Chief Scientific Adviser and remained with them for the rest of his career.

Thomas Eckersley took out a number of patents during his career, including 'Improvements in Radio Transmitting Systems' where he outlines an invention to eradicate the "harmonics which are radiated when the set is working efficiently".