The man who is giving the 2002 Royal Institution Christmas lectures describes himself as "a little fat bloke". But Tony Ryan, ICI professor of physical chemistry at Sheffield University, clearly has a special something that the cameras like. For the first time, the lectures have been opened up to competition. Professor Ryan sent in a video of himself in response to an ad in Nature . The polymer scientist was selected by RI staff and Channel 4 executives to follow in the footsteps of the greats of British science such as Michael Faraday, Max Perutz and Kevin Warwick.
Professor Ryan's "Smart Stuff" lectures will explore the molecular miracles behind everyday objects, from planes, trains and automobiles to fish, chips and mushy peas. He will address pivotal issues such as why the shampoo doesn't wash away the conditioner in two-in-one shampoo and conditioners.
The lectures will be Professor Ryan's first public appearance as an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council senior media fellow. Under the fellowship, he will spend a third of his time promoting science and the remaining two-thirds continuing his research into polymers.
Professor Ryan has worked extensively with industry studying what happens to molecules during product manufacturing. Recent forays into nanotechnology have helped him to build molecular valves and motors.
The Leeds-born 40-year-old is head of Sheffield's chemistry department. He took his PhD at Manchester University and spent some time in the US and at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. In his spare time, Professor Ryan cycles around Sheffield and changes the nappies of his five-week-old daughter.
Having appointed a 2003 lecturer, the search is on for the 2004 lectures. A spokeswoman said the RI was looking for someone from the earth or life sciences. Time to get out the video camera.