Why scientist Sir Martyn Poliakoff may be short of a fiver


The new polymer five pound note is not so tough after all, according to Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff.

Sir Martyn, who is Jewish and a professor of chemistry at Nottingham University, carried out exhaustive tests to prove the banknote can be destroyed.

According to the Bank of England, the note should be able to survive a washing machine cycle with “minimal damage” and will last up to two and half times longer than the old paper version.

But those claims acted as a red rag to Sir Martyn who said he was “immediately challenged” when the note was issued last September.

The professor and his assistant Neil Barnes came up with two ways to destroy the note – by freezing it with liquid nitrogen and dousing it with acid.

As Sir Martyn explained in his Periodic Video series on YouTube, the strands of the polymer can become rigid when exposed to liquid nitrogen. “You may be able to break it, hitting it with a hammer,” he said.

In the video, Mr Barnes can then be seen beating a fiver with a hammer and eventually breaking it into pieces.

"It took several attempts. You had to get the orientation just right and hit it just in the right way, and then it broke into two or three pieces," Sir Martyn said.

The result of the second experiment proved even more destructive than the first. Shortly after pouring fuming nitric acid on the note, the image of the Queen disappeared, leaving a transparent sheet.

Sir Martyn was keen to point out he used only his own money in the experiments.

He said:  “You can’t spend university money on things like this.”


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