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Focus: Metacognition

Project 1. Confirmation Bias in Science: Investigation of student reasoning in physics courses

The term 'confirmation bias' refers to a tendency to favor evidence that confirms specific preconceived notions, believes, expectations, or even hypothesis at hand. 'When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service!' (Mackay). Understanding the difference between (1) impartially interpreting data in order to arrive at an unbiased conclusion and (2) selectively interpreting data to justify a specific conclusion is particularly important for science and engineering students. However, many introductory physics student responses to a variety of tasks suggest that students tend to apply both thinking schemas when presented with an unfamiliar situation. While one schema involves an unbiased and systematic analysis of a presented situation, the other reveals reasoning steps that lead to an intuitive answer that is perhaps more intuitively appealing to a student. This project focuses on probing whether the latter reasoning pattern is consistent with the confirmation bias.

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Project personnel and collaborators: Mila Kryjevskaia, Nate Grosz (NDSU), MacKenzie Stetzer (University of Maine)


Born and brought up in County Durham and educated at Shotton Hall Comprehensive School and Peterlee Tertiary College, I read for a DPhil in Physical Chemistry at Magdalen 1992-96 after a first degree in Physics and Chemistry at Leeds University. I worked as a NATO Postdoctoral Fellow in Boulder, Colorado with Professor David Nesbitt and then as a Ramsay Memorial Fellow back in Oxford. My first permanent academic job was at the University of Warwick (1999-2006) before I moved to Cambridge (2006-08). I finally returned to Magdalen as Tutorial Fellow in Physical and Theoretical Chemistry in 2008. I am now Professor of Chemistry and Head of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry in the department of Chemistry.


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All aspects of physical and theoretical chemistry.

Research Interests

I run a research group of about 10 people within the Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory with research interests spanning gas-phase spectroscopy and dynamics and spin dynamics in protein systems. In particular, we use a combination of experimental and computational approaches to study the structure and chemical reactivity of isolated transition metal clusters as models of active sites on heterogeneous catalysts. In other projects we employ novel optical cavity-enhanced absorption techniques to study magnetic field effects in proteins – work driven by a desire to understand the way many animals, especially some migratory songbirds, sense the Earth’s magnetic field.

Selected Publications

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Free electron laser infrared action spectroscopy of nitrous oxide binding to platinum clusters, Ptn(N2O)+
Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 22, 18606-18613 (2020) DOI: 10.1039/D0CP02800B

Detection of Magnetic field Effects by Confocal Microscopy
Chemical Science, 30, 7772-7781 (2020) DOI: 10.1039/D0SC01986K (Edge article POTW)

Infrared Study of OCS Binding and Size-Selective Reactivity with Gold Clusters, Aun+ (n = 1–10)
J. Phys. Chem. A, 124, 5389-5401 (2020) DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpca.0c03813

Demonstration of a chemical compass in microtesla magnetic fields: a proof of principle for radical pair magnetoreception in birds
Nature Comm., 10, 3707 (2019) DOI:

Photodissociation Dynamics and the Dissociation Energy of Vanadium Monoxide, VO, Investigated using Velocity Map Imaging
Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 21, 15560-15567 (2019) DOI: 10.1039/c9cp02120e

Structural isomers and electronic states of gas-phase M+(N2O)n (M=Co, Rh, Ir) ion-molecule complexes
Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 21, 13959-13967 (2019) DOI: 10.1039/c8cp05995k (Ashfold festschrift)

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IR Signature of Size–Selective CO2 Activation on Small Platinum Cluster Anions, Ptn– (n = 4–7)
Angew. Chemie – Int. Ed., 57, 14822 (2018) DOI: 10.1002/anie.201809099

Magnetically sensitive radical photochemistry of non-natural flavoproteins
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 140, 8705 (2018) DOI:10.1021/jacs.8b03104