Stuart Atkinson

Final day! Thanks to all the scientists and pupils for taking part - it's been great!!

Favourite Thing: Explaining how stuff works to anyone that wants to listen!



University of Salford 1992-1997, UCLAN 1997-2000, University of Salford 2008-2013


PhD Materials; BSc(Hons) Chemistry; Diploma Cosmology; Diploma Astronomy; A-level Physics, Chemistry, Maths; Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser

Work History:

Various companies in the hazardous waste industry

Current Job:



Cleansing Service Group

About Me

Fan of science fact and science fiction

I’ve always been interested in knowing why things do the things they do and then being able to explain that to someone else (why are there always 2 rainbows not 1?) and being a depository of information that I’m sure will come in useful somewhere (what’s minus 40 C in Fahrenheit?) I’m sure people aren’t listening all the time, but that doesn’t stop me…

I’m a big fan of classic sci-fi and horror films, a keen amateur astronomer, play electric bass in a local band and once injured myself chasing a cheese down a hill.

I’m hoping to use all the above skills to answer your questions!

My Work

Saving the environment one drum of toxic waste at a time.

I work for a company that makes hazardous waste safe to handle. If it’s really nasty we destroy it either by reacting it or by burning it (believe me, there are some really nasty chemicals about!) If it’s something less hazardous we can look at recycling it and putting it back into use. We do a lot of work with schools and universities – maybe we’ve already had some toxic waste from your science technicians?

My Typical Day

It varies but always involves something hazardous

Every day we receive a new query. Someone has found a load of drums of unknown contents in a field; a paint shop has a tank of something that might be really nasty but then again may not be as they’re not sure where it came from; a lab has a bottle of something that has dried out and become unstable…

I visit customers to look at jobs like these. If I’m not out I’ll be working on the plant helping process the waste that has come in, giving technical advice to customers, writing procedures to keep our staff safe, or maybe taking part in school outreach events to promote science.

What I'd do with the money

Help promote science in schools

I would put the money into local University outreach programmes that I would like to help out. They go into primary and secondary schools with their ‘flash bang’ shows to make physics and chemistry fun. They also invite school children into University to give them an early experience of what life there is like. I think it’s really important that school kids get an idea of what sort of science is done at this level – it can give them a better idea of what they are interested in, and make the transition to University later on less scary.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Passionate about science

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I have a few but I’ll say David Bowie

What's your favourite food?

Beans on toast – simple yet effective.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Going on University Challenge was an experience

What did you want to be after you left school?

Definitely a scientist but wasn’t sure exactly which

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Er…not as such. I think the skill is not to get caught.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Physics, no, Chemistry. I mean Maths. Well, one of them anyway!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Discovering a material that people didn’t think existed

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

A good year 6 teacher who obviously really cared about science and making it interesting.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Film director or scripwriter

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Worry less, travel more, spend more time with family

Tell us a joke.

I would tell you a funny chemistry joke, but all the good ones Argon……A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender passes him the drink and the neutron asks ‘How much?’. The bartender replies ‘For you, no charge’……Two atoms walking down the street. The first one says ‘I think I’ve lost an electron’. The second asks ‘Are you sure?’ to which the first replies ‘Yes, I’m positive!’…Entropy isn’t what it used to be…A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage. ‘No thanks’, he replies. ‘I’m travelling light’…Organic chemistry is difficult. Those who study it get into alkynes of trouble…

Other stuff

Work photos:

Lots of nice new drums waiting to be filled with nasty chemicals.


Oh no. Someone has left some drums outside for far too long and we’ve no idea what is in them. Can you help?!


This is more like it. A few lab chemicals to list. Shouldn’t take long (he laughed).


A tanker containing 25000 litres of acid has just arrived and needs emptying.


The cabinet where we react the nastiest things. I call it the Tardis. The drums contain something that explodes on contact with water. Nice!



Drums lined up waiting to be decontaminated.




…and finally, sunset over the treatment tanks.