Heinz Wolff, who died at the age of 89, was one of a long list of distinguished British scientists who became even more distinguished television presenters and apostles of science. With his trademark bow tie, his mocking appearance, characteristic pronunciation patterns and appetite for invention, he organized a pioneering television program called The Great Egg Race from 1979 to 1986 and almost certainly inspired thousands of young people to take careers in engineering. or research. 19659002] His appearance and manners helped him to fit perfectly into the populist category of "eccentric hollow head", and in many ways exploded the image happily. But he remained until the end as a serious and committed scientist and spokesman for science.
Born in Berlin, he grew up during the Weimar Republic and a Nazi government emerged: he later recalled that, at the age of five, he asked his father, Oswald, a volunteer in the First World War: "What Is he a Jew? " The Wolff family considered itself German and its father understood the commercial law to help other Jews to circumvent the monetary laws and to escape Its mother, Margot (born Saalfied), died in 1938, and in following August the rest of the family Wolff fled to the Netherlands, and then arrived in Britain on September 3, 1939, the day the Second World War was declared. "We really cut it pretty well," Wolff told broadcaster Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 in 1998.
Wolff never missed the sound of the German vowels that were going to distinguish his speech. But what prompted him – and probably made him so eloquent – was an early and sustained curiosity about how things worked and why, a curiosity encouraged by his father, a frustrated chemist. "I do not remember a time in my life when I was not convinced I would do something with science, technology or engineering," he once told the Journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees.
After attending the Oxford City school, he began his scientific career as a laboratory technician at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. His work for the Medical Research Council began in the physiology division of the National Institute of Medical Research, and he graduated in Physics and Physiology at University College London.
In 1962, he was director of the biomedical division of the institute. engineering division and had embarked on his lifelong passion: engineering solutions to human problems. This could be as simple as the challenge for the elderly to get out of a car, or for an astronaut in free fall or a diver at dangerous atmospheric pressure, or to perform automated exercise on someone with a spinal cord injury. Almost his first design as a technician at Radcliffe Infirmary had been a machine for counting red blood cells, and he joined the NIMR's pneumoconiosis research unit to design an instrument that could measure dust in coal mines. While working on the project in Cardiff, he met Joan Stephenson, a nurse, and they married in 1953.
Very early in his career, Wolff became one of those scientists who made things happen: he joined the life sciences work group of the European Space Agency in its early years (1976-82), He advised the British Space Space Center and served on the board of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. He also became involved with the rehabilitation of people with disabilities and was vice president of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. In 1983 he founded the Brunel Institute for Bioengineering, which is now located in the Heinz Wolff building of the university, and in the course of a research career wrote or co-wrote about 120 articles in scientific journals.
In 1990 he was involved in the Juno Project to finance a Briton in space. In the end, the pharmaceutical Helen Sharman joined the cosmonauts on the Russian space station Mir, but at the expense of a Russian bank instead of British money.
But, inescapably, it was his career as a television presenter and personality that will be most often remembered. Great Egg's career ran for 68 editions for eight years on BBC2 and, partly because at the time the show began, only three television channels, it always had a respectable audience. It started with a simple challenge: using the kinetic energy stored in a rubber band, how far could an egg push? It became a series of enormously fun creative tests based on improvised tools and improvised tools. Later, Wolff commented that one could make low friction bearings with a knitting needle and pickled onion.
His comment, like his public speech, was informed by an inventive use of images and a capacity for provocative humor that contained a serious argument.
He proposed to the Edinburgh Science Festival that "vitamin R deficiency", where R represents risk, was related to antisocial behavior and risk-taking was an important ingredient in the development of young people. He cheerfully told a newspaper columnist that people over 5 feet 4 inches tall (Wolff himself measured 5 feet 4 inches) should be penalized. "People like you," he told his noble interlocutor, "cause so much damage to the environment." You take up more space, eat more food, breathe more air. I think that tall people should be charged an extra 2% on their income tax. That way, everyone would look for a smaller spouse. "
These taunts codified a deep concern for education, society, and the growing proportion of Europe's older people. He would claim that his bioengineering institute financed itself. Although he also admitted that the fees for his after-dinner speeches helped with financing, he worked on a prototype electric car for the elderly: one with a front-opening door to be parked facing the curb and with seats They slid forward to facilitate the safe driving of the driver and passenger to the pavement, and put money and labor into the design of "smart" houses and the test of a touch-screen computer program called CareCompanion that could organize the shopping or contacting a family doctor.
But he had also started to argue that the real solution ions and humiliations of the elderly did not require a reengineering of the hardware but society. Working with the Young Foundation and Age UK, in 2010 he created Care4Care, in which young people volunteer to help older people and then "credit" the credits against the day they need help. Then a trial on the Isle of Wight followed, but the project was judged as unsustainable.
Long after retiring as professor emeritus in 1995, he continued to work five days a week, and in 2016 he participated in the launch of the Give & TakeCare initiative, to improve the care perspectives for future generations. It started operating in Berkshire earlier this year and is being used elsewhere.
Wolff told people that he believed in God but not in the future life, and he was suspicious of organized religion.
He was awarded honorary doctorates by the Open University, de Montfort in Leicester, Middlesex University and Oxford Brookes. The recreations of those who claimed they were working, talking to children and decent jokes and practices.
Joan died in 2014. He is survived by two children and four grandchildren.
• Heinz Siegfried Wolff, scientist and broadcaster, born on April 29, 1928; he died on December 15, 2017