Periodic tables professor Martyn Poliakoff is cult hit

Professor Poliakoff has starred in a series of videos which have received more than 20 million hits

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A Nottingham university academic has gained cult status in schools across the globe after starring in a series of online chemistry videos.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff CBE is one of several academics to appear in short films about each of the 118 elements of the periodic table.

The films are part of a University of Nottingham project designed to stimulate interest in chemistry.

The Periodic Table of Videos YouTube channel has more than 66,000 subscribers and its films have had more than 20 million online views in about 200 countries since its launch in 2008.

'Best reality show'

Professor Poliakoff is the most recognisable of the presenters and his hair, reminiscent of Einstein or a mad scientist, has led to more than 1,000 comments being sent to the project's website, filmmaker Brady Haran said.

Although uncertain what to think about the attention given to his hair, Professor Poliakoff said he was excited with the success of the videos.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff CBE

  • Professor Poliakoff was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2002
  • He is an Honorary Professor at Moscow State University and Honorary Member of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia
  • The professor has appeared in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world's smallest periodic table etched on one of his hairs
  • He was made the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society in 2011, one of the greatest science honours
  • His brother Stephen is a renowned playwright and film director

"With a few hours of work, I have lectured to more students than I have reached in my entire career," he said.

The videos feature a variety of experiments, some of which are too dangerous to be performed in classrooms.

The scientists also recall personal anecdotes and facts about each element in the table, from the first - hydrogen - to the last - Ununoctium.

Robert Rountree, a science teacher at Barker Road Middle School in Pittsford, New York, said the videos were great for grabbing the attention and interest of his students.

"They are brilliant. Each video leads to more and more questions. As soon as a kid mentions an element we go to the video," he said.

The professor is also regularly referred to as "cool", "crazy", "brilliant", "awesome" and "cute" in posts on Youtube.

As well as praise from students and teachers, the videos have received praise from Nobel Laureates.

Referring to the channel, Roald Hoffmann, who has won a Nobel prize for chemistry, said: "I not only like it, but loved it... like the best reality show I saw."

'More critical'

The idea for the series came from video journalist Mr Haran.

He said the website had been bombarded with emails, was used by teachers in schools from India to America and its popularity had even led to a cameo on CBS news for the professor.

The world's smallest periodic table has been etched on Professor Poliakoff's hair.

Mr Haran said: "I know a lot of people who aren't interested in science but as soon as he pops up on the screen and starts talking people just look and listen."

The site has also won a number of awards such as the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education by the journal Science in 2011 and the Petronas Award for excellence in education and training at the IChemE Awards in 2008.

Professor Poliakoff said he really enjoyed finding simple ways of explaining things.

"I'm much more critical now when I see people on television," he said.

"I get really cross when I think they've spent too much money on a series and think what we could have done with similar funding."

The story of Martyn Poliakoff and the YouTube hit features on Inside Out East Midlands, on BBC One on Monday 27 February at 19:30 GMT and nationwide on the BBC iPlayer for seven days thereafter.

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