UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL Maths academic to deliver the Christmas Lectures

11 December 2019

Dr Hannah Fry is to deliver the Royal Institution’s 2019 Christmas Lectures.

Dr Hannah Fry

Dr Fry will deliver Secrets and Lies: The Hidden Power of Maths, which will be a series of three lectures broadcast from the Royal Institution’s theatre in London.

Through the lectures she will show how to decode life’s hidden numbers, helping listeners to understand how some of the most astonishing miracles can be understood with probability, how big data dictates many of the trends people follow and how powerful algorithms secretly influence even our most important life choices.

“I’d argue that maths is the most important idea that humans have ever had. It’s the foundation of science. Its application has transformed our world. But because so much of it is invisible, we just don’t realise how powerful it is or the extent to which it influences our every decision,” Dr Fry explained.

“Much of what maths does for us, is clearly for the benefit of society – it keeps skyscrapers standing and planes in the air, it helps us stay connected and hides behind the cures for when we’re ill. It’s also the most glorious playground, so we’ll be spending a lot of time sharing some of its delights with our young audience.”

Through asking big ethical questions, Dr Fry will also warn how our unwavering faith in numbers may lead to disaster, questioning whether there are problems which maths shouldn’t be allowed to solve.

She continued: “You have to be careful not to get carried away, because maths also has the potential to go horribly wrong. I believe we should all be thinking more deeply about the place of maths in our lives and I will be asking some challenging questions to help show who’s really in control.” 

In her first lecture, Dr Fry will discuss whether the biggest events in our lives such as finding the perfect partner rely on an element of luck or not. In her second, she will demonstrate how data-gobbling algorithms have taken over our lives and now control much of what we do without us realising.

Her third lecture will look at examples of human miscalculation and question whether we should always place our trust in numbers.

Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of the Royal Institution, said: “At the Royal Institution we want everyone to discover and critically examine the way in which science shapes the world around us. 

“This year we’re leading a national conversation about the place of maths in our lives, because we all need to be sure it’s continuing to create a society we want to live in.” 

The 2019 Christmas Lectures will be filmed in the Royal Institution’s theatre on the 12, 14 and 17 December, and broadcast on BBC Four on the 26th, 27th and 28th of December

Other UCL academics who have delivered the Christmas Lectures in recent years include Professor Sophie Scott (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) in 2017 and Dr Kevin Fong (UCL Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy) in 2015.



  • Dr Hannah Fry. Credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography


Media contact

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk