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Page 3 Profile: Dr Peter Wothers, chemist

A stuffy academic?

Far from it – Dr Wothers is an expert in practical chemistry. Strange potions, explosions and colourful plumes of smoke are features of his lectures. His passion for demonstration is one of the reasons the Cambridge chemist was picked to host this year's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, which start on BBC Four tonight.

Quite an honour!

Dr Wothers is following in the footsteps of a host of scientific titans. The astronomer Carl Sagan, the biologist Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough are among those who have given the talks. The lectures have been televised every year since the 1960s and are a Christmas tradition for families all over the country.

So what are his about? This week's three talks bear the title The Modern Alchemist. They'll cover air, water and earth, substances which fascinated alchemists for centuries. And there will be explosions.

What's his background?

He became obsessed with chemistry at the age of eight while playing with a magnet and some iron filings. His passion grew so strong that his parents built him an outdoor lab for his experiments. He even turned down an opportunity to take part in the world junior rowing championships because it clashed with the International Chemistry Olympiad.

So he was in his element filming the televised lectures, saying recently that when he got the go ahead, "I began dreaming up the most spectacular demonstrations that I could" .

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