With the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, I was drawn to revisit the royal origins of the Royal Institution of Australia, starting with the origins of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the sister organisation of the Royal Institution of Australia.
The Royal Institution of Great Britain (RiGB) is a creation of that period in history that we know of as the Enlightenment. The organisation was founded in 1799, when leading scientists and a collection of the great and good of Great Britain were assembled in the house of Sir Joseph Banks, with the mission of building an organisation tasked with disseminating scientific knowledge and innovation throughout the population.
Banks was the president of the Royal Society, the older learned society of scientists, and has his connection with Australia as the naturalist who accompanied Captain Cook on his voyage to Botany Bay in 1770 and amazed and delighted the world with the unique flora and fauna that he bought back to London from this voyage.
What I found fascinating is that the original funding for the Royal Institution of Great Britain came from a charitable foundation, The Society for Bettering the Conditions and Improving the Comforts of the Poor. A genuine enlightenment idea: that disseminating learning to all can create a better society.
There is another prominent Australian connection to this Enlightenment scientific organisation. And that is through Sir William Henry Bragg and his son, Sir William Lawrence Bragg. The father and son won the Nobel Prize for their services in analysing crystal structures using X-rays. Sir William Henry, English born in 1862, at 23, was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Adelaide, where his son William Lawrence was born. In his 24 years in Australia, Sir William the elder had a profound influence on the development of research and education in the emerging nation.
In 1923 when returned to England, Sir William Snr re-established and redeveloped the research laboratories at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, where he worked and lectured.
The Royal Institution of Australia was founded in Adelaide in 2005. Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist and a director of the RiGB, was undertaking a year in Australia as the thinker in residence in South Australia. Baroness Greenfield proposed the idea of a Royal Institution of Australia to the then South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, who wholeheartedly supported the idea. Funding was obtained from state and federal governments and prominent South Australian businesses, and 17 years later, we continue using our publishing and education initiatives to ensure that all Australians have access to scientific facts for the benefit and betterment of all of us.
Those extraordinary Enlightenment gentlemen meeting in Sir Joseph Banks’ sitting room in 1799 would be amazed at the means we have at our disposal to disseminate facts to the public. What those gentlemen and we have in common is that we passionately believe that giving as many facts to as many people as possible leads to many of the advantages we benefit from today. I’m sure that they would also believe as we do that there is so much more to do.
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As the RiGB gained community support in 1799, there are many ways that the RiAus can be supported. Much of what we do is distributed without charge. This dives directly into the heart of what we do. However, we do offer subscriptions to some of our products.
One such product is our quarterly Cosmos Magazine, Australia’s flagship science publication, available in print and digital forms. It is an award-winning publication of the highest quality, wonderful long-form pieces of world-class science journalism. It’s a wonderful adornment to the Australian publishing industry. The 96th edition of Cosmos Magazine is out this coming Thursday 29 September and is a bumper edition featuring pieces on AI, the James Webb telescope, and the physics of vision. This long-form science journalism is a wonderful way of immersing yourself in a more expansive, fantastic universe. And a subscription makes a wonderful gift, perhaps a gift to inspire a new generation in science.
A Cosmos Magazine subscription is not only a treat in itself for lovers of science; it is a powerful way that all can support the whole work of the institution, work that sees us provide over 40 pieces of science journalism through our digital written work, our podcasts, our videos and our educational materials to the community at no charge each week. We also supply our mainstream media partners with content to deeply extend science facts’ reach into Australia.
Subscribing to our quality magazine, in print and digital, is a contemporary link to the 1799 Enlightenment ideal. It provides a means of furthering our love and engagement in science but at the same time supports the broader ideal that if as many of us are better informed with the facts that science brings us and as many of us are given the majestic view of the universe that science provides, the better all of us will be.
To that end I am happy to extend to all RiAus email subscribers a special offer of 10% off any Cosmos Magazine print or digital subscription.
At any time during the next month use the coupon code riaus10 at the Cosmos online store to receive this special pricing and our thanks.
Yours in science,
The Royal Institution of Australia
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There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.