The CLCC yearly honorary lecture features a distinguished speaker who has overcome the narrow boundaries of their discipline in an inspirational way – the embodiment of all that the Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication stands for.

The lecture series is named after the distinguished germanist, Charmian Brinson, an Emeritus Professor of German at Imperial College London. Prof Brinson joined the College in 1979, and was the Director of the Humanities Programme from 2001 to 2005, when her work was instrumental in developing the Programme. This would eventually lead to what we now know as Imperial Horizons.

Previous Speakers

Professor Roberto Trotta (2022)   

Professor Roberto Trotta is an astrostatistician, science communicator, author and former CLCC Director. He is presently on leave of absence from Imperial and seconded to the International School of Advanced Studies in Trieste (SISSA) leading a new data science group.

In his talk entitled ‘the need for Humanities in an AI-dominated future’, Professor Trotta walked the audience through the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), looking in detail at the impact that the all-pervasive use of AI-enabled decision making is having on our lives. Referring to the work of Alan Turing and Joseph Weizenbaum amongst others, he agreed with the latter that, fundamentally, computers should not be given tasks which demand wisdom.  

Professor Trotta discussed the pernicious gender and racial biases of data culled from the internet and his fears of a digital future where, he conjectured, we risked losing our essential humanity. Whilst, he said, it is the tendency of AI to ‘flatten everything to the dimension of efficiency’, he asserted the role of humanities to keep science true to the nature of life, and called for the involvement of philosophers, historians, psychologists, writers and poets to ensure that in an AI-dominated future we do not lose the most important aspects of human life.

At the speaker’s request, this particular lecture was not recorded.

Dr Xand van Tulleken

Dr Alexander 'Xand' van Tulleken (2021)   

Dr Alexander van Tulleken trained in medicine at the University of Oxford and has pursued further study in Tropical Medicine (University of Liverpool), International Humanitarian Assistance (Fordham University) and Public Health (Harvard). His primary interest is in health care delivery and public health in wars and disasters. He has worked for Médecins du Monde, Merlin, and the World Health Organisation in humanitarian crises around the world.

Dr van Tulleken (known on TV as ‘Dr Xand’) has presented many flagship health and science television programmes, often in partnership with his identical twin brother, Dr Christoffer van Tulleken (‘Dr  Chris’). These include BBC and Channel 4 productions Operation Ouch, Horizon, Secret Life of Twins, and How to Lose Weight Well among others. Xand's television work has won him two BAFTAs and a Broadcast Award.

In the first ever online Charmian Brinson Honorary Lecture, Dr Xand delivered a thought-provoking talk entitled 'Camps, Cameras and Coronavirus: how not to communicate in a crisis'. Beginning with his own exposure to science as a child, Xand touched upon his fascination with medicine before focusing on his experience working in humanitarian medicine in Sudan. Looking at a range of refugee camps and crisis situations, he explored some of the challenges faced by aid providers in managing messaging both locally and internationally and its impact. Dr Xand closed with some fascinating insights into his television work, in particular Operation Ouch, before answering a wide range of questions about crisis management, TV and medicine.

View the recording of Camps, Cameras and Coronavirus: how not to communicate in a crisis (April 2021)

Helen Sharman at Imperial

Dr Helen Sharman (2020)

Helen Sharman was Britain's first astronaut, launching into space as part of the Soviet Union's Project Juno in 1991. Since her return to Earth, Helen has worked in has spent many years communicating science and its benefits to the public. In 1993 Helen was awarded an OBE, and in 2018, a rare and special honour, being made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for services to Science and Technology Educational Outreach.

In her lecture, 'From Mars to the Stars', Helen took the audience on a journey into space, describing how, as a Chemistry graduate working in industry, she was selected for a space mission and through that experience, learned to appreciate science in a totally different way. The audience learned about her selection and intensive training at the USSR's Star City and about the complexities of living on the Mir Space Station. Stressing the importance of communicating science accurately, Helen dispelled myths about gravity and weightlessness and wowed the audience with the realities of travelling in a Soyuz spacecraft at orbital velocity.

Heidi Thomas

Heidi Thomas (2019)

Heidi Thomas is one of the UK's top screenwriters, and her acclaimed career in stage, film and television drama spans 25 years. Her theatrical work has been produced by the Liverpool Playhouse, Almeida, Royal Court and Chichester Festival Theatres, by the National Theatre Studio, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and seen on Broadway. Her classic adaptations for the large and small screen include Cranford, Return to Cranford, Madame Bovary, Ballet Shoes, I Capture The Castle and Little Women. Other credits include her hit BBC show Call the Midwife, which has topped the UK ratings for seven years, and is seen in 197 countries worldwide. Heidi’s work has been acknowledged and awarded by the Emmys, BAFTA, the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain, the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Christopher Society, the Broadcasting Press Guild, and the Royal Television Society.

In her lecture entitled 'True, Dare, Kiss: The Art of Science in Popular Drama', Heidi explored the connections between fact, fiction and emotional engagement when communicating with a mass audience. She discussed research techniques, the technical challenges of transposing medical and surgical content to the screen, and using historical material to shine a light on the way we live today.

Professor Kneebone

Professor Roger Kneebone (2018)

Roger Kneebone is Professor of Surgical Education and Engagement Science in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Surgery & Cancer. He directs the Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science (ICCESS), a multi-disciplinary research team, whose aim is to advance human health through simulation. Leading an unorthodox and creative research group, Professor Kneebone has brought together clinicians, educationalists, computer scientists, psychologists, social scientists, design engineers and experts from the visual and performing arts.

Professor Kneebone also directs the Royal College of Music & Imperial College Centre for Performance Science. This ambitious collaboration is aimed at tackling major challenges of performance across a wide array of domains from the arts, education and business to medicine, science and sport. The Centre draws on dynamic collaborations already in place across the two institutions, spanning the arts, medicine, engineering, natural sciences and business.

In his lecture entitled 'Crossing Boundaries' Professor Roger Kneebone asked how scientists, clinicians, artists and performers can learn from one another, sharing ‘embodied ways of knowing’ that cross disciplinary boundaries. Drawing on his own research and the work of others, Professor Kneebone explored how experts from apparently unconnected areas of practice can inspire one another with new ways of thinking, bringing unexpected insights to the worlds of science and medicine.

Dame Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley (2017)

Dame Stephanie Shirley is a workplace revolutionary and successful IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist. She took her honours maths degree at evening classes but has been awarded over two dozen honorary doctorates. She believes that her creativity was triggered by the trauma of her childhood.

In her lecture entitled 'My Family in Exile' Dame Shirley spoke movingly of her flight from Vienna aged only five years old, accompanied by her sister but without any adults, on one of the famous Kindertransport trains of mercy. She linked her experiences on more than one occasion with refugees today from Syria and elsewhere trying to enter the UK, touching on universal themes of loss, identity and recreating one’s life in a new country and language.

Professor David Nutt

Professor David Nutt (2016)

David Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences. He broadcasts widely to the general public both on radio and television including BBC science and public affairs programmes on therapeutic as well as illicit drugs, their harms and their classification. He also lecturers widely to the public as well as to the scientific and medical communities.

Professor Nutt is currently Chair of DrugScience (formally the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) and President of the European Brain Council. Previously he has been President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) and the British Association of Psychopharmacology (BAP). In addition he is a Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Psychiatrists and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He is also the UK Director of the European Certificate and Masters in Affective Disorders Courses and a member of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. He has edited the Journal of Psychopharmacology for over two decades and acts as the psychiatry drugs advisor to the British National Formulary. He has published over 400 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and books chapters, eight government reports on drugs and 27 books.

Professor Nutt drew on his wealth of knowledge and experience to give a thought provoking lecture entitled ‘Time for scientists to take control of drug and alcohol policy?’

Lord Winston

Lord Professor Robert Winston (2015)

Lord Winston is Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College. He was the presenter of many BBC television series, including Your Life in Their Hands, Making Babies, Superhuman, The Secret Life of Twins, Child of Our Time, Human Instinct, The Human Mind, Frontiers of Medicine and the BAFTA award-winner The Human Body.

In the 1970s he developed gynaecological surgical techniques that improved fertility treatments. He later pioneered new treatments to improve in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and developed pre-implantation diagnosis. This allowed embryos to be screened for genetic diseases and has allowed parents carrying faulty genes to have children free of illnesses such as cystic fibrosis. He now runs a research programme at the institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College that aims to improve human transplantation.

Lord Winston fascinated students and staff with his lecture entitled 'Scientific Horizons: Threat or Promise...?'