May 12, 2017, by jicke

‘Cult hero’ recognised by the President of the Royal Society of Chemistry  

He’s one of the cult heroes of the award winning YouTube phenomenon Periodic Table of Videos and has been described by the Duke of Kent as a ‘silent rogue’. Now Neil Barnes, a senior technician in the School of Chemistry at The University of Nottingham has received one of the highest accolades from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) – the President’s Award for outstanding contributions to the dissemination, advancement or applications of chemical science.

Neil was nominated, not only for his excellence as a research technician but his support of generations of physical chemists and his ‘extraordinary role’ in popularising chemistry via YouTube where he has attracted thousands of fans across the world. He received his award last night.

Professor Sir John Holman, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “It is my great honour to present this president’s award to Neil Barnes. I am delighted to have this chance to recognise a talented and committed person who has made a great contribution to chemistry.

“Neil brings together two things that are very important to me personally and which I want to celebrate while I am Royal Society of Chemistry president. The first is technical skills. Skilled technicians are vital for the success of the chemical sciences and Neil has shown their importance as a research technician in physical chemistry at the University of Nottingham. The second is outreach: as chemists we all need to do our bit to inspire the next generation of chemical scientists, and Neil has helped bring the excitement of chemistry to thousands of young people around the world by supporting Sir Martyn Poliakoff so expertly with his brilliant Periodic Videos.

“For me it feels just right to be presenting this award to Neil Barnes who has brought these two priorities together so fittingly.”

The unsung heroes of higher education

Neil is part of a diverse and highly skilled team of University technicians whose job it is to support academic research, teaching and learning. Often seen as the unsung heroes of higher education their contribution to the teaching and learning experience is beginning to gain wider recognition.

Neil said: “I am delighted to receive such a prestigious award. I would like to thank my colleagues, past and present, for being instrumental in providing me with the unique skill set required.”

As well as his social media exploits Neil performs live for university lectures and has taken part in a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution in front of royalty. At the dinner following his lecture, HRH the Duke of Kent described him as a “silent rogue”.

Neil’s enthusiastic participation in the videos is entirely voluntary and he fits filming in around his normal duties as a technician.  His outreach work was recognised in the inaugural Papin Prizes, in 2015. These awards are presented to individual technicians across the Midlands region who have demonstrated excellence.

Jonathan Hirst, Professor of Computational Chemistry and Head of the School of Chemistry, said: “Our technical staff are the cornerstone of much of the School’s activity. Neil has supported and inspired many students and colleagues in the School, and much more widely through social media. I am delighted that his achievements have been recognized by the Royal Society of Chemistry.”

Technician to social media star

The last seven years have seen Neil become a social media star as the main demonstrator of experiments on the Periodic Videos which has attracted more than 117 million views and has over 700,000 subscribers. His frequently explosive demonstrations has seen him blow up pumpkins for Halloween; drop glowing coals into liquid oxygen, and devise special equipment such as the ‘small metallic collider’, a hinged hammer activated by a long string to safely break ampoules of dangerous compounds; and a far more controlled method for cracking ampoules under water.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff, who has become the face of the Periodic Videos, said: “Neil is a key person in the success of our videos. His enthusiasm, knowledge of chemistry and silent acting skills have made him a super-hero of chemistry. He is an excellent ambassador for chemistry, for Nottingham and for the role of University Technicians. And he is fun to work with!”


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