Tom Pringle has accidentally set his head alight, had a potato cannon explode in his hands and dyed his tongue blue with a mouthful of nasty chemicals.

All of it, he insists, in the name of science.

The UK chemist boasts the rather odd job title of "stunt scientist" - combining theatre and science to dramatically demonstrate otherwise boring concepts.

"The approach I take to science is very anarchic," said Mr Pringle, who will be in Dunedin in July for the New Zealand International Science Festival.

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"Many of the demonstrations I do are taking straight-forward science subjects, but presenting them as a stunt, such as setting my head on fire, firing stunt hamsters out of bazookas ... things like that."

Take his unique way of explaining how precipitation works.

By pouring large amounts of boiling water on to buckets of liquid nitrogen, he sparks a process that throws trillions of tiny particles of water up into the air.

This creates what looks like a mini mushroom cloud, stretching 10m from stage to ceiling.

"It looks like a giant condensation effect, but actually, no - it shows that clouds are just droplets of water suspended in the air."

In another of his tricks with liquid nitrogen, he freezes a stunt banana to the point that it's hard enough to hammer a 15cm nail into a plank of wood.

But more spectacular is his explosive use of chocolate powder, employing a custom-built flamethrower to prove that certain mixtures of powders can go bang when put together.

"Getting chocolate powder to disperse and burst into a big flaming fireball is quite tricky - you have to play with different powders, with varying content, particle sizes and degrees of drying."

Unsurprisingly, his experiments with the products have ended unexpectedly - sometimes nearly blowing the door off his oven and filling his house with dark blue smoke.

Yet he saw it as a calling, and has spent the last two decades travelling the globe with his shows.

Having trained as a chemist, he instead opted to become a secondary school science teacher but decided that wasn't for him either.

"I couldn't do science because I didn't like being stuck in a lab, and I couldn't do teaching because I didn't like being hemmed into a classroom."

The defining moment was watching an Australian science communicator use lively performances to demonstrate a boring physics concept to a group of teenagers.

"Soon enough, 400 of them were completely eating out of his hands, and I was amazed. After that, I knew what I wanted to do."

He saw the role of science communication as inspiring those who otherwise wouldn't care about areas such as physics and chemistry.

"A big part of it is my 'wow, why, a-ha' process," Mr Pringle said.

"I use the theatre to grab the attention, that generates the desire to understand why it happens ... and then I explain it a simple manner, so they get the a-ha moment," he said.

"And my opinion, that a-ha moment where the penny drops, is far more potent for inspiring people than any demonstration."

To find out more about the festival, visit www.scifest.org.nz
Tricky work

• Created the world's longest glow-in- the-dark necklace, measuring 300m, to demonstrate luminescence.

• Made a custard powder explosion by blowing it out of a tube toward flames, to illustrate how certain mixtures of particles can react.

• Combined boiling water and buckets of liquid nitrogen to produce what was held to be the world's "biggest indoor cloud''.