Readers of Philosophical Transactions in Nineteenth-Century Manchester

Nine o’clock in the morning in central Manchester. It’s busy; it’s hectic; its streets are teeming with commuters. Picture the scene 150 years ago, and you’d spot quite a few similarities. Merchants are flogging their wares on Market Street, clerks are busying themselves into offices, and there are even some travellers brought in by the new railway wandering lost and confused around the metropolis of the north.

Yet there is one key difference. Whilst I take my place in a quiet, sparsely populated library, in various corners of Victorian Manchester sat hundreds of men and women absorbed in scientific books and journals. They were reading the latest editions of the world’s oldest scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions; they were internally questioning the merits of the last formal attempts to divine a theology from nature in the Bridgewater Treatises;

Translated as, "By wisdom and effort," Manchester's motto aptly reflects the hard work and dedication of its Victorian citizens.

Translated as, “By wisdom and effort,” Manchester’s motto aptly reflects the hard work and dedication of its Victorian citizens.

and they were working out for themselves how the latest inventions and discoveries, from the steam engine to electricity, worked. They were men and women, aged between 15 and 70, coming from long, arduous days working in warehouses, and shorter (and less dangerous) days in Council offices and Dissenting chapels. Yet they had in common the fact that they were devoting every spare moment, from an hour a day to an entire month of study, to science. In this light, it is amazing that nobody knew their stories. This project aimed to recover that history.

The history of readership is notoriously difficult to access. Very few libraries are known to have kept their historic lending registers – Innerpeffray and London libraries being two rare examples. Even then, simply knowing the names of readers is of little use if we cannot know something more about their history. Yet on this project, with some ingenuity and the kind help of a few excellent librarians, I have been able to trace and compare the reading habits of avid amateur scientists in Manchester. This gives the historian a great insight into the social and cultural lives of the northern city, and opens up many potential avenues for future research. The project has been incredibly eye-opening. I have enjoyed the chase of the evidence, commiserated in the dead-ends, and become a part of these readers lives as I met them as young teenagers engrossed in learning about mechanics and traced them to their deaths aged 60 in the workhouses of Salford and Greater Manchester. I am very grateful for the opportunity to lead my own research project, and be able to rely on the sound advice of my supervisor, Dr Aileen Fyfe. There is so much more ground to cover, I would be happy to spend much longer on this project … But for now, it’s time to tell these stories in the write-up.




The Ghosts aren’t the Scary Part…


Pictured above is a snapshot of an interactive map of St Andrews’ cinematic history (full version here). It chronicles all of the most significant events in this quaint town’s unlikely love affair with the Cinema and visual media in general.  Homage is paid to iconic events like the opening scene of Chariots of Fire – filmed at West Sands – but the map also includes some more hidden gems. Our heritage as the “nursery [if not the birthplace] of photography” (Dr Sara Stevenson) is on display, as well as stories I’ve personally discovered over the last few weeks. These stories are of ghost shows and moving paintings that, surprisingly, took place well before the traditional “birth” of the cinema. I’ve written an article, and am in the process of making a short film about my findings. All of these resources have been created with the goal of introducing first year students to early film history and the process of research in general.

Right now I’m giving you the clean, polished results of my work, but I’m covering up the sticky, complicated route through which I got them. I had at least one moment on this project when I feared that my work wasn’t going to produce anything useful. That fear becomes easier to bear once you know that you’re not alone in experiencing it.With that in mind, I’m going to share a little story.


Noir Smoke

Cigar smoke floats upwards. A young man is hunched over old newspaper records. He’s looking for a lead, but right now there’s not a damn thing to be found. The words are blurring together, he’s starting to lose hope. Will he ever find a clue he can make something out of?

This is not the beginning of a B-movie detective film from the ‘60s. This scene actually depicts me – a film studies student –doing historical research for one of the first times. Things were much less interesting in real life. There was no cigar smoke, and those rustic newspapers were digitised and on a computer screen. I really was working in a dark room though, and I really was starting to wonder whether I’d ever find anything I could use for my project. I was trying to research what kinds of visual shows took place in St Andrews between 1870 and 1890. The issue was that, at least at first, it didn’t seem like any shows took place at all. I’d never anticipated that a lack of leads would be a problem. After all, St Andrews is – in the right circles – world renowned for its photographic heritage. Photographs taken of this town in the 1840s can be found in New York’s Museum of Modern Art today, surely that leaves some kind of imprint on the following decades?

I met with my supervisor, and he helped me to realise that I wasn’t the first person to experience these kinds of doubts. I was used to writing undergraduate essays, where all the tools were already in front of me. This internship was making me feel like a kid in a swimming pool who’s just taken their floaties off. For the first time there was a distinct possibility I could drown. The only thing I could do was flail my arms and hope I stayed afloat. In order words, I had to keep searching those newspaper reports. Working without any guarantees of success is a challenge, but it’s a part and parcel of doing research. Soon enough things started looking up, and I got to feel that academic thrill of discovering events in that had never been known before. I’m really grateful to have had this chance to learn the part that struggle and uncertainty plays in the academic process. My project has seen quite a few shifts in direction, but I’m happy with the way things turned out. If you’re still in the early days of your project and you’re starting to have the same worries I did, don’t worry. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

All of the resources I’m working on will be hosted on Cinema St Andrews. A university website dedicated to this town’s cinematic heritage. If you’d like to know more about my project, or the history of cinema in St Andrews, click here.

Quantum Wires and Rectification

My internship began early in the summer, one week following my final exams. Starting that early ended up being a good decision. As might well be expected, what I had set out to answer ended up being quite tricky. So seeing as I live in St Andrews full-time I decided to continue with my research after my original ten weeks was up to investigate further. Following a short break, of course! I’m happy I chose to do this, as I’ve found the experience really enjoyable.

My subject of choice is theoretical physics, in the field of condensed matter. I focused my attention on electrical currents through quantum wires. These wires are tiny, on the order of nanometres in length, which is the sort of length-scale required to see significant quantum effects. What’s really different here from conventional wires you might find in consumer electronics applications is the behaviour of the electrons carrying the current. They can no longer be described as point-like; like “billiard balls” rolling along inside a pipe, for instance. They are spread out, display wave-like properties and interfere strongly with one another.

Primarily, I wanted to answer whether or not it was possible to insert an impurity into the wire in such a way as to resist the flow of current in the wire in one direction, but not in the other. The wire is then said to rectify the current. Further, I wished to see whether it was also possible to rectify the heat transported through the wire. Interestingly, it is possible in principle to do both.

Theoretical physics sets its sights on potential mathematical relationships – eg equations, theorems – to describe physical phenomena. Thus, I spent the majority of my time trying to construct such relationships. Ordinarily, the mathematics utilised for this sort of problem is complicated, and provides a detailed and accurate description. What these descriptions sometimes lack, however, is a concise and easy-to-follow “picture” of the system; one cannot easily interpret the maths – that is, understand what the maths is telling us about the physics.

A drawing of the wire. The wire allows current to flow from one side to the other and the impurity in the middle provides resistance. 

Since I was interested in a one dimensional wire, I instead approached the problem in a more qualitative fashion. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, the fact the wire is one dimensional allows for large simplifications. I managed to replicate the effect of rectification as observed experimentally and as explained in other models using this new approach.

The process of constructing this mathematical description has been informative and rewarding. I look forward to presenting my poster and discussing my results in more detail in October!

Life on Mars(?)

Life, a complex issue

Life on Earth has existed for at least 3.5 billion years. That is how long it took for biological evolution to use atoms and molecules as building blocks to create the incredible biological diversity that surrounds us. Whether these building blocks evolved on Earth or were delivered from celestial bodies, remains unknown.

Different organisms utilize different chemical substances in order to get the energy necessary for their survival. While humans and animals use mainly carbohydrates, some more primitive organisms (e.g., bacteria) may oxidize different ions (e.g., iron or manganese ions) and use energy from the electrons gained as a result of the oxidation process.

Why manganese?

Humans have been using manganese oxides since the Stone Age. A great example of manganese oxides used as pigments are the cave paintings in the famous Lascaux Cave, France. On Earth, large amounts of insoluble manganese oxides have been produced by organisms (bacteria, fungi, algae, eukaryotes) that catalyse manganese oxidation. Moreover, manganese is almost five times more abundant in the Martian soil, so if there is/was life on Mars, it was likely manganese-based.

SEM element map of a manganese nodule

SEM element map of a manganese nodule

How can we detect life?

On Earth, manganese minerals can form either abiotically or as a result of bacterial cycling related both to mechanisms for energy production and for metabolic detoxification. Some scientists argue that spectral signatures of a technique called Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) can be used to distinguish between these two types. However, there are some uncertainties that have to be clarified first.

The aim

In my project I aim to extend our knowledge of manganese (bio)mineralization by studying a wide range of biogenic and abiotic manganese minerals using different instrumentation, e.g., a scanning electron microscope or an EPR spectrometer in St Andrews and at the Open University in England.

My progress

I have already collected EPR spectra, now I am learning how to use MatLab that will help me analyse the data. Last week I travelled to the Open University where I used a scanning electron microscope to analyse the surface of my samples and took back-scattered electron images of them. During my internship I have already learnt a number of valuable lab skills and gained an experience of what is it like to be a PhD student.

As a final word, I would like to say a big thank you to the Laidlaw scheme, that allows us to work on our research projects and to my supervisor, Tim Raub, who spent long hours in the lab with me.

EPR Spectrometer, School of Chemistry

EPR Spectrometer, School of Chemistry

Photon condensates and Lasers

We all know about the 3 main states of matter; solid, liquid and gas. But if you cool a certain type of matter to extremely low temperatures (around -273C) it will condense further into what is known as a Bose-Einstein Condensate. These condensates have been made many times and are researched in many different places. In fact some of the other Laidlaw interns have been using them in their projects. However, I was looking into a particular type of condensate which uses photons instead of matter. Of course, this leads to a whole host of different problems, one of which being that light tends to be less happy to stay in one place than matter. To combat this energy is pumped into the condensate at the same rate that it escapes. This sets up an equilibrium where we can have a stable condensate that can be monitored using the escaping light.

In the theoretical models of these photon condensates, we see that vortexes are formed. Classically, vortexes are the swirling you see in the water when your bathwater goes down the plughole. In the condensates, they are essentially the same and would look like “swirly holes” if it were possible to directly see what was going on. The vortexes we would see in the condensates also tend to form a rotating group. These are known as “Rotating vortex lattices” and have never actually been seen in any real condensates. However, we don’t know if this is due to the large difficulties in detecting them or because there’s some sort of problem with the model.

The formation of a vortyex lattice in a photon condensate.

The formation of a vortex lattice in a photon condensate.

When we create a condensate, it puts all of the photons into the same state, meaning they should all have the same frequency. This is essentially what Lasers were invented to do and this leads to some similarities between the two. Over the course of my project, I was looking in depth at a modified set of Maxwell-Bloch equations which govern the light in lasers and trying to see if these equations would give us similar results to the photon condensate model. First I tried analytic methods of just taking the equations and trying to solve them. When that didn’t work, we looked into more numerical and computational methods that involve running simulations. The simulations turned up some condensates that seemed to start off stable, but then instabilities would grow in them, allowing us to see that we might have some vortex lattices formed.

My project is now over and throughout it I have learned so much about research including just how much time is spent finding and correcting mistakes! Overall though, I enjoyed the experience and it really wasn’t what I had originally expected it to be.

Scottish Canals and Quantum Mechanics

In 1834 the Scottish engineer John Scott Russell observed an intriguing phenomenon while he was carrying out experiments to design efficient canal boats. He noticed that when one of his boats was pulled through the water and stopped suddenly, a rapid water wave was set into motion which maintained its height and shape as it travelled. Russell followed his peculiar wave for several miles on horseback but the wave showed no sign of collapsing before he lost sight of it. Russell named his self sustaining wave “The Wave of Transmission”; however these are now more commonly referred to as solitons. These are localised waves which retain their shape as they travel.

My project this Summer involved looking at how a quantum particle interacts with itself gravitationally. A quantum particle does not exist in a set position before it is observed, it instead exists as a probability wave spread out over space. This leads to the peculiar situation of the particle being capable of interacting with itself gravitationally and under the right conditions it can be seen to “hold itself together”. Under these conditions the wave will behave similarly to Russell’s canal waves and will retain its shape as it travels, this is a soliton.


Artificially generated soliton travelling to the right in a laboratory wave channel.

At times working in theoretical physics can feel rather detached from the real world, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really happening when you’re working through twenty pages of calculations. But the connections that exist to the more accessible “real wold” that appear when you analyse you’re results never cease to amaze me. Why should a water wave observed almost two hundred years ago in a Scottish canal have anything to do with the they way that particles fundamentally exist in our universe? Connections such as these exist everywhere in nature and drive my interest forward in my studies of this incredible field.

My project this Summer is now over, but for a couple of loose ends to tie up, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent the last ten weeks. The new Physics I’ve learned along the way will help to no end in my final year and the experience of working as part of a research group has allowed me to develop my skills as a Physicist. The experience has left me more excited than ever to continue studying the universe.

Cold Atoms and Scattered Light

I spent my summer with the university’s cold atomic physics group and for the first time experienced working as part of the scientific community. The group’s primary goal is to produce an exotic state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). Unlike familiar solids, liquids and gases that we see in everyday life, condensates have peculiar properties. At extremely cold temperatures atoms – the building blocks of the physical world – start to give up their individual form and come together to produce strange matter waves. These are BECs and they are formed by taking a small gas of atoms and cooling them to extremely low temperatures, a chilling -273C, a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. This incredible feat will be achieved in St Andrews by holding a cloud of atoms with electric and magnetic fields, slowing their thermal motion in the complete isolation of a vacuum chamber.

On such tiny atomic scales in these cold low energy conditions, intense laser light can produce a notable force pushing or pulling on the atoms. This is what is used to trap them in place so that they can be studied. If you imagine shining a laser onto a wall you would see a bright spot fading out from the center. It is possible to tune a laser so that atoms would fall towards this bright center where they would be trapped for us to examine.

Usually though you would want your atoms to fall into more complex traps; perhaps a thin channel in which you could watch them flow or several separate pools of atoms to study. The most efficient way to create these laser traps is by scattering the light into the desired patterns. Such scattering is called diffraction, an effect that can be seen each night when looking up at the sky. Pin points of starlight which would usually be featureless dots in the darkness, scatter in your eyes giving them their jagged shape. It was my job this summer to help scatter laser light in a controlled manner off of a special crystal surface. Specifically I worked on being able to manipulate phase, a property of light that allows it to interfere to produce fine trap details or even exert a small force to move atoms.

My project is over now but I had a wonderful time taking part in this research and learning about the world of atomic physics. I was lucky enough to work alongside friends all through the summer and even travel to Austria where I met fellow students from across Europe. Studying the mysterious intricacies of nature is a great privilege and I really hope I never have to stop.

To the left is a picture of our optical setup in the lab. To the right is a design for an atom trap with phase control.

To the left is a picture of our optical setup in the lab. To the right is a design for an atom trap with phase control.

Of Apples and Mermaids, and Newton and Seals

When I knock an apple off my table, it falls to the floor. It doesn’t explode into lots of little oranges or pears, nor does it float suspended in the air and rain organic apple juice into the cup that magically appears below it (sadly). In fact, not only do those mildly attractive alternatives not occur, they cannot occur. When I knock an apple off my table, it must fall to the ground. The necessity of this must, is not a logical necessity but a physical necessity.

Physical necessity is so called because it draws on something about the way the physical world works. These patterns in the way the world works may be conceived of as the Laws of Nature. For example, the observed pattern of apples falling when knocked off tables may be explained by appeal to the law of gravity. Gravity, and Newton’s other laws of motion, are the sorts of things that are or would be laws of nature, assuming they always held true.

My project concerns the nature of these Laws of Nature. That is, I am interested in what laws of nature are, not precisely what statements are laws. One theory is that Laws of Nature have metaphysical existence, for example as universals (somewhat like Plato’s forms). Another theory is that they are simply descriptions of the way the world works. The first theory is a governing view, because according to that theory, the Laws of Nature govern, direct or constrain the way the world works. The second theory is a non-governing view, because according to that theory, laws simply describe the way the world works.
The idea of governance is central to the debate on Laws of Nature. Proponents of the governing view argue that since the idea that laws govern is an intuitive, intrinsic part of the concept of Laws of Nature, the non-governing view cannot possibly be correct. Proponents of the non-governing view are uneasy with positing the existence of metaphysical laws, and claim it is better to give up on the idea of metaphysical governance and simply have laws as descriptions.

To better understand this issue, consider the relationship between mermaids and seals. It may well be that legends of mermaids arose from drunk sailors and seals. However, that does not mean mermaids just are seals. The idea of seals does not capture something crucial about what it is to be a mermaid. It is more accurate to say that mermaids do not exist than to say that mermaids are seals. The governing view is somewhat analogous to mermaids: perhaps it captures the concept perfectly, but it’s doubtful if we want to buy into its existence. The non-governing view on the other hand, is like the idea of seals: we have no problems with its existence, but if they fail to satisfy central intuitions about lawhood, they are no more worthy of the name ‘laws of nature’ than seals are worthy to be called mermaids.

"Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!”  -Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

“Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!” -Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

My project tests the extent to which it is true that governance is an intuitive feature of Laws of Nature. To this end, I am employing empirical research techniques (surveys and statistics) to check whether the supposed intuition that laws govern holds true across different groups of people. Incidentally, THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO FILLED IN MY SURVEY! With your kind help I now have several graphs and a new appreciation for the wonderfully labour-saving features of Microsoft Excel and SPSS.

Experimental philosophy is a relatively new field. Although the techniques I am using have long been used in the social sciences, they are quite different from the proverbial philosophical armchair. One of my challenges has been to adapt these techniques for my project. For example, although the idea of testing intuition pumps is fairly simple, there are quite a few extra steps because of my subject matter, such as translating more technical jargon into more regular prose, or even explaining the topic while ensuring the phrasing does not bias the results with demand effects. It has also been fun constructing different ways to analyse data, keeping in mind the theoretical basis of statistical tests and the kind of data I have.

My main finding is that there is a strong intuition in general that Laws of Nature govern, although this intuition is much weaker among those with prior knowledge of the debate. Also, it is not through association with moral laws that laws of nature are thought to govern.

Right now, I’m examining the implications of my results on the laws of nature debate. A mind map with movable points has proved very helpful both in reminding me of the big picture, and enabling me to see how different combinations of points and arguments flow together.

My experience has been both challenging and rewarding. One insight into research I have gained is the importance of organisation and goal-directedness. In my readings I have found several really fascinating ideas, broadly relevant to my topic, but not compatible with my research method. It’s not just about discovering new things, but doing so in an organised manner. Ideas can be combined in many ways, but some of those ways don’t make sense.

Hopefully come September, I will have combined my ideas in ways that do make sense.

Of libraries in the lagoon, elegant letters and lavish parades

Venice seen from the island of San Giorgio

Venice seen from the island of San Giorgio

Venice is a very magnificent place…’tis impossible to give a stronger idea, ‘tis in a style peculiar to itself…

With this words a British lady on her grand tour described her impressions of Venice, a city which, when first approached from the lagoon, never failed to appear as a place magically rising from the water. The fascination exerted by Venice abroad rendered it a not-to-be-missed stop for the tourers venturing south of the Alps, attracted especially by the festive atmosphere typical of the carnival, the theatre season, the religious feasts and street fairs. Focus of my research over the past weeks has been one of such events, a regatta celebrating the stay in Venice of the Duke of York, brother of George III. Gilded parade gondolas filled with flowers to resemble floating gardens, golden and silver decorations, brocade drapes hanging from the windows, even ephemeral architectural constructions built on the lagoon were prepared with the sole desire to impress and honour the guest and with no concern for the expenses. Taking into account the contrast that this splendour created with the real situation of progressive economic and political decline faced by Venice, my interest has been to analyse the impact that this ceremonies had on local and foreign viewers, expecting to be able to appreciate the different views on this juxtaposition between the apparent splendour and a less shining reality.

What I have found is that the impression of foreign visitors, perhaps to an extent shaped by their own expectations, raised by the travel accounts they would assiduously read before departure, was rather positive. Most visitors speak, rather amazed, of a beauty beyond words, and of the difficulty they experience in describing to their correspondent such entrancing views. Very little contact was in fact possible between tourers and Venetian patricians owing to precise regulations imposed by the government, and this somewhat explains the only partial understanding of Venice they could gain. On the other hand, criticism of public spectacles seems not to have been welcomed by the institutions, so that celebratory pamphlets written by lesser Venetian poets and approved by the censors tend to be easier to find than private and more genuine remarks, often in the form satirical poems, still anonymous and published much later.

Analysing the phenomenon of spectacles from this twofold perspective has enabled me to work on my research in Venice and in London. I am grateful for the opportunity this project has provided of studying primary documents in archives and specialist libraries, for it has been the most interesting and challenging aspect of the work. My first days in Venice were a collection of new experiences and naïve mistakes, which have however proved very instructive. Rather intimidated on my first visit to a research library, I dared to ask which the best way to research documents and material was. Annoyed and slightly amused by the rather innocent question, the librarian’s answer was a mere ‘Just look over there’. Rather than a computer or, at least, a series of well written catalogues, the ‘over there’ I dealt with for the following weeks was a series of voluminous hand-written registers full of abbreviations and a sequence of shelves packed with wooden boxes, in turn filled with the handwritten cards forming the index. The ‘looking for documents’ may have proved arduous, but I have appreciated the possibility of working in old and beautiful reading rooms while deciphering the handwriting of official documents and poems, handling manuscripts and reading the remarks annotated on fragile paper by British visitors.

My ‘library grand tour’ has now come to an end. I am back in a rather empty St Andrews to finish the project, thankful to be able to go to the library without proceeding at slow pace among crowds of tourists persuaded that every stone of Venice deserves a picture, but hopeful that in the future I will be able to work again surrounded by frail, dusty manuscripts.

The main reading room of the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice

The main reading room of the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice

“Clean your fume cupboard, Connor.”

Fume cupboard

Eventually and hesitantly, I cleaned my fume cupboard. I was surprised to find how tidy and well-kept research fume cupboards appear to be. Apparently I have falsely been under the impression that the key to a lucrative academic career involved disdain for arbitrary protocol. I have also been mistaken in believing that it is essential to possess an affinity for convoluted theories that are only matched by the complexity of one’s own…fume cupboard. Okay, that’s ridiculous. I know. But my idea of what research involved was probably quite naïve; nevertheless, it has changed. I’ll come back to that though.

Over the past nine weeks I have focused on synthesising various compounds that potentially could have an inhibitory effect on the toxoplasmosis causing parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

The Malaria Box was an essential tool in this project, where as an open resource it was created in order to encourage malarial research – which is vastly under financed as the disease tends to only affect poor countries. This public-private sector partnership, the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), was set up in order to provide a collection of 400 compounds selected based on their high activity against the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum. As this parasite is biologically related to T.gondii, a compound which showed promising potency against P.falciparum was selected to explore structure-activity based relationships (SAR) on possible inhibitors of Toxoplasma gondii.

Now that I have reached the end of my project, I can positively say that I have managed to successfully synthesise and characterise four compounds. These compounds have now been sent to The University of Vermont, where they have specialist facilities to test the potency of the compounds on the parasites. I hope that I will soon be able to analyse the data, and have some exciting results to report.

Originally, it was my intent to synthesise five compounds; however, this changed upon characterising my fourth compound. I found that rather than producing the desired product, a different result came about. Unknowingly, the resulting desired product had further reacted to form a dimer (consisting of two monomer subunits). With some reflection, it seems highly obvious as to why this would be. The chemistry involved a reaction between a nucleophilic (‘positive-loving’) amine group attacking an electrophilic (‘negative-loving’) carbon-chlorine centre. The desired product possessed an additional amine group thus causing the product to further react using its additional amine group to attack any excess of reactant (possessing the carbon-chlorine centre), thus producing the dimer. Follow?

Anyway that doesn’t matter too much. What does matter is that this experience gave me an opportunity to act as a leader. I was able to assess that the reaction hadn’t progressed in the way that was expected, and somehow I devised a method to solve the problem. I suggested an alternative route which involved creating an extra step (replace the amine group with a nitro, followed by a reduction to the desired product). Due to a low yield from the nitro reaction and time constraints, the amine product was not obtained. Crucially though, this process will be carried out in future work by the research group. This act of independent critical thought is surprisingly less common for undergraduate science students to partake in, as most experience in the teaching laboratory is very structured and methodical. I believe it is this type of thinking and problem solving that separates leaders from students.

I think that my idea of what constitutes as the right sort of person for research has changed. A chaotic mind that is reflected in the chaos of one’s fume cupboard is not the best criteria for a good research scientist. The persons suitable for the job are those who attempt to explain the logic behind unforeseen results, and those that rather than view non-ideal results as failure or a waste of time, take them as results in themselves.