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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions