London Institute


LIMS seal

The LIMS seal consists of a dark blue annulus around a white disk. Inside the annulus is the Institute's name in white Palatino, and inside the disc is its motto in gold Museo Sans. The centre relief in the white disc is a classical lamp, in the manner of Robert Adam, with snakes either side. It is a detail from the 18th-century fireplace in the LIMS seminar room. In the penultimate line of his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats writes that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty". These words, which form LIMS' motto, are a reference to the observation that the universe is described by surprisingly elegant mathematics.


The fireplaces in LIMS, which are annually swept and inspected, are used throughout much of the year. Setting and tending a fire are atavistic pleasures which rarely find an outlet in central London. The LIMS fire is a catalyst for conversation and a source of wonder at the complex processes that it embodies: combustion, radiation, diffusion and turbulence. Animated discussions have been held over the most appropriate fuel for the fires at LIMS. The choice for tinder and kindling generally devolve to whatever happens to be at hand and unattended by others. Discussions have therefore tended to focus on the later stages of combustion.

Wood is a favourite as it provides a cheerful blaze and settles down to embers and eventually ash with none of the clinker often left by coal. Its delights are relatively short-lived, however, and the journey down to the cellar not nearly as warm as the collegiate atmosphere in the front seminar room.

The technical name for ordinary coal, anthracite may be considered an interpolation between wood and smokeless coal in its flame output, heat and ease of lighting. As against that, is the failing that a sudden draft can fill the room with a seeping, sulphurous smoke. Under such circumstances, some members have needed to find the door in considerable haste (an endeavour rendered not easy by the low visibility), and emerged onto the street surprised to find bright sunshine and clear, London air.

Smokeless coal
Some of LIMS scientists therefore opt for smokeless coal: although hardest to light, it is the longest lasting of fuels. It is often used to add longevity to a wood-based enterprise. The only downside appears to be its rather pedestrian nature: while smokeless coal forms hot coals, it gives off little flame.

Fireplace in the seminar room.
Fireplace detail, used in the seal.


Blackboards are to LIMS what the element carbon is to a coal mine. All rooms are furnished with this essential implement for when two or more solve a problem. As the renovation of the building has proceeded and each room is completed, it has become customary to christen the new blackboard with its first full coat of equations.

The blackboard is one of the most longstanding technologies, significantly moreso than the printed book. An 11th century Indian text, quoted in Alberuni's India, makes reference to it:

How many a writer uses paper as black as charcoal, 
Whilst his pen writes on it with white color. 
By writing he places a bright day in a dark night, 
weaving like a weaver, but without adding a woof.

Since its inception, the "board" part of a blackboard has been a physical, rather than a purely philosophical, construct. However, recent advances in paint technology mean that the "black" part of the structure can be applied directly to a plaster wall, without any intervening substrate. This has facilitated the proliferation of blackboards at LIMS, for which the old terminology has nevertheless been maintained. Despite this change, chalk remains the usual calcium sulphate.

Counting cycles in a Boolean ring.

Blackboard drinks cabinet

In one of the basement offices there is, embdedded in the blackboard itself, a drinks cabinet which predates LIMS. By tradition, it holds a bottle of whisky, which can be drunk by anyone who has just used the board.