Eddie Dawes has spent many of his 91 years working out how to make things disappear.
Professor Dawes’ work in his University of Hull lab led to the production of biodegradable plastics, which quickly disappear in the soil.
But he has also had an unlikely parallel career in the world of magic which has been an obsession since he was a five-year-old boy growing up in Goole, East Yorkshire.
Suffering from pneumonia, he watched with awe as his father and grandfather performed a selection of magic tricks they’d learned from magazines.
Dawes said: “I wanted to understand how they did it. So they taught me. Magic captured my imagination from that day to this.”
His love of chemistry grew as a grammar school pupil in Goole. He started spending his pocket money on equipment and set up a lab in the garden shed.
When he was issued with a gas mask during the Second World War, he decided to put it to the test.
He gathered the necessary chemicals to make potentially deadly chlorine gas, shut the door and closed the windows of his shed, donned his gas mask and got to work.
Dawes said: “It worked and I survived. I became hooked on chemistry and conjuring took a back seat.”
He read Chemistry and went on to a PhD in Biochemistry at Leeds University where he met the love of his life Amy, a student of domestic science.
Together they moved to Glasgow where Dawes took a research and teaching post at the university and Amy taught in some of Glasgow’s toughest schools.
It was in Glasgow that Dawes began to reinvestigate his interest in magic. He joined the Scottish Conjurers’ Association and was its president from 1958 to 1963.
He developed a stage show with Amy, called Only Make Believe, which began with him conjuring a rabbit from a silk streamer and then making it disappear.
In 1963 they moved to Hull when Dawes was appointed to establish the University of Hull’s Department of Biochemistry. Two years later he also became president of Hull Magicians’ Circle.
Throughout the 1970s. his researches focused on the internal energy sources that enable bacteria to survive under starvation conditions. His team discovered a biodegradable thermoplastic that would break down in the soil to become carbon dioxide and water.
Today, the fruits of his dedication can be seen in things like biodegradable bottles, coffee cups, and surgical sutures but the plastic isn’t as widely used as he’d hoped because it isn’t as cheap to make as non-biodegradable oil-based plastics.
Throughout the time that Dawes worked on this important research, he also managed to keep up his interest in magic.
He is known all over the world for the work he has done to document the history of magic. A list of the books and papers he has published is extensive. He counts the likes of David Copperfield as friends.
During a visit to Dawes' East Yorkshire home in 1994, Copperfield’s limo famously blocked Beverley Road, Anlaby. And Dawes recently flew out to visit Copperfield, in Las Vegas, to carry out some research.
Dawes’ twin obsessions have proved remarkably long-lasting. The pioneering biochemistry text book he first wrote in 1956, which went through six editions and was translated into six languages, is still in print in Japan - and he is still pulling rabbits out of hats.
"Today, the fruits of his dedication can be seen in things like biodegradable bottles, coffee cups, and surgical sutures."