Andrew Szydlo

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Andrew Szydlo

Szydlo at RI.jpg
Dr. Szydlo performing at the Royal Institution (March 2009)
Zbigniew Szydlo

1949 (age 71–72)
Alma materImperial College London, London University
OccupationChemistry Teacher
EmployerHighgate School

Andrew Zbigniew Szydlo (/ʃɪdl/ SHID-low; born 1949) is a chemist and chemistry teacher, best known for his talks and lectures on chemistry.


Szydlo was born in England to Polish parents, and attended Latymer Upper School, and then Imperial College London and University College London. He currently teaches – since September 1972[1]chemistry at Highgate School in North London. He holds MSc, PhD, DIC, ACGI, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, of which he is also a CChem.

An expert on the history of alchemy, Szydlo is the author of the standard work on the Polish alchemist, Michael Sendivogius. The thesis of his book "Water that does not wet hands": The Alchemy of Michael Sendivogius,[2] which argues that Sendivogius' role in the discovery of oxygen has not received proper attention, has won widespread acceptance within the academic community. He advanced this argument in a leading article for History Today, co-authored with Richard Brzezinski, entitled "A New Light on Alchemy".[3] His work on seventeenth-century science is an ongoing project to which he hopes to devote further attention. In 2015 he published Schoolmaster's Diary, a photo diary celebrating four decades of school life seen through his chemistry teacher's lens.[4]

He frequently gives public lectures in the United Kingdom on topics including the History of Chemistry. Recent performances at Cambridge University,[5] Durham University,[6] University College London,[7] the Royal Institution,[8] Cheltenham Science Festival[9] and Hampton Court[10] have received much acclaim: writing in the journal Chemistry & Industry on Szydlo’s performance at Cambridge, John Wilkins remarked that "Dr Szydlo exceeded all expectations; he raced through vast tracts of practical chemistry, history, alchemy, the discovery of oxygen, the internal combustion engine, and on occasion, introduced music too. His lecture was interspersed with flashes, bangs, colour changes, detonations and eruptions, keeping the 350-strong crowd on the edge of their seats throughout."[11] This lively, multi-media approach characterises Szydlo's performances, which include experiments drawn from a wide repertory, ranging from the chemistry of colour to pyrotechnics and high explosives. He has also appeared at several festivals as part of the Guerilla Science team.[10] He also lectures regularly at secondary schools throughout the United Kingdom, and has remarked that he often finds the audiences he addresses at under-privileged schools the most inspiring.[12] These lectures are sometimes featured in the local press.[13] Szydlo also regularly gives talks for the wider community, including such institutions as the Stuart Low Trust,[14] Haringey Council Cared for Children, and the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association. He has also been invited to give numerous lectures and demonstrations abroad, including Poland, Mauritius (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and Namibia (2016). Szydlo has the highest rank (Harcmistrz) in the Polish Scouting Association, and has regularly participated in its activities since 1965.

More recently, he has collaborated with Andrea Sella of University College London and the author Hugh Aldersey-Williams in Elements, an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection,[15] where he spoke about the Dutch alchemist Cornelis Drebbel, situating Drebbel in a broader scientific and historical context and illustrating the talk with lively experiments.[16] Aldersey-Williams has worked with Szydlo before, both as a pupil at Highgate School, where he recalls Szydlo as 'a man of many talents … always liable to whip out his gipsy violin mid-lesson',[17] and in writing his recent book Periodic Tales, when he recruited Szydlo’s expertise in an attempt to recreate the experiment that discovered phosphorus.

Six of his recent lectures at the Royal Institution: Magic of Chemistry (2014),[18] Blaze of Steel (2015),[19] Fireworks and Waterworks (2016),[20] Bonfires with a Bang (2017),[21] Chemistry of Coal (2018)[22] and Metal Mayhem (2019)[23] have been made available on YouTube. He is also featured in the Royal Society of Chemistry's 175 Faces of Chemistry.[24]

In recent years, he has appeared in six television serials: as a chemistry teacher in That'll Teach 'em (Channel 4, 2006)[25] and Sorcerer's Apprentice (CBBC, 2007);[26] as a science historian in Absolute Zero (BBC4, 2007);[27] as a chemist in Generals at War (National Geographic, 2009);[28] in Big, Bigger, Biggest (Channel 5, 2009);[29] and as "The Doc" in Secrets of Everything (BBC3, 2012).[30]

Music is a passion, and he is an accomplished player of instruments including the violin, piano, bugle and accordion. So is photography, a field in which he has considerable expertise. He has exhibited his own photographs, and recently contributed a preface to a book of photographs published by the artist Stephane Graff.[31] Other interests include Polish dancing, automobile engineering, meteorology, beekeeping, and mycology. Amongst his pupils, he is renowned for lessons which incorporate unusual and spectacular experiments, and for bursts of theatricality such as blowing fire and cooling hot drinks with liquid nitrogen before tasting them. His lecture and television performances reflect his broad cultural interests and distinctive character.


  1. ^ LinkedIn Entry. Retrieved 15 June 2015. – September 1972 – December 1974: Chemistry, Science, DT, Mathematics at Cardinal Manning School, Highgate School; Jan 1975 – today: Chemistry at Highgate School
  2. ^ Published by the Polish Academy of Sciences in 1994.
  3. ^ Vol. 47, issue 1:
  4. ^ "Chemistry teacher's epic photo diary celebrates four decades in the classroom". 26 November 2015.
  5. ^ " : Fireworks and Waterworks! Lecture & demonstration". University of Cambridge.
  6. ^ "Conferences and events".
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 September 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Science and maths festive extravaganzas". Cheltenham Festivals.
  10. ^ a b Science, Guerilla. "Home". Guerilla Science.
  11. ^ "Page Not Found". Cite uses generic title (help)
  12. ^ Personal communication with the author.
  13. ^ e.g. 'Smoke and steam fire up and enthusiasm for science', Ham & High, 12 March 2009.
  14. ^ "Search Results for "szydlo" – The Stuart Low Trust".
  15. ^ "Kill or cure? It's elementary at Wellcome Collection's late event – Wellcome".
  16. ^ "Elements explode at new science exhibition". The Independent. 12 April 2011.
  17. ^ Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Periodic Tales: the curious lives of the elements, Viking (2011), pp. 120–123
  18. ^ The Royal Institution (4 June 2014). "The Magic of Chemistry – with Andrew Szydlo" – via YouTube.
  19. ^ The Royal Institution (11 March 2015). "Blaze of Steel: Explosive Chemistry – with Andrew Szydlo" – via YouTube.
  20. ^ The Royal Institution (17 February 2016). "Fireworks and Waterworks – with Andrew Szydlo" – via YouTube.
  21. ^ The Royal Institution (24 January 2018). "The Chemistry of Fire and Gunpowder – with Andrew Szydlo" – via YouTube.
  22. ^ The Royal Institution (19 December 2018). "Andrew Szydlo's Chemistry of Coal" – via YouTube.
  23. ^ The Royal Institution (2 November 2019). "Metal Mayhem - with Andrew Szydlo" – via YouTube.
  24. ^ "Dr Andrew Szydlo DIC ACGI CChem FRSC – 175 Faces of Chemistry". Archived from the original on 6 September 2019.
  25. ^ "That'll Test 'Em". IMDb.
  26. ^ "Sorcerer's Apprentice – Next on – BBC – CBBC". BBC.
  27. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 November 2011. Retrieved 25 December 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. ^ "Generals at War – National Geographic". Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  29. ^ "Channel Homepage". National Geographic Channel.
  30. ^ "BBC Three – The Secrets of Everything". BBC.
  31. ^ Stephane Graff, Professore, Istanbul (2010)