Vaccination, a time machine

A Francis Crick Institute flagship exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.
group of curved red cells with a white cell in the middle

Vaccination, a time machine

Our exhibit is about vaccination and immunity. Vaccination, by definition, is the process of administering a vaccine to induce immunity, the status of being protected from an infectious disease.

With a focus on TIME as a keyword, our exhibit explores concepts and challenges related to vaccination, such as how to achieve long-term immunity and when to administer additional vaccine doses, known as boosters.

Our stand offers a rich and diverse experience by combining contemporary science notions with glass microbiology artworks by Luke Jerram and 300-year-old documents from the Royal Society archive.

Summer Science Exhibition, 2-7 July 2024
The Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG
Free entrance

Exhibit Leader: Francesca Di Rosa
Co-lead Scientists: Francesca Di Rosa and Adrian Hayday

How does a vaccine against a virus work?

It induces an immediate reaction of the immune system, in which blood cells named as “B lymphocytes” and “T lymphocytes” become activated and multiply extensively, and virus-reactive molecules named as “antibodies” are produced. Some of the activated B and T lymphocytes transition into a “memory” state, so-called because the cells remember the vaccine. In case of exposure to the real virus, the immune system of the vaccinated person mounts a strong defensive response in a very quick TIME, preventing the development of serious illness.

Immunity boosting

Although immunity can last for a long TIME or even a lifetime after treatment with some types of vaccine, like the smallpox vaccine, in other cases, like the measles one, booster doses are required to refresh memory. If and when vaccine boosters are required to reinvigorate immunity are critical questions. Our research addresses these issues. Scientists of our team will discuss their research and interact with visitors at the stand.

The time-machine analogy

Vaccination might be considered like a time-machine, as it speeds up the TIME of reaction of the immune system, projecting the vaccinated person into a healthy future beyond the obstacle of being exposed to contagion. We can also travel back in TIME and imagine living in the early 1700s, at the time when smallpox outbreaks were common, and variolation was introduced in London. It was this practice first, and modern smallpox vaccine some years later, that projected mankind into the future.

Leader institution

The Francis Crick Institute


King’s College London
National Research Council of Italy
Centre of the Cell, Queen Mary University of London

Francesca Di Rosa is Research Director at the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology, Rome, Italy, and Visiting Scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in the team of Adrian Hayday

Adrian Hayday is Principal Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, and Professor of Immunobiology at King’s College London

Banner image credit: Lymphocyte with red blood cells. University of Edinburgh. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). Source: Wellcome Collection

Credit for the Image used on the Royal Society website: “Past, present and future” by Luke Jerrram © Luke Jerram

a group of blue blobs on a black background

Human T cells showing nuclei. A. Walker, L. Sharp & J. Pryde. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Source: Wellcome Collection.