Martyn Poliakoff and Mike George shine a 'Spotlight on Chemistry' with guest lecture

Our department's student society, ChemSoc, invited Professors Martyn Poliakoff and Mike George from the University of Nottingham, to give a talk on their academic careers and current research. Many of our students recognised Martyn from his incredibly popular Periodic Videos series, and the pair's 'Spotlight on Chemistry' lecture attracted a full house, as they shared the "lucky" work they've carried out using photochemistry. ChemSoc secretary and PhD student, Freya Cleasby, provided this report.

Martyn Poliakoff and Mike George with studentsLecture Theatre 1 enjoyed a full turnout the University of Sheffield Chemistry Society invited Professors Martyn Poliakoff and Mike George from the University of Nottingham to give a guest lecture on their academic careers and their current joint research. The talk, 'Spotlight on Chemistry', showcased some of the work the pair carry out using photochemistry.

With an overarching message of, "You don’t really plan research," the lecture covered three themes: how Martyn and Mike started working together, the research they are currently collaborating on, and their vision for the future of science.

Starting with the history of how their research collaboration came to be, Mike told the audience of how Martyn was his personal tutor during his undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham, where he went on to complete his PhD (alongside our very own Dr Tony Haynes) in the Poliakoff research group.

Many years later, on 1 April 2004, Mike suggested a collaborative project to Martyn over a coffee break. "Is this an April fools?" Martyn laughed. However, the joint project was born, looking into using flow photochemistry and supercritical fluids for malaria drug synthesis.

Fifteen years, quite a few students, and many research papers later the pair were proud to show the progress they have made in the field. Using supercritical CO2 as a medium singlet oxygen generation, and a state-of-the-art photochemical reactor that they developed, their research has shown the ability to produce the anti-malaria drug Artemisinin on a much shorter time-scale to current processes.

Finally, Martyn and Mike spoke on the sustainable vision they have for the future. They believe sustainable chemistry is a goal that needs to be embraced by both research labs and chemical suppliers alike, and suggested that the utilisation of photochemical processes can be part of the movement towards a more sustainable chemical industry. After all, sunlight is free!

The talk ended on the note of how we encourage interest in science to future generations, Martyn is no stranger to this as he has been exciting people with his Periodic Videos YouTube channel for over a decade now, mustering over one million subscribers. Martyn left us with some inspirational words:

“To make science exciting to children you must forbid it, nothing makes a child want to do something more! Our young scientists must communicate the fun and enthusiasm that they find in science to these children."

A fantastic lecture was rounded off with a drinks reception, where guests could chat to the speakers about their research – and their Youtube videos!

Lecture theatre