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.

Energy Drinks in Schools – Let the Propaganda begin - Molecular Matters

Jan 23, 2014

This morning on Breakfast TV they talked about a recent proposal to ban energy drinks in schools. Having taught for a short period in high schools this seems like a good idea to me – teaching high school students can be hard enough without having some suffering the effects of drinks which are both high in caffeine and sugar. Katherine Rich, spokesperson for the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council, an industry lobby group, was interviewed and during the interview stated several times that there was less coffee in energy drinks than in tea or coffee. This sounded wrong to me, as in the past I have had my students analyse the caffeine content of various drinks. So I wandered over the the supermarket this morning, checked a few cans of energy then consulted the literature. From this I constructed … Read More

Element of the Week – Carbon - Molecular Matters

Jan 14, 2014

In many respects, elements are the fundamental components of the universe to a chemist. While physicists bombard atoms into progressively smaller particles using progressively larger pieces of equipment, most chemists continue to be fascinated by the myriad of arrangements formed when atoms bond and interact with each other. There are less than 100 naturally occurring elements, however, together they form millions of different compounds each with its own unique properties – some vital for life, others more likely to bring death. So I’ve decided to blog about a different element each week. And what better element to start with than the one that allows formation of the greatest number and widest variety of different compounds – carbon. Carbon is the sixth smallest atom, indicated by its atomic number of 6 and its’ atomic symbol is simply C. Unique amongst all the … Read More

Puzzling - Molecular Matters

Jan 04, 2014

I love puzzles – word games, whodunnits, board games and mazes. It is a great way to test skills such as vocabulary, lateral thinking, spatial awareness, observation and strategy – all skills which are relevant in science. While visiting my parents over Christmas I was reminded of my interest in puzzles so thought I might share a few with you.   Puzzle 1 – Who’s your daddy? After a severe car accident, a father and son are brought into accident and emergency. The father dies on the way to the hospital while the son is taken immediately to surgery. However, when the boy is wheeled into surgery, the surgeon says “We need to find another surgeon, I can’t operate on this boy as he is my son.” How is this possible?         Puzzle 2 Moving only 3 … Read More

Do you believe in Climate Change? - Molecular Matters

Jan 02, 2014

A while ago I was chastised by a reader of the NZ Skeptic for making the following statement in the magazine. “I believe there is more than enough evidence to accept that human actions are playing a significant role in climate change.” In using the word “believe” I was told that this was “faith not science.” My critic is probably right, but not in the way he thinks. Most of us like to think we are rational, using facts to make sense of the world. However, the complexity of climate change science means that very few of us are capable of fully understanding it, let alone assessing the raw data. Instead we rely on secondary and tertiary sources of information – the interpretations and reinterpretations of others. In effect, our opinions on climate change are largely dependent on who we … Read More

Fox News and GMO's - Molecular Matters

Dec 31, 2013

I saw this clip on TV this morning (I didn’t realise what we see from Fox on Sky is a month old) and was “impressed” with the degree of muddled science and scaremongering they managed to put into such a short clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myz5RRt6cs0   inaccurate science (confusing viruses, bacteria with genes) – check oversimplification of the science (“food made in a petri dish”) – check overhyping/misrepresenting animal studies – check conspiracy theories (“aren’t these people eating these foods?”) – check typical poor reporting from Fox – check, check, check. Read More

Sampling a Cell without Killing it – Nanobiopsies - Molecular Matters

Dec 31, 2013

I’ve just read a fascinating article in December 16th edition of Chemical & Engineering News* by Louisa Dalton which describes a new technique to sample cell material without killing the cell. This new method, developed by biomolecular engineer, Nader Pourmand, and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is able to withdraw approximately 50 femtolitres from the cell using a computer guided scanning ion conductance microscope. The computer guides a glass nanotube to the cell membrane where it is pushed 1 micrometre into the cell. A negative voltage across the tip of the pipette alters the surface tension between the cytoplasm and a solution in the pipette causing approximately 50 femtolitres of cytoplasm to be withdrawn from the cell. This method allows cytoplasm to be withdrawn from different parts of a cell, with the cell remaining viable even after … Read More

Modern Medicine & Family Histories - Molecular Matters

Dec 29, 2013

Modern medical treatments, including vaccines, have helped extend life expectancies and quality of life through the prevention and treatment of disease. This fact is sometimes missed by those who oppose vaccines, criticise modern medicine and promote dubious “alternative” therapies. One reason for not seeing the benefits of modern medicine is that we take much of it for granted, and seldom see the effects of diseases of the past. I have recently had the privilege of reading a family history of my great, great, great grandparents, James and Gerinia Ryan, and their descendants, put together by Eleanor Watt. It is fascinating reading, and also sobering when considering the deaths of four of their 15 children who did not make it past the age of 5. George Edward Ryan died in July 1871 at 15 months of age from bronchitis John Albert … Read More

The 10 "False Assumptions" of Modern Science? - Molecular Matters

Dec 08, 2013

Last week I came across a magazine I hadn’t seen before in Paperplus. Called “New Dawn” it purports to be “the No. 1 magazine for people who think for themselves” and covers a range of topics such as the afterlife, psychic healing with pets, astrology and conspiracy theories. Amidst this hodge podge of muddled thinking was an article by Mike Adams (aka the “Health Ranger”), who some readers may be aware of through their reading of other blogs such as Respectful Insolence. In this article Mike Adams refers to the work of Rupert Sheldrake, who in his book “The Science Delusion”, criticises science. A while back I starting blogging about “The Science Delusion” however, after the first few chapters I gave up as the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of science was doing my head in (I swear I could … Read More

Problem Based Learning in Chemistry - Molecular Matters

Dec 05, 2013

One of the plenary speakers at the NZIC conference this week was Professor Tina Overton from the Chemistry department at the University of Hull. We were lucky enough to have Professor Overton speak to us several times and she is a strong advocate of active learning, in particular, problem based learning. In her coursework Professor Overton provides students with open ended problems, for example, asking them to work out how much gold is in the world’s oceans, or how many keratin molecules are produced every hour. For such questions students are not allowed to consult Google and work in groups where they reason through the answers. They are not expected to provide the “right” answer, rather the point is, how they work through the problem. For example to work out amount of gold in the oceans, they may be provided … Read More

A "GoogleMAP" of Microbes - Molecular Matters

Dec 05, 2013

This week I attended the 2013 New Zealand Institute of Chemistry conference in Wellington which was great. There were a some fantastic talks and probably the most memorable for me was a talk by Professor Pieter Dorrestein from the University of California, San Diego. The title of the talk was “A GoogleMAP”-type molecular map of microbes – from culture to people” and describe his work using techniques such as mass spectrometry, sequencing and informatics methodologies to identify the molecules produced by microbes in the world around us. Because different microbes produce different molecules, identification of the molecules helps identify which microbes are present – something which could allow quick and effective detection of disease. However, because there are a multitude of microbes around us, and they can interact with each other, this is quite a complex task, with huge … Read More