University of Nottingham’s Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff CBE FRS, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering for his pioneering work in supercritical fluids which was judged “to combine engineering and chemistry in a highly imaginative way”.
Election to the Royal Academy of Engineering is one of the highest honours for an engineer in the UK, and there are now 10 Fellows at Nottingham including emeritus professors, underlining the quality of engineering research at the University.
Sir Martyn has been a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers since 2004 and was a member of the IChemE Council from 2009 to 2013. He has dedicated much of his long and distinguished scientific career to developing environmentally more acceptable processes for the manufacture of the chemicals and materials which underpin modern society.
Responding to this latest in a string of scientific accolades, Sir Martyn, Research Professor of Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, said: “I am delighted. My research spans the boundary between chemistry and engineering and it is really pleasing that the Academy has recognised the contribution that our research team and our technical staff have made to engineering. I feel very strongly that scientists and engineers need to work in partnership. Together we can achieve so much more than we can separately.”
Why are supercritical fluids so critical?
Supercritical fluids are high pressure gases, such as carbon dioxide or steam, that have been compressed until they are nearly as dense as liquids. These fluids have properties that combine those of liquids and gases. Like gases they have to be kept in sealed containers and, like liquids, they can dissolve solids. Sir Martyn said: “I have always been fascinated that one can dissolve something that is solid in a gas.”
He was one of the first people in the UK to study the use of supercritical carbon dioxide as environmentally more acceptable solvents for carrying out chemical processes. His work has now inspired colleagues in both chemistry and engineering at Nottingham to pursue their own exciting research in these fluids.
Sir Martyn’s work has attracted sustained interest from industry and his extensive collaboration was highlighted by the academy. For example, his partnership with Thomas Swan & Co Ltd, an independent company specialising in performance and speciality chemicals, culminated in 2002 with the opening of a 1000 ton a year plant for manufacturing chemicals in supercritical fluids – an area of research he was inspired to enter over 20 years ago.
Where chemistry meets engineering
The Royal Academy of Engineering has also recognised Sir Martyn as an untiring UK champion for wider collaboration between chemists and engineers. From 2005 to 2011 he led a joint project between the School of Chemistry and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham know as DICE (Driving Innovation in Chemistry and Engineering). The initiative, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), was aimed at strengthening UK research capacity at the Chemistry/Chemical Engineering interface and promoting broader collaboration between the two disciplines. It led to the appointment of the first academic staff at the University to be employed jointly by the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
Having joined the University of Nottingham as a lecturer in 1979, Sir Martyn continues to teach. He lectures on the Green Chemistry and Process Engineering module for first year students with his colleagues from Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. This is one of the few modules in the University taught jointly by chemists and engineers.
Sir Martyn has gained a worldwide reputation for public engagement, especially for inspiring younger generations. In recent years, he has collaborated with video maker Brady Haran to become the iconic face of the YouTube sensation the Periodic Table of Videos, which has already attracted nearly 165 million views and almost a million YouTube subscribers.
Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Nottingham, said: “This recognition of Sir Martyn's unique contribution to chemistry and to engineering is richly deserved. He is one of the very few members of our University ever to hold fellowships of two UK academies. Not only has he made very substantial contributions to the field of supercritical fluids he is also one of the country’s most well-known figures in engaging the public in science.'
Founding Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering (in 1976) included jet engine visionary Frank Whittle, bouncing bomb inventor Barnes Wallis, and Lord Hinton who drove the UK’s supremacy in nuclear power. More recent additions to the Fellowship include inventor James Dyson, web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, and former Vice-Chancellor of Aston University Julia King (formally Baroness Brown).
Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Since 130 engineers were first called together in 1976 to form the Fellowship of Engineering, our Fellows have come together to advance and promote excellence in engineering. I’m so proud to welcome our new Fellows, who represent the very best of UK engineering.”
A decade of scientific accolades
Knighted in 2015 for services to chemical sciences Professor Poliakoff was recognised for his contribution as a global leader in green and sustainable chemistry.
A year later he was named a Fellow of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in November 2016. This honour is bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.
This followed a string of accolades for this inspirational scientist. In May 2011, he was nominated as the Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society, one of the science world’s highest honours.
Sir Martyn is brother of the well-known playwright Stephen Poliakoff. He has embraced social media becoming the iconic face of the YouTube sensation Periodic Table of Videos. His videos have proved so successful he was awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Nyholm Prize for Education in February 2012.
In November 2013 he won the Universitas 21 (U21) Award for Internationalisation. The award recognised his individual efforts to further internationalisation and build relations between U21’s leading global network of research-intensive universities.
He is also a Foreign Member of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, and of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an honour that was particularly special because of his own enduring links with that country. His father was Russian and he delivered his first scientific lecture in Moscow in 1971 (in English, although he does speak Russian fluently). And he is an honorary professor at Moscow State University.
Professor Steven Howdle, Head of the School of Chemistry, who was one of Sir Martyn’s students, said: “This is a tremendous accolade. It is also very important to recognise that Sir Martyn is also a wonderful people person. Often he is the first to react to events concerning individuals and to provide heart-warming words of congratulation or more importantly the offer of support and help when people most need it.”
Professor Andy Long, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Engineering, summed up the achievements of Sir Martyn’s scientific career: “I know Sir Martyn is particularly proud to have been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, as this relates to his longstanding commitment to link science and engineering to the benefit of society. His leadership of the DICE initiative was transformative for engineering at Nottingham, and his pioneering work on green chemistry continues as a cross-University ‘Beacon of Excellence’."
Beacons of Excellence
The University of Nottingham is investing £200 million in the future of its research — picking out six beacons of excellence of which ‘Green Chemicals’ is one. To discover more visit www.nottingham.ac.uk/world
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