Professor Christopher Zeeman presents the 1978 CHRISTMAS LECTURES® on “one of the oldest and most splendid endeavours of mankind”.

As he explains in his original introduction to the series maths is at its core a paradoxical subject:

"we are never quite sure whether it is an art or a science, whether we invent it or discover it, whether it is a man-made toy or a truth so universal that it is independent of the universe."

True to the tradition of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES®, Zeeman places practical demonstrations at the heart of his presentations, using diagrams and pictures to reveal the nature and beauty of mathematical theorems and illustrating different types of mathematical modelling.

The first three lectures start with a pure point of view to ask “What is the nature of mathematics?” before shifting to an applied point of view to explore the mathematics of nature.

Inspiring a Generation

These were the first CHRISTMAS LECTURES® in its then 149-year history to be presented on the subject of mathematics and the series is still lauded as inspiring a new generation of mathematicians. Amongst the live audience was a budding young mathematician called Marcus du Sautoy who went on to present the Lectures in 2006 entitled ‘The num8er my5teries’ [coming soon].

Furthermore, the enthusiasm generated by the series led Professor Zeeman to establish the Ri’s Mathematics Masterclasses programme in 1981. They continue to enable thousands of young people across the UK to participate in the hands-on and inspired learning that is the hallmark of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES®.

The lectures were filmed live by the BBC on 20, 22, 28 and 30 December 1978 with the final two shows presented on 2 and 4 January 1979.

Media Gallery

  • Professor Christopher Zeeman

    The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 1978

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Professor Christopher Zeeman

    The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 1978

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Professor Christopher Zeeman

    The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 1978

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Professor Christopher Zeeman

    The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 1978

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Professor Christopher Zeeman

    A 1987 Maths Masterclass: Demonstrating a practical proof of the theorem that locates the vanishing point of parallel lines within a painting.

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Professor Christopher Zeeman

    Maths Masterclass lecture 1987: Assisted by his daughter Francesca.

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Maths Masterclasses

    Cover of the original Gyroscopes and Boomeranges Masterclass book

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Maths Masterclasses

    Cover of the original Geometry and Perspectives Masterclass book

    Image: The Royal Institution

  • Maths Masterclasses

    Pieter de Hoogh perspectives drawing

    Image: The Royal Institution

Related link(s)

Related download(s)

CHRISTMAS LECTURES 1978: Mathematics into Pictures

The nature of mathematics and the mathematics of nature. By Sir Christopher Zeeman

Professor Christopher Zeeman

Image: The Royal Institution