To celebrate the start of the year of Darwin 2009 Dr Jeremy Pritchard and Dr Susannah Thorpe from the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences will deliver the 2008 Christmas Science Lecture to over one thousand 11 and 12 year olds from schools across the country. 

This interactive lecture will focus on the evolution of our increased brain size and upright locomotion.  Students will watch videos that illustrate the characteristics of the great apes, who are our closest relatives, and will participate in experiments to demonstrate the evolution of mankind. 

The audience will also participate in a series of exercises and tasks designed to examine the similarities and differences between us and our ape cousins - what are humans best at, what can an Orang-utan do better than a human and why, can humans walk like a gorilla or swing through the trees like a gibbon, who is the best chimp-walker in the audience? 

All the students who attend will wear monkey masks and will be taught how to walk like chimpanzees.   Mohammed Ansar from the University of Birmingham’s Outreach Office said, 'Christmas Lectures are a great opportunity for young people to learn about the pioneering research that is carried out at the University.  This lecture will give the students the opportunity to get involved in experiments in a fun and interactive environment yet learn a great deal about how humans have evolved over the eons into our present form.  We hope that the lectures will inspire the students to view the importance of science in our everyday lives and will encourage them to work that little bit harder back at school.'

Dr Susannah Thorpe, who will jointly deliver the lecture, says ‘We will demonstrate to the students how humans have become the dominant species on planet earth and how that is primarily due to the increase in brain size.  We will get the students to measure their own brain sizes and we will chart these during the lecture so they can see where they are on the scale.’

Father ‘Chimpmas’ will also drop in on the students at the end of every lecture to hand out gifts for them to take away before he gets back on his sleigh to fly to his next drop off point on his evolutionary journey.


Notes to Editors

Lecture dates:

  • Monday 15th December, 12pm
  • Tuesday 16th December, 10-11am, 11.30-1pm, 1.30pm – 2.30pm.
  • Venue: University of Birmingham, Haworth Building Lecture theatre 101.

2009 has been designated the International Year of Darwin and the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences will be delivering a large number of Darwin related lectures, workshops, masterclasses and related activity over the year.


At 12.15pm on Tuesday 16th December, the school students will be in the University’s Chancellor’s Court being taught how to walk like chimpanzees in their monkey masks.  Please phone the press office for accreditation on 0121 414 2772.

For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.

Mohammed Ansar, Outreach Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 7169 or 07974180154 (on the day of lectures)