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.

Future Learning Spaces - Molecular Matters

Mar 31, 2014

Last week I attended a two day conference on New Generation Learning Space Design. It was absolutely fascinating hearing from academics, managers, facilities staff and architects about what is currently being done with regards to learning spaces in tertiary institutions. I was also surprised to see that a number of institutions have staff whose job it is to create such learning spaces, for example, the University of Sydney have a Director of eLearning and Learning Space and Queensland University of Technology have a Director of eLearning Environments and Technology Services. During the conference a number of common themes emerged, including:   1)   Learning goes beyond the classroom Associate Professor Rob Ellis, Director of eLearning and Learning Space at the University of Sydney described how learning goes beyond the formal space of the classroom. His presentation outlined how learning could be … Read More

Sci Fi Friday – Spaceships Quiz - Molecular Matters

Mar 07, 2014

I love science fiction. It takes us into new worlds and can present interesting scientific and ethical dilemmas. And sometimes todays science fiction can become tomorrows scientific fact (e.g. Star Trek communicators) And the spaceships are so cool. While some don’t appear to obey the laws of physics they are awe inspiring as they speed across galaxies, through wormholes and stargates. So I thought I would create a little quiz about star ships. Which TV programme/video game do the following spaceships belong to?  1) The Enterprise D 2) The Liberator 3) The Whitestar 4) The Normandy 5) The Palamino 6) Ranger 3 7) Destiny 8) Jupiter 2 9) Moya 10) USS Saratoga And just to finish, space craft that do obey the laws of physics … Read More

Kiwibots – New Zealand Nationals - Molecular Matters

Mar 04, 2014

Over the weekend I attended the Kiwibot Nationals – where high school students from around New Zealand compete against each other to score points using robots they have constructed themselves. It was fantastic fun to attend – what better way for students to get engaged in science/engineering/computer programming. The video below shows the final rounds between two blue team robots and two red team robots. The full rules of the game are hard to explain in a single blog post, however, a few key points are: the first part of the game is in autonomous mode – where the robot moves in a pre-programmed fashion. This is then followed by 1 minute and 45 seconds of driver controlled competition. points are scored by getting coloured balls in different parts of the field, by getting the smalleer hex balls into the … Read More

Welcome to the World of Kiwibots - Molecular Matters

Feb 23, 2014

This afternoon I went along to my first Kiwibots event, a regional competition for the Canterbury region. For those not familiar with Kiwibots, it involves students using the Vex robotics kit sets to build robots and then compete against other teams in an arena to score the most points in a task that varies from year to year. This year each team is made up of two robots and their operators to move coloured balls in different parts of the arena to score points. There are several different ways to core points and as such the robots built by different teams can vary significantly depending on their strategy for scoring points. I was very impressed by the opportunities that Kiwibots provide for students – not only does it teach them about building and programming robots, it also teaches them teamwork … Read More

Key Technology Trends in Tertiary Education - Molecular Matters

Feb 07, 2014

A recent report has outlined significant upcoming trends, challenges and developments in the tertiary sector (none of which unfortunately offer 3D interactive holograms as shown in the picture above – damn!) The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition is the latest in a series of reports prepared by an international body of experts in education, technology and other related fields. The latest report focuses on the higher education sector, providing a brief outline of areas of significance along with examples and additional readings. The first section of the report outlines six “key trends accelerating higher education technology adoption”  and comments on 1) The widespread use of social media and its’ applications in education 2) Development of online, hybrid and collaborative learning approaches 3) Increase in learning and assessments that are data driven 4) Shift from students as consumers … Read More

Evolution vs Creationism – Bill Nye vs Ken Ham - Molecular Matters

Feb 06, 2014

On the 4th of February a debate took place at the Creation “museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky pitting popular science writer and TV presenter Bill Nye against Ken Ham, the creationist currently attempting to raise funds for a creationist theme park, complete with ark, in Kentucky. This debate was controversial long before it took place, with many pro-science bloggers suggesting that Bill Nye might not be experienced enough to take on a practiced creationist. Furthermore, the fact that the evening was fundraiser for Ham’s theme park project also drew criticism. However, now that the debate is over, many of his critics are now acknowledging that Bill Nye did quite well. Not perfect, as critics are pointing out minor errors and missed opportunities – but then it is all very well to be able see these things from the sidelines and … Read More

Popularising Science based on Reality TV - Molecular Matters

Jan 30, 2014

In the search for new ways to popularise science perhaps it is time to embrace the trend of recent years towards “reality” TV? The last few years have provided a plethora of formats which could be easily adapted to science, for example, Master Researcher Contestants compete in a laboratory environment to complete various tasks with one person being eliminated every week. Contestants will be encouraged to badmouth each other behind each others back and occasionally drop contaminants into each others experiments.   Hells’ Laboratory Similar to the Master Researcher but contestants have to work in teams (giving them the opportunity for up close and personal insults) with all work is critiqued by a foul-mouthed English lab supervisor.   Dragons Laboratory An enthusiastic young person stands in from of a panel of 4 people explaining the innovative research ideas that have consumed their life … Read More

Element of the Week – Fluorine - Molecular Matters

Jan 26, 2014

Fluorine is a fascinating element. As a gas consisting of two fluorine atoms bonded to each other it is incredibly reactive, capable of eating into glass and igniting some substances. However, organic compounds (compounds containing carbon) containing fluorine can be incredibly stable, as the carbon fluorine bond is relatively strong. Fluorine is a very small atom compared to most of the other elements on the periodic table, and this combined with it’s strong bonds can significantly change the properties of molecules which contain fluorine. Some of my research 5 to 10 years ago involved incorporating a single fluorine atom into biologically active molecules to explore the change in properties. For example, a single fluorine atom can either help or disrupt structures such as helices in biological molecules. A well known organofluorine molecule (an organic molecule containing one or more fluorine … Read More

Testing a Hypothesis - Molecular Matters

Jan 26, 2014

Human beings are extremely good at spotting patterns in our environment. This has served us well in terms of survival. For example, being able to identify which colours and shapes of berry are edible or toxic, or which fresh animal poo is that of a predator or of prey would have helped our ancestors make appropriate decisions regarding their survival. However, our brains seem to be so primed to see patterns, sometimes we perceive them when they aren’t really there. For example, “seeing faces” in geological features, toasted sandwiches or a starry night sky. Or where patterns do exist, we may attribute them to the wrong thing. And One of the things science help us to do is decide when an apparent pattern is due to a cause and effect, a correlation* or whether there is actually no pattern at … Read More

Cutting Edge or Over the Edge? - Molecular Matters

Jan 23, 2014

Those promoting pseudoscience often invoke the Galileo Gambit, claiming that like Galileo they are being persecuted and that in the future they will be vindicated and their radical ideas will be proven to be true. Of course this never happens. But how do we tell the difference between a radical new idea that could be a paradigm changer in science, and one based in pseudoscience? Is it cutting edge or has the scientist making the claim gone over the edge? In my opinion a lot can be determined from the behaviour of the scientist doing the research. If a radical new idea is rejected by his or her peers, a scientist will look for additional evidence and/or carry out additional experiments to determine whether or not his/her idea continues to be supported by the evidence. If it does, the accumulated … Read More