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Sir Richard Sykes

(Rector, 2001-08)
looks back over Imperial's Centenary year

Watch the video of the Rector talking about the events and achievements of the Centenary year. Or read the transcript below.

Sir Richard Sykes: Throughout 2007, Imperial College London celebrated 100 years of living science - the Centenary of its foundation in 1907. I’m Sir Richard Sykes, the Rector of Imperial, and I'd like to show you some of the highlights of our Centenary year.

Cake cutting at Silwood Park We began the year with Centenary Launch Day in January, which saw celebrations across our campuses. All our sites were decorated with banners and balloons, and the Queen’s Tower bells at South Kensington heralded the opening of the celebrations.

But our favourite way of marking the day proved to be through food. Our birthday cakes, cut and served at every campus, proved very popular, with over 5,000 pieces eaten throughout the day. Meanwhile the catering team, dressed in historical costumes, sold nearly 3,000 meals based on a 1907 menu which had been newly-discovered in the College archives, which sold for the princely sum of 30 shillings, equating to one pound fifty in today's money.
Photo above: Cake cutting at Silwood Park.

In the evening, 750 people joined me to look back over Imperial's fascinating, and often surprising, history with a Centenary Launch Lecture which also made some predictions for the future of scientific research at the College. If you want to know more about that, you can still download a video podcast of the lecture or watch a web stream on the Centenary website.

January’s launch day also marked the public launch of Imperial’s Centenary fundraising campaign to raise £207 million from philanthropic donations. We are well on the way to raising the full amount by July 2010 and will use the funding to provide scholarships for gifted students, contribute to building and refurbishing projects across our campuses and supporting our academic mission.

Boosts to the campaign during 2007 included a gift of £12.8 million from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment which enabled us to establish the Grantham Institute for Climate Change; and two generous gifts from the Goldsmiths and the City and Guilds of London Institute towards the College’s EnVision 2010 project, which seeks to enrich engineering education at Imperial.

Ben Ryall completing the London Marathon We’ve seen some unusual fundraising activities for the campaign during 2007. The Support Services ‘Runners and Riders’ Benefit Dinner attracted over 650 guests from more than 80 of the College’s major advisers, suppliers and consultants. One of the biggest fundraising events of the year, this racenight raised over £40,000 and looks set to become an annual event.

Keeping on the sporting theme, Ben Ryall, a PhD student at the College, ran the London marathon in aid of the Student Opportunities Fund. Completing the world famous route, in just 2 hours and 53 minutes, Ben raised £25,000.
Photo left: Ben Ryall on completing the London Marathon

It's not just Ben who’s been busy this year – most of Imperial’s student community have been involved in some form of Centenary celebration . I’ll let Stephen Brown, the current Imperial College Union President tell you more…..

Stephen Brown: Imperial students wasted no time in marking the Centenary year with Jezebel, the Union’s 1916 Dennis N type fire engine, bring driven around London’s New Year’s Day Parade by students and alumni.

The student community took part in a whole range of special activities during 2007. Imperial sporting clubs hosted the IDEA League Sports Event in June when 100 students from our European partner universities competed in a range of sporting activities. The final part of the three day event was the Centenary London Challenge in which groups of students were let loose on the city to complete a number of tasks. Our colleagues from Aachen won the overall sports event – but all those involved enjoyed the challenges and friendly competition.

Imperial’s musical community also played a key role in the College’s birthday celebrations. Imperial’s symphony orchestra gave a spectacular Centenary performance at Kensington’s Cadogan Hall in March and then played a key role on Exhibition Road Music Day in June. Performances included the College Gospel Choir who sung outside the main entrance, and the Imperial College Sinfonietta-String Quartet played to passers by on Exhibition Road. The Big Band entertained staff and students on their lunch break and ending the day, the Imperial Brass Band and the Symphony Orchestra played on Dalby Court. DramSoc even performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the Queen’s Lawn after sunset!

On a slightly less cultural note, we launched a special Centenary ale in the Imperial College Union bar – apparently over 10,000 pints have been enjoyed during 2007!

Survivors photographBut the highlight of the student Centenary calendar has to be the Summer Ball held here at South Kensington. Over 2,500 students, staff and alumni danced the night away at the sell out event and 500 were treated to a formal dinner in the Queen’s Lawn marquee. All guests enjoyed live music, a casino, fireworks display and a funfair, which even the Rector was caught enjoying! Hundreds of students and staff even lasted until the early hours of the next morning for the traditional survivor’s photograph by the Queen’s Tower!
Photo above: The survivors at the Centenary Summer Ball

Sir Richard Sykes: I didn’t stay up late enough to be part of the famous photograph – but the ball really was a spectacular event. It was particularly pleasing to see so many alumni at the ball chatting to current students, no doubt sharing memories and similar experiences.

Hannah Gay with her Imperial history bookIndeed, a celebration on the scale of our 100th birthday just wouldn’t be complete without involving our former staff and students. One of our alumni, Dr Hannah Gay, made a significant contribution to the Centenary by publishing the first official written history of the College. A former student of chemistry in the 1960s, and now a member of our Centre for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine, Hannah spent the last five years researching in the College archives and interviewing over 40 key individuals from our past.
Photo above: Hannah Gay with her History of Imperial book

Her effort has certainly paid off and the book is a great success, providing both a comprehensive narrative of Imperial’s history but also unearthing some fascinating nuggets about life at the College over the years. Hannah’s book is available to buy on campus and through the Centenary website

Here’s Fiona Kirk, our Director of Development, on some of the other ways our alumni have marked the Centenary year.

Fiona Kirk: Alumni reunion weekendImperial’s alumni family have been celebrating the College’s 100th birthday both here on campus and all over the world. Nearly 900 alumni and guests travelled to South Kensington from as far as Venezuela, South Africa and Australia to join our Centenary alumni reunion in September. After a quiz about Imperial’s history, departments opened their doors to welcome back their former students allowing them to see how things have changed and developed since their own student days.
Photo right: Alumni reunion weekend.

Our alumni enjoyed the opportunity to hear lectures by current Imperial academic stars, see demonstrations in their old departments and climb the Queen’s Tower. And we of course ensured there was plenty of time for our former students and catch up with each other, the social highlight of the weekend being the reunion dinner in the Queen’s Lawn marquee.

Our international alumni groups have also hosted events around the world for our global community. Special reunion dinners and events have taken place in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Thailand, USA and across Europe.

And to truly mark our growing family of Imperial College alumni around the globe, we celebrated a special Centenary Asia Convocation in Singapore in November, to which all Imperial graduates were welcome to attend.

We’ve also helped to host several international academic symposia as part of the Centenary calendar of events. In September, we hosted a meeting on energy, healthcare and the environment in association with MIT in Boston allowing us to both build international academic links and also connect with our US based alumni. And in November, we held two major symposia in Malaysia and Singapore focussing on developments in management, technology and healthcare giving alumni there exclusive insights into current thinking and research at the College.

Sir Richard Sykes: Back at South Kensington, 2007 has been marked by a series of academic events and prestigious Centenary lectures by distinguished speakers including Craig Venter, Lord May, Lord Winston and James Watson. All these lectures, and many more, are available to download and enjoy from the College website.

Dr Naheed Alizadeh (INSPIRE) and the Rector dancing at the Centenary Staff PartyTwo events really stick in my mind as real peaks of the Centenary celebrations – and both of them fell in the birthday week itself in early July. Firstly, the Centenary Staff Party. One of the aims of the Centenary year from its outset was to help build a stronger sense of community at the College – and the party here at South Kensington certainly did that! Nearly 4,000 staff travelled from all our campuses to take part in an enormous range of activities. There was too much going on to describe it all here – so let me show you a short film of some of the highlights of the fantastic party.......
Photo left: Dr Naheed Alizadeh (INSPIRE) and the Rector dancing at the Centenary Staff Party

But the centrepiece of 2007 was, of course, Imperial’s actual 100th birthday in early July. We celebrated that landmark day with a special ceremony in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Honorary graduationThey opened Imperial's new Institute of Biomedical Engineering before taking part in an honorary graduation ceremony that celebrated both the Centenary and Imperial's newly found independence as a university in its own right. Through receiving our new Royal Charter we have recommitted ourselves to the research and teaching that will improve quality of life worldwide.
Photo right: Honorary graduates

2007 contained too many events and activities to mention them all. All our campuses have marked the year in some way – from Silwood Park arranging a special seminar series to Charing Cross hosting an open day involving 150 school children interested in a career in Medicine. It has been a wonderful year for the College – one in which we have seen Imperial climb to 5th in the world university rankings.

My thanks go to everyone, both here at the College today and in our global alumni community, who have made the Centenary celebrations such an enormous success.

This is just my story of 2007. The Centenary website contains many more stories of the celebrations and memories of College life from our century. I do hope you’ll visit the site and explore the wealth of memories and stories stored there.

  © 2007 Imperial College London

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