Poliakoff's big brother is new star of science

The voluminous hair, thick glasses and halting voice of the Nottingham chemist Martyn Poliakoff have made him 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 the acclaimed playwright Stephen Poliakoff, has been appointed the Royal Society's foreign secretary, essentially a "worldwide figurehead" for his profession.

Professor Poliakoff, of the University of Nottingham, has appeared in a series of online videos in which he explains science using every-day props such as cups of tea and flowers, winning him millions of loyal followers online. He believes his online impact has been more profound than 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."

Professor Poliakoff has been contacted by people who accuse him of playing up to his scatty image, something he finds "irritating" rather than "offensive". He studied for his undergraduate science degree and chemistry PhD at Cambridge University and comes from a long line of high achievers. His Russian-Jewish father, Alexander, fled Russia for London in 1924 to become an electronics inventor who designed hearing aids worn by Winston Churchill. Stephen Poliakoff is among the country's best-known scriptwriters, directors and playwrights. Professor Poliakoff's children are Ellen, a psychology lecturer at the University of Manchester, and Simon, a physics teacher.

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

"And I hope by the time I finish, it will be stronger than when I started. There are considerable threats to science at the moment which need to be addressed. 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."

Professor Poliakoff has won acclaim since 2007, when he began starring in a series of films about the Periodic Table's elements. These clips have now been viewed 16 million times. Topics he has explored include the science of snow and the chemistry of tea.

He is particularly popular among students for his use of a squeaky tetrahedral children's toy called a "Wiggly Giggly", which he uses to represent the molecular structure of methane.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links