Talented technician receives new Royal Society Award

August 24th, 2022

A talented technician and regular contributor to the Periodic Table of Videos is one of the first people to receive the new Royal Society Hauksbee Award in recognition of his outstanding skills as a research technician.

Neil Barnes, who has been at the University of Nottingham for more than 45 years has received this award for the exceptional technical support he has provided to generations of physical chemists, and his continued inspiring of future scientists by popularising chemistry online, attracting thousands of fans worldwide.

The Royal Society Hauksbee Award is new for 2022 and recognises outstanding achievements in science of an individual or team whose work is mostly ‘behind the scenes’ or in support, including technicians, research office staff or other contributors who might not normally be recognised.

Neil’s career at the University of Nottingham started in 1977 when he started working in the Physical Chemistry Department. For two years he operated the first year Physical Chemistry Teaching labs, then in 1979 he was promoted from Trainee Technician to Research Technician (Physical Chemistry).

Neil dedicated himself to supporting the research of academics from a variety of fields including; organic semi-conductors, ionic liquids and more recently Green Chemistry.  In 1990 Neil was promoted to Senior Research Technician.

Alongside his research work Neil has always been passionate about assisting undergraduate teaching and engaging the public and school children in science and has been a regular at university open days and Salters’ Festivals of Chemistry.

Neil is also an integral part of the team that produce the award-winning Periodic Table of Videos (PTOV), a YouTube channel that has 1.56 million subscribers and whose videos have had over 272 million views. Since 2008 the videos have helped to popularise chemistry to all ages and comments left under the videos show Neil has a large fanbase across the world.

His multi-faceted dedication to his subject was acknowledged when in 2015 he was again promoted, this time to Technical Specialist supporting the entire School of Chemistry.

Samantha Tang, Technical Specialist Outreach nominated Neil for the award and said: “Neil’s quiet enthusiasm and dedication to scientific progress are both infectious and inspirational. As a colleague of over 18 years he has made me a better science communicator and lecture demonstrator, and has taught me to be resilient and resourceful, traits essential to any technician! Although Neil is officially identified with academics, his day-to-day dealings are with their research students and associates, and this task often calls for considerable patience and endurance. This award is thoroughly deserved and I’m delighted he has been recognised by the Royal Society.”

Neil said: “I am delighted to receive this award and would like to use it as an opportunity to highlight the efforts of so many technicians, both past and present who have not had the opportunity to be as forward facing as myself.

Neil Barnes

Especially engineers both mechanical and electronic, as with most things a sound foundation is required and without that mine and many other careers would not have been built.

The list of people who have supported me throughout my career is endless but I would like to mention in particular Neville Brown and Bill Porter and all those who have helped me over the years.”

Sir Martyn Poliakoff FRS, Research Professor in the School of Chemistry said “I have worked with Neil for more than 40 years. He is always full of interesting ideas and comes up with ingenious solutions to make things work, most recently repairing a “perpetual motion machine” that I inherited. He is also never shy to tell professors in the nicest possible way when they are wrong!  This Award is richly deserved and underlines the enormously important role that technicians play in supporting the entire scientific enterprise in the UK and across the world.

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society adds: “On behalf of the Royal Society, I offer my congratulations to the outstanding researchers, individuals and teams whose contributions to our collective scientific endeavour have helped further our understanding of the world around us.

“Science has always been a team game, and I’m proud to see such a wide array of skills and specialisms reflected in this year’s medals and awards.

“From the original ideas that open up new fields, to the team effort that delivered the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, or the vital work of technicians and those opening doors for the next generation of talented researchers – I am proud that we can celebrate outstanding scientific contributions in all their forms.”

This award adds to a growing list Neil has previously received including: the Papin Prize for outreach, the University of Nottingham’s Knowledge Exchange and Impact Award in the media category and the 2016 Royal Society of Chemistry President’s Award.

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