Accidents and Regrets (and chocolate biscuits)

published on July 9, 2020

Okay I think I am looking at the camerait has a little light on it so I canjust watch that light most of you aroundthe world I'm in isolation here in mystudy in Nottingham before I went intoisolation Brady and I recorded somequestions and answers and this little

Video is the last part of the recordingwe made but we've now set things up inmy study so we can record new videos andthey're all going to be coming up quitesoon but for now let's watch the last ofthe questions and answers that we

Recorded before all of this startedwhat is the stupidest thing you did inchemistry in your life I think thestupidest thing I did was when I was aschoolboy and I tried to distill formicacid out of oven cleaner in my parents

Basement I didn't look up the boilingpoint of formic acid but it's only 1point something degrees above theboiling point of water so separatingthem by distillation is pretty difficultbut more stupidly

I did not put in any boiling beads intothe oven cleanerso I heated it up on an oil bath in myparents basement and then suddenly I sawthe temperature got very high tosomething like a hundred and fifty

Degrees without it boiling and I droppedin some beads and push it all vaporizedand clouds of acid vapor filled thebasement and we all had to retreat didyou get in trouble I don't think myparents noticed have you seen Breaking

Bad yet no I occasionally get askedabout it but I don't subscribe to anysort of streaming service playingbiscuits or chocquit chip I don't eat biscuits all thatmuch and but I suppose I prefer

Chocolate chip to plain biscuits if Ihave to what is the worst injury youhave ever sustained in the pursuit ofchemistry touchwood I have never injuredmyself seriously though when I was aschoolboy we didn't wear gloves when we

Did chemistry and so my fingers werepermanently stained yellow from nitricacid and which makes your skin yellowand it eventually peels off and alsowhen I was learning to glass blow Iwasn't very successful because even then

My hands shook rather I burnt myselfseveral times I can remember travelingon the London Underground theUnderground trains and putting my burntfinger against cold metal to try andmake its hurtless as I was going home

From school what experiment do you wishall high school students would berequired to perform I've never thoughtabout thatI think the answer is it doesn't reallymatter which experiments they perform

But it's good if they perform lots ofexperiments some students are ratherfrightened when they get to the lamp andso the more experiments you can do themore confidence you will get I think thereally important thing to say is that

Modern society relies on the use ofchemicals and if we don't train youngpeople to use chemicals safely then whenthey are my age there will be nobody inthe world who can handle chemicals andthe whole thing will collapse so it's

Really important that people respectchemicals because they're oftendangerous but at the same time have theconfidence to handle them safely arethere any games you enjoy playing I usedto play a little

Hennis but I wasn't very goodwhen I was a child they used to playmahjong and I have a notice here in myoffice saying don't play mahjong withstrangers you're sure to be cheated Iplay some games with my grandchildren

But they like to change the rules sothey win do you play chess I was verybad at chess my fault that was very goodI still have a chess set that he had asa child in Russia but it is missing onewhite bishop because he was playing it

In the outside latrine and the whitebishop fell down into the cess pit belowhe was playing chess in a toilet wellworking out chess problems okay have youever played a video game or a computergame

I haven't played any video games mychildren used to in the early days socalled BBC computer and I did helpdevise some computer games for chemistsfor high school children and we Brady'shelp and our colleagues in computer file

We've actually got these on the internetso you can play them to yourself ifyou'd like to how popular were you inyour school days I think probably notvery popular and my brother who'syounger than me went the same school as

Me after I'd left and his friends saidthey were frightened of me I have noidea because you're a chemist what'syour favorite colorI don't know probably green after all Iam a green chemist and what's your

Favorite numberI don't know but most people say 7 asfar as I remember but I suppose at themoment it's probably a hundred and fiftybecause it's a hundred and fifty yearsof the periodic table one that's 151 and

150 years of supercriticalfluids which was my big area of researchdo you have any regrets everyone hasregretsexcept Edith Piaf who if you rememberhad the song which overlooked the little

Gal I didn't regret anything but on theother hand sometimes things that whenregrets may be better that they didn'thappen because the consequences of themmight not have been as good as onedimensions but I think I'm very pleased

About many things particularly meetingBrady of course did you ever meet AlbertEinstein or Nikola Tesla the answer's noand I think Einstein died when I wasquite small I think he died in 55 when Iwould have been sufficiently young I

Wouldn't even know who he was have youever been starstruck I'm not sure I'm bequite often when you meet somebody whois special for one reason or anotherit's quite difficult to say think whatyou would say to them I'm sometimes

Wondered what would I say if I metMendeleev who I think was actually quitean eccentric and antisocial person Ithink as you get older you tend to getless starstruck and I'm quiteembarrassed when people get starstruck

Meeting mehow can they be starstruck aboutsomebody is ordinary as me who's themost famous person you've met dependshow you define Fame most recently Isuppose the president of China Xi

Jingping who may shook hands with but weappeared to have no language in commonand I've met lots of Nobel Prize winnersand sometimes they're really quiteconceited but very often they'redelightfully modest and it's quite a

Privilege to talk to them have you metthe Queenmet the Queen and Prince Charles whoasked me how green chemistry was goingyou can see him on one of our videoshave you ever worked with flora and

Communic acid the short answer is no infact I've never worked with fluorine Idid once work in somebody's lab wherethey had an argon fluoride lasercontained argon and fluorine inside andit developed leak and some of the

Fluorine came out in the cooling waterinto the lab in the form of HF hydrogenfluoride and the smell was dreadful doyou know any periodic jokes no not apartfrom cliched ones when of my colleagueslike saying he has no chemical jokes

They all are gone but I don't reallylike such nonsense do you collectanything like stamps or rocks Isometimes pick up nice stones on thebeach or lying around and I often givethem to children who I know several

Children who like collecting stones andI collect books you take lots of photosof flowers don't you yes my wife is veryinterested in flowers so I take picturesfor her and I suppose in the last fewyears when they've gone iPhone and I

Like taking pictures of all sorts ofstrange things but what's the last thingyou took a picture of the last thing Itook picture of is last thing Iphotographed was this which is a cellfor liquid xenon haven't used it for

Probably 30 years and it's also if youwere interested in such things it's gotthese red windows which are made from amaterial called K rs5 which is a mixtureof thallium iodide and bromide so it'squite dangerous to touch the windows

Thallium is highly poisonousbut I took a bitch of this because I'mgiving a lecture in 10 days time and Ineeded a fighter of this what do youthink will be the next big breakthroughin chemistry that will change how we

Live our daily lives I think the biggestchange probably is greatly improvedbattery life at the moment the batteriesthat we have are good but they don'thold nearly enough charge many peoplecan't get through the day without their

Smartphone running down and the reallyimportant thing is that if you couldmake batteries hold perhaps twice orthree times the charge per unit weightof what is possible today then you couldstart making electric aircraft at least

For short-range flights the electriccars would become much more viable thanthey are now you may have heard the UKhas declared a few days ago that no carsare going to be sold with petrol ordiesel or hybrid engines in 2035 which

Is only 15 years from now and my car ismore than ten years old now so we'vereally got to make major developments inbattery technology how often doexperiments work versus not work we usedto have a sign on our lab door which was

A quotation from the Nobel Prize winnerFred Sanger Fred Sanger is the onlyperson who's ever won two Nobel prizesin chemistry there's some people thathave won two Nobel prizes but indifferent subjects and the quotation

Which used to be glued to our lab doorsaid most experiments don't work in factif every experiment you do does workperhaps it means you're not tryingthings that are adventurous enough butwhat's really important about

Experiments you shouldn't just do themto see what happens but you should havesome sort of hypothis or idea of what's going to happenand then that may not happen but itenables you to change your theory is

Salt dissolving in water a chemicalreaction or a physical reaction it's aphysical process because if youevaporate the water you can get the saltback on the other hand if you drop apiece of sodium into water you get a

Chemical reaction and you get a solutionof sodium hydroxide and when youevaporate it you'll get a white solidrather than the metal and you have towork quite hard to get the sodium backfrom it how does the professor view the

Increasingly close relationship betweenscience and business well of course itdepends what the relationship is therehas always been a strong interactionbetween chemistry and industry and mostof the chemists that we educate go into

Industry in some form or anotherindustry the chemistry using industryare our biggest customers for ourproduct chemistry graduates but I thinkthat particularly now when society isfaced with so many problems in terms of

Sustainability of chemistry supplyingthe chemical needs of future generationsit's really important for chemists towork with industry to make sure that wecan continue supplying the chemicalsthat people need and I have had in my

Career some really very goodcollaborations with industry and thosecollaborations are continuing and Ireally enjoy working with industry butprofessor can sort of chasing the mightydollar impede blue sky research those

Sort of crazy ideas that aren'tnecessarily financially viable but couldopen whole new avenues you don't have todo all your research with industryblue skies research in general can bequite sometimes be quite inexpensive so

Even if you have an industriallysponsored project you can still tryextra ideas and so onand I have had several really good ideasthat have been inspired by spin-offsfrom what I've done from industry

Do you prefer coffee or tea tea greentea I don't like black tea very much andI used to be really addicted to coffeeand then I went to China in 1998 whenthere was almost no coffee there and youhad to drink green tea and after a week

I came back addicted why do you prefergreen tea green tea is really goodbecause you can put the leaves in yourcup and then you can add hot water to itall day the same ways the same leavesand it's still viable and if I drank as

Much coffee as I drink green tea I wouldbe shaking ten times more I really enjoyanswering your questions so keep sendingthem but for the moment we're recordingnew footage and you'll be seeing thosevideos soon so keep watching at

Different speeds and from differentangles Professor Sir Martin Polyakov forservices to the chemical sciences

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