Hoyle Project Public Events

Several public events have been held as part of the Hoyle Project, culminating in the Grand Finale on Saturday 19 March 2011.  You can find details of the events below, as well as some recordings, image galleries, and hands-on activities produced for them.

Hoyle Project Grand Finale

19 March 2011

The Hoyle Project came to an end in March 2011. The end of the project was celebrated with a day of free talks, exhibitions and hands-on activities as part of the Cambridge Science Festival and St John's College quincentenary celebrations.

People of all ages and all levels of scientific knowledge came along to find out more about the life and work of one of the twentieth century’s most creative and controversial scientists. 

Sir Fred Hoyle in the 1950s

Big Bang: the Life and Work of Fred Hoyle

An exhibition of the personal papers, books, and  artefacts of Sir Fred Hoyle revealing the life, work and personality of one of the twentieth century's most creative and controversial scientists.

Exhibits from this display continue to be available in the Hoyle online exhibition.

A display of artefacts and documents that once belonged to Sir Fred Hoyle.

Free Talks

Books, boxes and boots: the Life, Work and Papers of Fred Hoyle
Fred Hoyle was an astronomer, physicist, science fiction author and much more besides.  For the last three years Katie Birkwood, Hoyle Project Associate, has been cataloguing the collection of his personal papers and artefacts.  Having worked through 150 boxes of papers, she's pleased to report that there have been more than a few surprises.  Find out which are the most intriguing, unexpected, and revealing items in a collection spanning the life and career of one of the twentieth century's most creative and controversial scientists.

We regret that a recording of this talk is not currently available.

Searching for Cosmic Dawn: the Quest for the First Galaxies
The formation of the first stars and galaxies not only terminated the cosmic 'Dark Ages' but fundamentally altered the state of matter throughout the universe. For the first time, astronomers are close to capturing this early period of cosmic history. Find out more in a fascinating talk by Dr Dan Stark of the Institute of Astronomy.

Listen to the talk

The first stars in the Universe turn on at about 400 million years after the Big Bang. WMAP data reveals the era. Acknowledgement: NASA/WMAP Science Team.

Astrobiology: the Hunt for Alien Life
'Astrobiology' is a brand new field of science, encompassing research into the origins and limits of life on our own planet, and where life might exist beyond the Earth. But what actually is 'life' and how did it emerge on our own world? What are the most extreme conditions terrestrial life can tolerate? And what would an alien actually look like - how realistic are the life-forms envisaged by science fiction novels and films over the years? Join Dr Lewis Dartnell on a tour of the other planets and moons in our solar system which may harbour life, and even further afield to alien worlds orbiting distant stars, to explore one of the greatest questions ever asked: are we alone...?

Listen to the talk

Europa, moon of Jupiter, is thought to hide a sea of liquid water beneath its icy surface. Could an extraterrestrial ecosystem thrive in this dark alien ocean? © NASA

Build Your Own Astrolabe

The astrolabe is a medieval instrument for measuring and calculating the positions of the sun and stars.  At this hands-on session participants learnt how they work and constructed their very own working model to take home and try out.

Although this event has now happened, you can still try building an astrolabe at home, using this online astrolabe kit.



Therein lies a tale

Tuesday 26 October 2010

What do Chaucer, Wordsworth, Larkin and Hoyle all have in common?  Their manuscripts were all on display at St John's as part of the Cambridge University Festival of Ideas. 'Therein lies a tale' showcased some of the literary manuscripts and rare books held in St John's College Old Library.

In the evening some of the books displayed were investigated further in two engaging public talks.

Download or listen in different formats


Dr James Harmer (St John's College) spoke about a sixteenth century manuscript of Thomas Sackville's 'The Complaint of Henry Duke of Buckingham'.

Dr Ian Patterson (Queens' College) spoke about some first editions of early twentieth-century poetry under the title 'T.S. Eliot, the Hogarth Press, and Poetry Publishing'.

Beginning of a manuscript copy of Geoffrey Chaucer's poem 'Troilus and Criseide', MS L.1

Cover of the first edition of T.S. Eliot's poem 'The waste land'

Title page of the first edition of John Milton's poem 'Paradise lost'

Open Cambridge 2010


Friday 10 and Saturday 11 September 2010

Over 560 people visited the Library on 10 and 11 September and answered some fascinating questions about our collections:

Discover some of the treasures of St John’s College Old Library.  How old is our oldest manuscript?  How big is our biggest book?  Why is there a lizard in the Library?

Open Cambridge is a weekend of tours, talks and open access in which University and College buildings and collections go on show for families, local residents and community groups.  St John's College Library offered adults' tours on Friday 10 September and an all-day exhibition and family tours on Saturday 11 September.



'The Way to the Stars': 700 Years of Astronomy

Saturday 13 March 2010, 10am to 4pm

Hundreds of visitors came to St John's College Old Library to see an exhibition about the history of astronomy.  Some of the highlights included an early fifteenth-century copy of Geoffrey Chaucer's Treatise on the astrolabe and Sir Fred Hoyle's boyhood telescope.

Build Your Own Astrolabe

As part of the day groups of children and adults learnt how to build their own astrolabes.  The instructions are now also available online for anyone else who would like to have a go.

The exhibition and hands-on event were held as part of the annual Cambridge Science Festival.

Fred Hoyle's boyhood telescope in St John's College Old Library

A replica astrolabe built at St John's College



'The Way to the Stars': a History of College Astronomy


5 October to 21 December 2009, weekdays from 9am to 5pm

As part of the Library's programme of exhibitions The Way to the Stars explored hundreds of years of astronomy at St John's College.

Exhibits included:

  • medieval manuscripts
  • eighteenth-century astronomical instruments
  • archive photographs and prints
  • the papers of eminent Johnian astronomers such as John Couch Adams, one of the men who discovered the planet Neptune.

The exhibition was officially opened on Saturday 17 October 2009 with the Hoyle Project's second Hoyle Day.

An eighteenth century sextant once used in the St John's College Observatory

A medieval manuscript of Masha Allah's treatise on the construction and use of astrolabes. St John's College Library MS F.25, fol. 53r

Photograph of the old St John's College Observatory from about 1860



Hoyle Day at St John's

Saturday 17 October 2009, 11am-5pm

The second Hoyle Day took place at St John's College Library on 17 October 2009 as part of the International Year of Astronomy.

An exhibition of papers and artefacts from the Hoyle Collection was opened to the public.  Highlights of the exhibition included the notebook in which Hoyle first began to work out the process of stellar nucleosynthesis in stars, and the script of the talk in which he first used the phrase 'big bang'.

Dr Simon Mitton, Fellow of St Edmund's College and biographer of Hoyle, gave a talk entitled 'Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science 1915-2001'.

Visitors also enjoyed the opportunity to see the Library exhibition 'The Way to the Stars': a History of College Astronomy, which ran until 21 December 2009.



Into Deepest Space

As part of Cambridge Science Festival, over 350 adults and children visited St John's College Library on Saturday 14 March 2009. Children and adults drawing book illustrations

Ossian's Ride

During the day, visitors took part in a hands-on activity based on Fred Hoyle's 1959 novel Ossian's Ride. Thirty-two inventive and atmospheric illustrations were drawn to go with an abridged version of the book. See these illustrations online now in the Library photo gallery.

Drawing of galaxies, stars and the Earth


The Old Library was the venue for an exhibition exploring Fred Hoyle's science fiction writing. Drafts of several of Hoyle's books were displayed, as well as manuscripts of unpublished children's stories and detective fiction.  The displays also explored Hoyle's reasons for writing, and the relationship between scientific fact and science fiction in his works.



Hoyle Day at St John’s


Saturday 8 November 2008, 11am-4.30pm

The first Hoyle Project event was held on Saturday 8 November at St John's College, Cambridge.  During the ‘Hoyle Day’, the seventeenth-century Old Library was open to visitors, housing an exhibition of items from the Hoyle Collection illustrating his interests, achievements, and personality. Guided tours of the library were given to large audiences at 11am, 12noon and 3.30pm. At 2pm, Dr Carolin Crawford from the University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy gave a fascinating and very well-attended talk on Hoyle's scientific legacy.

Some of the comments received from visitors:

"Well organised and well presented tour"

"Tone, content and timing just right for interested public"

"Enjoyed it – learned much – impressed with openness of college to outsiders and willingness to share its wealth of info and archives"

"The Hoyle Project Associate and Special Collections Librarian were friendly and informative"

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Supported by a grant from the Friends of the Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics