Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Hartung Lecture

Posted 14 August 2017

Wesley College Hartung Lecture

Our students recently attended the Hartung Lecture, presented by guest lecturer Sir Martyn Poliakoff. Sir Martyn Poliakoff is a renowned British chemist working on gaining insights into fundamental chemistry and on developing environmentally acceptable processes and materials. As well as carrying out research at the University of Nottingham, he is a popular lecturer, teaching a number of modules including green chemistry, which is the focus of much of his research. He is also known for his leading role in ‘The Periodic Table of Videos’.

The Hartung Lecture honours Wesley alumnus, Ernst Hartung, a distinguished scientist who was head of the Chemistry department of The University of Melbourne from 1928 to1956.

Read what our students learnt:


Sir Martyn Poliakoff talked to us about his personal experience with Chemistry and his journey to where he is today as a green chemist. The lecture detailed his experiences as a child with his first interactions with science as well as school-related escapades that developed his interest in chemistry. He also talked to us about what makes a potential Internal Assessment (IA) idea a good one. He took us through the acronym of YOUNGSCIENCE which explained the criteria of having a solid exploration task idea and gave us an insight into the process of choosing a topic for your IA .

Hearing about his personal experiences was the most interesting part of the lecture because it expanded my view on Chemistry, beyond the classroom. The lecture gave me a new perspective on Chemistry, which made it seem more fun and flexible rather just robotically memorising topics and doing a test on them. The experiences were fascinating to listen to and showed me a different side of Chemistry than what I’m used to.


Sir Poliakoff began by telling us of his early years in boarding school, and progressed to explain how he discovered his love for Chemistry. He finished his final exams in Chemistry ahead of his classmates, and so spent the last of his days in high school Chemistry designing and testing his own experimental hypotheses. What I found interesting was that Sir Poliakoff very nearly failed his first university exams, and barely scraped through with a pass. However, being the resilient person he is, he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his passion and eventually reaching his highly respected position in the world of Chemistry. I think that everyone can take meaning from the conviction that Sir Poliakoff possesses. He shows us that no matter the obstacles and hindrances we may encounter; anything is possible if we have the desire to achieve it.

Additionally, Sir Poliakoff helped to form a clear understanding of what is required for my Chemistry IA later in the IB course. By sharing with us his own high school investigation and the subsequent successes and failures, he showed that the real importance isn’t found in the result but in the journey it took to get there. He exemplified this by explaining how his own investigation was destined to fail from the beginning, as what he was trying to find was variable and dependent on the conditions of the given experiment. Overall, I think everyone in the group were engaged throughout, and showed this through their thoughtful questions at the end of the presentation.

Wesley College Hartung Lecture


Sir Martyn described his childhood and the early interest he had in Chemistry, setting a clear path for the future. This was inspiring to hear due to the passion he exhibited when he talked about his past and the curiosity he had at such a young age. He also described his ever-changing direction in the field of Chemistry, reassuring us that our direction does not have to be completely clear or set in stone from such an early age. This was reassuring, particularly because many students are in the process of making decisions about their own future.

It was also encouraging to have the ability to make some connections between the content we had recently learnt in class, such as Organic Chemistry, and the topics he was talking about, which motivates me to continue to grow my understanding in the area. Attending this lecture with such an icon in Chemistry was a truly enlightening experience to see someone with such great knowledge and passion in an area, who is also making positive changes to the bank of acquired knowledge and the chemical processes in everyday life.


Sir Martyn Poliakoff’s Chemistry YouTube videos were familiar to us all, either through class or our own personal interest, and this lecture gave us an opportunity to learn about Chemistry facts and the lessons that he had to learn in becoming a chemist. This included the tragic story of the discovery that a whole year’s worth of investigation was rendered worthless because he had missed a fundamental piece of information relating to his experiments. However, the lesson of this story is not entirely ‘do your research properly before starting an experiment’, although that was certainly part of it, but that the best learning can be done through the pursuit of your own passions and interests. While the experiment may have come to ‘nothing’, he still learnt valuable lessons about data collection- and even built a machine to collect his data faster -  but most importantly he learnt the joys of science that go beyond memorising facts for school.

More than anything else in the lecture, Sir Poliakoff showed us his true passion for the subject as he recounted attempting dangerous and sometimes disastrous experiments in his parents’ basement as a child. Poliakoff’s lecture was about more than just getting us excited about Chemistry and enticing us to pursue it; he also directly addressed aspects of Chemistry at school; in particular, choosing and designing an experiment. His main advice: ‘find an experiment that you’re passionate about’.

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