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From test tube to YouTube

- Wits University

Megastar scientist, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, to lecture at Wits about becoming a YouTube phenomenon by making videos on chemistry.

World-renowned British chemist, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, will be visiting Wits in March to deliver a lecture on the use of YouTube to spread his passion for chemistry.

Poliakoff, a Professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK is known as one of the pioneers in Green Chemistry and a mega star on YouTube for his videos of the Periodic Table of Elements.

Poliakoff, the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, will visit South Africa later in February to attend The International Academy Partnership Meeting of Science Academies, in Hermanus, after which he will be visiting Wits to present his lecture.

Poliakoff – who prides himself on “looking a bit like Einstein” – was appointed Commander of the British Empire in 2008 for his services to science. His research revolves around gaining insights into fundamental chemistry and also on developing environmentally acceptable processes and materials. 

“The planet’s population is growing. We have to find cleaner, greener ways of making the chemicals that we need,” he says.

“I am particularly interested in how to make reactors where light is used to drive chemical reactions with less waste. One reactor is based on an idea I had while I was in the bath.”

Poliakoff is not only a recipient of the highest honours in the science, social life and from Royalty, but he has cultivated a huge following on YouTube, where on his Periodic Table of Videos has earned him almost 720 000 subscribers.

His lecture tells the story of how his participation in making some videos for the University of Nottingham’s YouTube channel, led him to collaborate with video journalist Brady Haran, to create his own channel.

“This began as a collection of 120 videos (one for each of the 118 elements of the Periodic Table, plus an introduction and a trailer). It quickly gathered momentum and now – eight years later – we have uploaded 584 videos, with 718 274 subscribers and a total of 119 million views over 200 countries,” he says.

Poliakoff’s lecture will be held on Friday, 4 March, at 10 am at the Bernard Price Institute on the Wits Braamfontein East Campus.