Michael Edmonds

Dr Michael Edmonds has 20 years research experience in organic and analytical chemistry most of which has involved the synthesis and analysis of biological molecules with interesting properties. Some of this work involved developing a new approach to preparing novel fluorinated organic compounds. Since 2010 he has been in a management role and is currently Head of Engineering & Architectural Studies at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. Over the past few years he has also realised the importance of science communication, and as such started this blog along with giving a range of public talks. Science communication is important for not only encouraging the public to understand and enjoy the benefits of science, but also to immunise them against the purveyors of pseudoscience and anti-scientific sentiments.

What Makes a Great PhD Supervisor? - Molecular Matters

Nov 10, 2010

The PhD supervisor has an incredibly important role. Taking a student who has already demonstrated an aptitude (and hopefully a passion) for science, the PhD supervisor has three or more years to assist this student to grow into a knowledgeable, skilled and independent researcher. During the PhD there will be a focus on carrying out novel research and translating this work into publications, the ‘currency’ by which both student and supervisor will eventually be judged. However, I believe PhD supervision should be about much more than research and publications — it should be about the supervisor sharing their expertise and guiding the student in a wide range of areas. The following is a list of behaviours I believe make a good PhD supervisor 1)   Discusses the students future … Read More

Science and Personality Types - Molecular Matters

Nov 08, 2010

Catching up on some back issues of the New Scientist I came across an article in the October 23rd edition (pg 14) looking at how certain personality characteristics correspond to an interest in science. Dutch researcher, Hanke Korpershoek and colleagues found that students who chose science subjects tended to be less extroverted, more conscientious and have a higher emotional stability than those who chose non-science subjects. The study involved almost 4000 students and examined their personalities and subject choices at the age of 15. If one considers some of the demands in doing science well then it is not surprising that it might appeal more to students with high levels of conscientiousness. High emotional stability would also make it easier to weather the challenges that regularly occur in science. The tendency for introverts to look inwards, to be happy to … Read More

Water has a Memory? - Molecular Matters

Nov 07, 2010

One of the claims that in the past has been used by homeopaths to explain how their remedies “work”, is that water has a memory, and that the succussing (shaking) of the solutions allows the water molecules in the solution to “remember” the active ingredient (e.g. arsenic oxide, anthrax, snake venom etc) even after it has been diluted out of the solution. This has always struck me as rather odd given the relative size of the molecules. For example in the diagram below represented in blue and green is a single molecule of anthrax toxin*, while in the white box to the lower right of the diagram is water). How could a small molecule like water remember something as enormous as the anthrax toxin? It must be magic! * Note – Anthrax poison extracted from diseased sheep spleen has been … Read More

Reforming education. Is NZ heading in the right direction? - Molecular Matters

Nov 06, 2010

Most people are probably aware of the debate amongst educators over the governments push for national standards in schools, with a strong focus on assessing literacy and numeracy. What less people are probably aware of is that, as of next year, polytechnics and other tertiary providers are required to assess the numeracy and literacy skills of all new students entering courses at level 3 or below. (First year university papers are the equivalent of level 5 so this is probably less of a concern for them). So what we are seeing from this government, is a strong focus on assessing students, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What I have not seen so far is any resourcing of educators so that they can respond effectively to the results of these assessments. Surely this is the most important part … Read More

Science as a Creative Endeavour — part 1 - Molecular Matters

Nov 05, 2010

In her recent talk at the New Zealand Association of Scientists conference, Professor Jacqueline Rowarth describes how science is an intensely creative endeavour. While most of us who work in science would agree with this observation it is one that, in my opinion, is not commonly held by the general public. So why is this so? Why are painters, poets, dramatists, and designers viewed as more creative than scientists? I believe there are two main reasons for this. 1)      It is easier for the average person to understand (at least superficially) what a painter, poet or artist does. The realm of the scientist (or engineer) is seen as complex and hard to comprehend. 2)      Most people associate the term creativity with that which is fun, frivolous or entertaining. Creativity does not seem to be commonly connected that which is … Read More

Is Homeopathy an Environmental and Health Hazard? - Molecular Matters

Nov 04, 2010

Most reputable scientists agree that homeopathy is pseudoscience and that it doesn’t work. But let us for a moment consider what the consequences would be if homeopathy did work. One major concern would have to be its’ potential as an environmental and health hazard. For those who are not familiar with the concept, homeopathy typically involves taking an ‘active’ component, for example arsenic oxide, snake venom or pus, and diluting it by a factor of one hundred and succussing it. (Succussion is the process by which the solution is shaken in a particular way to ‘activate’ the solution). After succession one hundredth of the solution is then removed, diluted by a factor of one hundred and succussed again. This process is repeated many times until the final ‘potentiated’ solution is produced. For example, the commonly used 30C solution undergoes a … Read More