Chemist Martyn Poliakoff’s Mad-Scientist, Big Hair and His Nano-Sized Birthday Present

It's Chemistry Professor Martyn Poliakoff's birthday and his friends and colleagues at the University of Nottingham have given him a special gift. After all, he's become a campus and Internet celebrity as the host of The Periodic Table of Videos, a 118-part series of short videos intended to familiarize the public with the elements of the periodic table. Here is a funny, explosive video about potassium, with his typically dry intro: "Potassium metal is very reactive. One of my colleagues, who used to work with it, described it as evil." His on-camera style is breezily equal parts Hitchcock and Dr. Strangelove. Many fans consider Professor Poliakoff's hair, which is half Einstein and half mad scientist, as important to the show's success as his cheeky sidekicks and the frequently zany experiments.

Comfortable with his hair's fame, Professor Poliakoff says that, "With a few hours of work, I have lectured to more students than I have reached in my entire career." The YouTube channel as of December, 2010, has more than 35,000 subscribers and the videos have had more than 11 million viewers. Colleagues at the University of Nottingham's Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre created a birthday gift that combined two of the Professor's most famous YouTube attributes.

Created with the camera rolling, the gift required the professor to surrender one telegenic strand of his unruly hair. As the professor looked on, an assistant then quickly wielded the combined power of an electron microscope and an ion-beam writer to etch all 118 currently known elements onto the hair's microscopic side, creating the world's smallest periodic table. The final size is 89.67 microns across and 46.39 microns from top to bottom. And about million would fit onto just one post-it note. Finally, the now internet-famous follicle, sealed in a small glass vial, was given to the genially pleased 62-year-old professor. You can watch the entire process in the video above.

How has the Internet changed how you learn about or teach science?

Photo: cutting hair--screen shot World's Smallest Periodic Table Photo: Prof Poliakoff Periodic Table of Videos at wikicommons Photo: Close up Prof Poliakoff Potassium screen shot


Kent, this guy is great. Great video. He doesn't seem quite as eccentric as you might imagine he might be looking at that second photo.

May's picture

Thanks for the great video - what an unique birthday present for a great educator.

Kent Harrington's picture

Glad you enjoyed it. I'm partial to educators-- my parents were both in the business.

Kent Harrington's picture

Thanks. I'll take a look. He'll be back. Kent