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.

Does success in science correlate with an acceptance of uncertainty? - Molecular Matters

Nov 17, 2013

One of the challenges with science communication is communicating uncertainty, something that is at the core of science but which produces some confusion and frustration for the wider public who prefer definitive answers to life’s questions. However, this morning as I read the book “Cells to Civilizations – the principles of change that shape life” by Enrico Coen, it occurred to me that in most science texts there is uncertainty – as a author builds an argument he often relies on statements that only become clear later in the argument. “Cells and Civilizations” is written by a plant molecular geneticist, and his explanations in the first three chapters mainly describe biological processes, often with analogies using art. My background is chemistry, and my knowledge of art is not extensive, so as I read this book I occasionally find myself thinking … Read More

Appreciating Science in School – What to include? - Molecular Matters

Nov 15, 2013

In my previous post, I discussed teaching science in schools in terms of science and society, an idea that has previously been promoted by Sir Peter Gluckman. So what content would be appropriate to include in such science and society/appreciating science curriculum? I think you would have to include critical thinking/the scientific method at the core (something I believe has already been included in the latest redesign of the NZ science curriculum). From my perspective, as a chemist, you would need to include: atomic structure, a simplified description of the Periodic Table and chemical properties, contextualised perhaps by looking a a range of important elements, basic carbon chemistry perhaps related to plastics/proteins In biology – basic cell structure, evolution …..perhaps some of our resident biologists could add to this, and perhaps physicists could do a similar list for … Read More

Appreciating Science* - Molecular Matters

Nov 15, 2013

Not everyone is good at science … and that is okay, can you imagine what it would be like if everyone wanted a career in science? However, this doesn’t mean that everyone cannot appreciate science, in the same way that I have developed a deep appreciation of music despite being tone deaf, and unable to play any musical instrument. So how do we develop a greater appreciation of science? For school students, I think more exposure to topics on science which focus more on science, society and critical thinking is the way to go. And this needs to be done from an early age. Science for problem solving, not memorizing endless facts, or doing meaningless calculations. For the wider public, more public science events, particularly of topics of public interest – for example, Mark Quigley’s talks on earthquakes were attended … Read More

LENR and the Scientific Community – my perspective - Molecular Matters

Nov 09, 2013

One of goals of science related blogs is to encourage enthusiasm about science. However, sometimes this enthusiasm can be misdirected, for example, when people such as intermittent poster Derek Syms/Electrickiwi misunderstand the scientific communities reaction to areas  of research such as LENR (low energy nuclear reactions), also known as cold fusion. Derek often makes demands that the scientific community should be doing more research in this area and claims this perceived disinterest is due to cover ups and corruption. I’ve written this blog article because I think such claims are worth unpicking in order to better explain how science works. However, a good starting point is for me first to consider my own position on LENR. Science is not often as simple as being “for” or “against” a particular idea – it is about deciding what you think the … Read More

Prestigious Award goes to Auckland Chemistry Professor - Molecular Matters

Nov 05, 2013

For a small country New Zealand has some impressive, internationally recognised research going on. One example is the work being done by Professor Bill Denny and his colleagues at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC). Since 1956 this centre has published close to 1000 papers in international  journals and has over 100 patents for new anti-cancer drugs. Leading the medicinal chemistry side of this research Professor Denny has played a major role in the many successes of this research centre. As recognition for this work, Professor Denny has just been awarded the American Chemical Society’s Division of Medicinal Chemistry Award for his outstanding contributions to the field. This prestigious award is awarded biennially, and previous awardees include at least one Nobel laureate. It is highly unusual for this award to go to a researcher’s working outside of the USA, which … Read More

Science and Conscious Ignorance - Molecular Matters

Nov 02, 2013

I came across this TED talk by Stuart Firestein entitled “The Pursuit of Ignorance” and I think it is one of the best TED talks I have seen. In it he talks about how many people misunderstand science to be just an accumulation of facts, describes the importance of conscious ignorance, and also comments how he sees the current education system fails both students and science. Several of my favourite quotes from his talk “Science creates more questions than it answers … it’s a kind of job security” “The bullimic method of education … jam a whole bunch of facts down their throats over a year, the puke it up on an exam over here” “We have to give our students a taste for the boundaries, for what is outside the circumference, for what is outside the facts, what’s … Read More

Draft Tertiary Education Strategy Focuses of Applied Research - Molecular Matters

Nov 01, 2013

The draft Tertiary Education Strategy for 2014 – 2019 has been released for comment and has a strong focus on encouraging applied research. There are six strategic priorities listed in the strategy. Priority 5 is the one focused on research. Described as “Strengthening research-based institutions” the wording of priority 5 indicates a heavy focus on industry  and economic growth. In some respects this is not surprising as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment appears to have taken the lead in preparing this document. This section of the draft document begins, “Building tertiary educations’s contribution to economic growth requires us to have strong, internationally respected and competitive universities and other research based institutions” It also describes how the Government is “proposing changes to reduce compliance costs, encourage the development of the research workforce, and further reward commercialisation of research” There will … Read More

Risk Bites and Scientific Models - Molecular Matters

Oct 21, 2013

I just came across this Risk Bites series of youtube videos, providing fascinating insight into various aspects of risk and other scientific topics. The following clip talks about the value and limitations of scientific models. Here is another looking at correlation, correlation and whether eating chocolate could help you win the Nobel prize. And here is another one looking at why scientists need to engage with the public. Read More

Two Nobel Prizes for Chemistry This Year - Molecular Matters

Oct 20, 2013

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry this year was awarded to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for their work on “the development of multiscale models for chemical systems”. Their work makes use of today’s powerful computers to apply quantum and classical physics to a variety of chemical challenges, for example modelling how drug molecules might interact with a protein target molecule. However, chemists also play an important role in the organisation awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) employs many chemists in a range of roles including assisting with the detection and safe destruction of chemical weapons, as well as assisting with the development of organisational policy. An interview with Dr Jonathan Forman, the OPCW’s science policy advisor can be found here for those interested in reading more … Read More

Should voting be made compulsory … or just easier? - Molecular Matters

Oct 14, 2013

After the low voter turnout for local elections this weekend there are calls to make voting compulsory. However, I think a better approach would be to look at the reasons why people do and don’t vote, and to use this to decide what to do. I have two suggestions why people choose not to vote 1) The process is so complicated. It took me about 1 hour to vote. In Christchurch we had a large number of candidates in each area, to look at and read about. Also the Health Board single transferable vote is not only time consuming, this year almost 20% of votes were disallowed because people had filled it in wrong. 2) People don’t know what the candidates stand for Some standing councillors feature more often in the media, and this can help voters decide to choose … Read More