'Nutty professor' to be UK science ambassador

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The Independent Online

Martyn Poliakoff's voluminous hair, thick glasses and halting voice have made the Nottingham chemist a 'YouTube' sensation. Now the professor, who insists his nutty persona is the real deal, is set to become Britain's ambassador for science.

Professor Poliakoff, 63, the older brother of playwright Stephen, has been appointed the Royal Society's foreign secretary, essentially a "worldwide figurehead" for his profession.

A research professor at the University of Nottingham, his online videos in which he explains science using everyday props like cups of tea and flowers, have won him millions of followers.

He modestly believes that his online impact has been more profound than both the Royal Family and Chelsea Football Club.

"I think it is my misfortune to look like a stereotypical scientist," he said. "Some of my collaborators believe that the success of my 'YouTube' videos depends on the fact that I look like a mad professor. So people are pleasantly surprised when I talk reasonable sense. But I don't behave like the mad scientists which you see on films."

He said his appointment to the role was "very humbling". He said: "I want to try to present the message that British science is as strong as ever."

He said there are considerable threats to UK science at the moment.

"When science in Russia was under threat during Perestroika, there was a saying that the country would 'grind to a halt but in 10 years time'. The same is true for science in the UK if it is not properly supported," he said.

The brothers' Russian-Jewish father, Alexander, came to London in 1924 and designed hearing aids worn by Winston Churchill. Martyn Poliakoff said: "Stephen and I take pleasure in each other's success."