We were delighted to welcome to school Professor John C Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Lecturer at the University of Glasgow and semi-professional magician, on Thursday 24 January for a special lecture to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Old Bedfordian and fellow Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smythe.

Professor Brown, who travelled from Glasgow especially for the event, took to the stage of our Quarry Theatre and conducted a high-speed tour of the wonders of our cosmos, from shooting stars to planets, stars, galaxies and beyond, showing the diversity and beauty of how they look and how they work. He addressed the remarkable workings of aurorae and magnetic eruptions on the sun, as well as the nature of gravity and black holes.

The magical mystery tour is part of a series of lectures organised by Bedford School’s Harpur Science Forum. Local secondary and independent schools were invited to attend along with Bedford School pupils and their parents. We were thrilled to see the theatre brimming with wonder and excitement – every seat was filled.

President of the Harpur Science Forum, Upper Sixth Former Ify Emmanuel-Odiachi, shares his review:

“Professor John Brown’s ‘Magical Mystery Tour of Our Amazing Cosmos’  was truly an impressive event. The Quarry Theatre was completely packed, leading people to resort to watching the lecture from the Cafe Bar.  The Lecture began with a small demonstration of magic, which I had the pleasure of taking part in. It was simply a demonstration of the speed of light. Despite this fact being common knowledge, Professor Brown managed to recreate the childish wonder the audience experienced when we first wrapped their heads around how fast light can travel in mere seconds. And all this was done with a fake thumb and some fast hands. This really sums up the lecture; a true mix of magic and physics. It was an exploration of our universe that ignited a passion for astronomy in both the young and old alike. When you realise the sheer scale of the celestial bodies, it makes you feel quite small, yet unique in your own complexity! I would highly recommend seeing Professor Brown speak if you have the chance. The Harpur Science Forum is free and is a great opportunity to develop your interest in current scientific affairs. We tend to bring in lectures from a range of disciplines so there is sure to be a topic which could interest you throughout the year.”

Head of Science at Bedford School, Mr Mike Beale FRSB, said, “I would like to thank Professor Brown for giving so generously of his time, expertise and enthusiasm – to inspire another generation of astronomers with his powerful mix of story-telling and magic.”

This lecture is one of Bedford School’s many free events that are open to the public. Do take a look through our What’s On guide for details of all our events.   

Mr Linton Guise, Astronomer in Residence, was delighted to be able to show Professor Brown the school’s observatory and planetarium, and introduce him to the boys from the observatory club. Mr Guise told us, “Professor Brown treated us to a dazzling tour of the universe from meteorite impacts to wormholes with a sprinkling of magic along the way! It was certainly the most entertaining science lecture we have hosted in school. We were also delighted to have Professor Brown, who is Astronomer Royal for Scotland, visit the school observatory and planetarium. He spent quite some time chatting to the observatory team and seemed very impressed with the school’s outreach programme.”


The school’s observatory is named after Charles Piazzi Smythe (OB 1827-35).  The Old Bedfordian held the prestigious post of Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1845 to 1876. However, the majority of his most of his notable work in astronomy was carried out elsewhere.

Read Charles Piazzi Smythe’s Wikipedia Bio

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