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in TOUCH October 2011

Issue 5


Get out there!

Students share their experiences abroad

The Starry Sky Giving you a sense of depth when looking at the sky at night.

University Science Students Association

Representing science students in the 1980-90’s



n Touch is back from a long summer, hard at work. First of all, we would like to welcome newcomers, as well as returning students to our diligent faculty, constantly trying to improve for your benefit. In the 8 years since S-cubed has been founded, we have made several attempts to gain affiliation with international organizations and, in recent years, this desire has come to pass. A few years back we were recognized by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and in the past summer we have also become members of the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS). The wide range of information and articles offered by these

societies are incredibly useful when dealing with a tough assignment, or just to kill some time. We trust the coming year will be one of new experiences as well as prosperity for all of our readers. We would also like to thank you for picking up another issue of In Touch and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed editing it.

S-Cubed Publications sub-committee: John Gabarretta, Stephen Borg, Bernard Brincat, Jan D. Cutajar.

A refreshing start

The start of a unique experience

Meet the new S-Cubed executive.


6 The Starry Sky


Sleeping with the fishes

Space is big. Try and imagine the largest possible distance you can.


University Science Students Association


An insight into the Aquaculture industry.

Get out there!


Representing Science Students the 80’s and 90’s.


Broadening your horizons.

Discover the scientist in you

Where Physicists Come Together!


to take advantage of 22 Learning your opportunities

Address: Office number 6, Science Students’ Society, Students’ House, University of Malta, Tal-Qroqq, Msida MSD 2080 E-mail:

Make University memorable.

Telephone: +356 7943 3453

Design: Printing Unit, University of Malta

S-Cubed Committee: Julian Bonello Michael Buhagiar Katrina Grech Jonathan Schembri Marie Claire Gatt John Gabarretta Roderick Micallef Jonathan Muscat Julian Chircop Eman Mifsud Martina Mizzi Jake Spiteri

recycle Please recycle this copy after reading it.


ual n n A h t The 7 r @ a n i m e S Science Hotel t Baystree ber o t c O d r 21st – 23 ns io Applicat ! !! out now

The Annual S KSU Commo cience Gathering @ n Friday 18th N Room o Meet your f vember @ 7pm ri get to know ends, the staff! visit our o t e r u s o Be cubed.inf .s w w w : s website ore detail m r o f y l frequent activities g in m o c p on our u ’, the Trail n O ‘ s a such , parties s p u n a e cl visits. and site-

Don’t fo subsc rget to ribe t o our list f ma or reg u lar up iling about d o ates and m ur activitie uch m s ore.

A Refreshing Start...

John Gabarretta President Julian Bonello Vice-President Marie Claire Gatt Secretary Katrina Grech Treasurer Roderick Micallef Public Relations Officer Jake Spiteri Vice-PRO Eman Mifsud Activities Coordinator Martina Mizzi Vice-Activities Coordinator Jonathan Muscat Social Policy Officer Jonathan Schembri Administration Officer Julian Chircop Education Officer


he Science Students’ Society (S3 or S-Cubed) held its most recent Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 11th May 2011 leading to the setting up of the new executive. Full of new faces, this proved to be a refreshing start with

Michael Buhagiar International Officer members from all the five science departments becoming active in the organisation. The committee is currently made up of twelve members as above. The team has been hard at work to plan out several activities for the upcoming year.

Be sure to keep posted on the developments by regularly visiting our website at Should you wish to contact us with any suggestions or queries, please do not hesitate to do so by sending an email on:

The S-Cubed publications subcommittee was formed during the last AGM and currently consists of four members, most of whom are new to the student organisations scene.

Bernard Brincat

Stephen Borg

Despite this, they have all worked very hard to produce yet another quality issue of In Touch. The sub-committee plans to expand its operations by setting up a framework for regular publications which will be posted online, offering interesting reads for students all throughout the year.

Jan Cutajar

John Gabarretta


The Start of a Un The Science Students’ Society


he summer heat is all but over and the cooler season returns, bringing with it a sigh of relief from most of us. To many this also signals the end of a muchneeded break from hard work and studying. Without a doubt, however, the start of University marks a new and important step in all of our lives. By this time most of you have decided which career path you would like to follow and where you want to go. It’s time to start gearing up for what may be the final showdown with the books.

But University doesn’t all have to be about the academics – in fact it isn’t – and this is where the Science Students’ Society (S3 or S-Cubed) comes in! Founded back in 2003, S-Cubed has always strived to make campus life more entertaining and manageable for students. With the aim of promoting student unity within the Faculty of Science, the relatively young organisation has slowly, yet constantly, grown both in size and in outreach and is currently one of the leading organisations on campus. S-Cubed has also adhered to its other aims along the way through the numerous educational and social activities which are organised regularly throughout the year. These events range from science seminars to outdoor activities, environmental initiatives to site visits and international trips. S-Cubed also works hard to encourage the development of an environment more conducive to the advancement of science by extending its outreach for science


communication outside University. This proves beneficial to those interested in pursuing a science-related career but are still uncertain due to lack of information. Throughout the year these activities are organised by a committee made up of University students following a course in the Faculty of Science, which is re-elected annually by the members of that year. The 12-man (and woman)-strong team has been hard at work over the summer in planning its upcoming events. To give a brief taster of what is in store this, these are some of the major activities we organised last year, all of which were met by an incredible response from students: • The biannual Science Seminars, both organised in four-star hotels, which offer a great opportunity to make new friends, discuss ideas and wind down and relax throughout University; • On The Trail, an event which has become established as an adventurous outdoor experience, packed with social activities leading up to the much-awaited treasure hunt; • The Clean-Up series, kick-started as a joint initiative between S-Cubed and Greenhouse aimed at promoting greater environmental awareness and active citizenship; • The Annual Science Gathering, an initiative which started last year and aims to bridge the gap between students and staff. Last

nique Experience year’s experimental event was a massive success and we hope to see it grow both in attendance and in spirit (and not just kind you’re thinking of) in the coming years; • Site Visits to several locations, each of which bear a scientific relevance to our society, and which often prove useful in applying the stuff you learn at University; • A foreign trip to the UK in which a group of around 50 students visited London, Oxford and Cambridge over a four day period. We got to see several prestigious universities and landmarks as well as went to several sciencerelated museums throughout the trip; • Affiliations with renowned international organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), and more recently, the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS), both of which offer great networking and educational opportunities for those who join in their activities. As you can see, S-Cubed is about getting students together, and promoting exchanges in a less formal atmosphere. This year we aim to keep up this trend and hope to keep strengthening your way forward, which is the motto we always stand by. We will once again be attempting to combine the aspects of social entertainment and non-formal education in most of our activities this year and we hope you will all find the experiences gratifying. I’d like to mention that the S-Cubed committee is always open to student input – after all, if you form part of the

Faculty of Science, then you form part of S-Cubed too. Your feedback is always appreciated and goes a long way in helping to improve our initiatives and see where things can be done better. I would also like to encourage you to participate in our activities regularly – if you want your University experience to be a unique one, then you should surely not miss out on the opportunities we provide. Some moments will remain forever imprinted and you will be able to cherish your campus experience as a memorable and rewarding one. At this stage I would like to thank all of our hard-working executive members, both currently and those who were active in the past, for all their dedicated input throughout the months and years – most of what we’ve achieved couldn’t have been done without the proper groundwork or direction being laid out in the past. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the administrative members of the faculty of science who are always open to providing assistance and support both to students and our organisation throughout the year. All in all, I believe that if you make the most of University you will emerge feeling refreshed, eager to do more and work harder for what you would like to achieve, looking back at the fulfilling experiences you encountered along the way. So go ahead, start a unique experience. Make new friends. Have fun. Learn more. You’re part of the Science Students’ Society.


The Starry Sky L

ooking up at the night sky, I can’t help but wonder what all those tiny pinpricks of light are. Ancient astronomers thought they were unchanging points, a painted tapestry, fixed to celestial spheres. Now we know a bit better. Each pinprick is a star, galaxy, or a planet, all interspersed in the vastness of space. And that space is big. Try and imagine the largest possible distance you can. Bernard Brincat is currently a 4th year student in Physics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.

That’s nowhere close. The observable universe (that is, space from which light has reached us) is about 46 billion light years in any direction around the earth. No matter how many numbers you read, it’s impossible to get a sense of depth when looking at the sky at night. The few twinkling lights you see at night are just a tiny fraction of the 30 to 100 sextillion (that’s 1021) stars found in more than 80 billion galaxies. The most visible of these have been grouped into constellations since ancient times. Although we now know the stars aren’t really in line with each other and just happen to seem laid out in a pattern because of our point of view, constellations are still pretty useful for classifying celestial bodies. A few stars can be easily observed even when looking with the naked eye off a roof with plenty of light pollution around. The brightest star in the northern hemisphere is Arcturus, which is about 36.7 light years away and has a radius over 25 times that of the sun. Its name comes from the Ancient Messier 81 or M81 is a “grand design” spiral galaxy, whith its elegant arms curling all the way down into its centre. Located about 12 million lightyears away in the Ursa Major constellation, it is one of the brightest galaxies that can be seen from Earth through telescopes. (http://www.jpl.nasa. gov/spaceimages/details. php?id=PIA09579)


Greek “Αρκτοῦρος” (Arktouros) which means “Guardian of the Bear” which refers to the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Greater and Lesser Bears which it is next to. Vega, also known as Alpha Lyrae is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere. It’s about 2.1 times the size of our sun and 25 light years away from the earth. Since the position of the Earth’s poles varies, Vega was the northern pole star around 12,000BC, as opposed to Polaris which is the current North Star. The star Vega is part of a pattern called the Summer Triangle, which is almost directly overhead at mid-northern latitudes during the summer months and is made up of the brightest stars in the constellations Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila. The brightest star in Cygnus is Deneb also called Alpha Cygni, and is th 19th brightest star in the sky. It is a blue-white supergiant with a mass about 20 times the mass of the sun and a radius over a hundred times that of the sun. Deneb is approximately 1400 light years away. The final vertex of the Summer Triangle is Altair, called Alpha Aquilae. It is the 12th brightest star in the sky, located at 16.8 light years from Earth with a radius and mass almost twice as large as the sun’s. I want to see more Light pollution drowns out the light from a lot of stars making it hard to see stars in

The Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud, one of the closest star-forming regions to our own solar system - located about 407 light years away from Earth - viewed from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope ( php?id=PIA10181)

The four largest moons of Jupiter which are known as the Galilean satellites, first observed by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610. (

populated areas. Simply going to a more remote location, like Dingli Cliffs reveals much more. A lot more stars are visible. Most prominently, we can see that a lot of stars are concentrated in a sash running across the sky, our view of the galaxy we call home, the Milky Way. Still, we can only see so much with just our eyes, and this is where telescopes come to save the day. From the smallest of amateur telescopes to the Hubble Space Telescope a lot more is revealed. One of the most beautiful and fascinating photos taken by the Hubble is what is known as the Hubble Deep Field Project, the first of which were taken in December of 1995. The telescope was pointed at a small patch of sky in Ursa Major, which to the naked eye is completely empty. The resulting photos revealed hundreds and hundreds of galaxies in this apparently empty patch, peering farther than ever before. Later more photos were taken in the constellation of Orion known as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

A successor is to the Hubble is being built by NASA, but at the moment is in danger of having funding withdrawn and the project being cancelled. How far is far The closest star to us is Proxima Centauri which is a red dwarf star 4.2 light years away in the constellation of Centaurus. Now a light year is how much distance light travels in a vacuum in the interval of 1 year, (a light year is a unit of length, not time) and is just under 10 trillion kilometres (1016 m), which means that Proxima Centauri is about 4 x 1013 km away. In contrast the now ex-planet Pluto has an orbit which is 7.2 billion km (7.2 x 109) at its farthest from the sun, and the distance from the earth to the sun is approximately 150 million kilometres ( 150 x 106). To boldly go where no man has gone before So how long would it take to travel such distances? If we were travelling at the speed of light, then it would take, by definition 4.2 years to get to Proxima Centauri. Unfortunately, such a thing is not possible. With existing technologies, such a distance would probably take thousands of years. The farthest distance reached in space is by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977. Voyager 1 is as of August 2, 2011 about 1.7 x 1010 km away from the sun travelling at approximately 17km/s. It is still at the edge of our solar system, after 33 years of flight, having recently entered the heliosheath, a region of space where the velocity solar

wind (particles emitted from the sun) falls below the speed of sound. Radio signals between earth and the spacecraft currently take 16.12 hours to travel the distance between the two. But where to go? Stars and galaxies are relatively easy to detect, on the other hand planets around other stars are much more difficult. Since planets do not emit light and are smaller than their stars, they are not directly observable. Their presence is instead inferred from other things we can see. One way is to check if the star wobbles in its movement. If it does, it might be due to an orbiting planet. Another way is to measure the light from the star. If the orbit of a planet lies between us and the star, when the planet passes in between, the intensity of the light would decrease slightly. If this happens periodically, then it might be due to a planet. A number of such exoplanets have been found. One is Gliese-581d, an extrasolar planet which orbits around Gliese 581 about 20 light years away. The most interesting aspect about this planet is that it is believed to lie in the habitable zone around its star, which is the region where liquid water may exist, as water is considered a prerequisite for the presence of life. So will we be visiting other planets in other systems any time soon? Unless we can invent the physicallyimpossible faster-than-light travel, which is a staple of science fiction, it seems like we won’t be getting anywhere soon. But there’s still plenty to see from here. Just look up.


Sleeping with the fishes


Paul Vincent Borg is currently a second year BSc (Hons.) Biology and Chemistry student

ne particular branch of the biological sciences which I spent my summer working in, is fishery lab sciences and aquaculture (and do note, they are not the same: aquaculture is a way of growing fish in captivity and farming them, fisheries are involved in capturing fish and studying them biologically). This little experience opened up my mind towards a lot of important aspects of this branch of science, including just how important it is to know what you’re eating! One very impressive feature of our islands is the variety of fish found in deeper seas, the best way to know about which is through fishing. These include rays and skates like the common and thornback ray/skate (Raja Batis and Raja Clavata); or the various species of squid, cuttlefish and octopus (such species as Illex coindetti, Sepia Officinalis, and Eledone cirrhos) which can easily be found by snorkelling or even SCUBA diving. Arthropod species such as langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus); lobsters which are quite rare, and very hard to find, include species such as the slipper lobster (Scyllarides latus) which is a deep sea animal and the common spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas), Crabs such as the greater hermit crab (Dardanus arrosor) and the greater spiny crab (Maja squinado). Benthic1 fish around the Maltese islands are also plenty - different types such as eels, scorpions, flat fish, and other very strange fish that dwell at such depths. Of the fish mentioned, species include those such as the brown moray (Gymnothorax unicolor); Red scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa) or “cippulazz” as the Maltese know, which is a delicacy here on the island; wide eyed flounders and turbots (Psetta Maxima and Bothus podas); and strange-looking fish such as the angler fish (Lophius piscatorius) or the John Dory (Zeus faber). Some popular pelagic2 fish and mammals present in our everyday lives include: tuna, Benthic: organisms typically found living on the seabed 2 Pelagic: fish which normally inhabit the upper layers of the sea 1


dolphin fish, amberjack, breams, sharks, dolphins and whales. These are comprised of species such as: blue fin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), greater amberjacks, (Seriola dumerili), swordfish, (Xiphias gladius), and saddled breams, (Oblada melanura). Sharks include the piked dogfish, (Squalus acanthias), and the mammals include the bottlenose dolphin and fin whale, (Tursiops truncatus and Balaenoptera physalus). Many of the animals mentioned here are delicacies throughout the world, which is what fuels the market of fish so much. How many of you who are reading this love an awesome mixed grill of tuna, swordfish and grouper? Or fried fresh squid and octopus? It’s a market that rests on the stomach of the people. This is where fisheries and aquaculture step in - to ensure the science is done well and to feed you the healthy stuff, preventing purchase of some fish with a huge fungus growing on it, for example. One aspect of fisheries is raising awareness on species and their appearance or disappearance through routine checkups of the catches every season. One very common example is overfishing of blue fin tuna; given that the market is so high for this species, there is a lot of effort focused around ways to conserve this species. A particular way of doing this is through aquaculture. This, however, proves to be very difficult as blue fin

kept at St. Paul’s Bay (AJD tuna pens) and research can be conducted every year. A great leap has been made from last year to this year, with one tuna fish managing to survive to a larger stage. Unfortunately, it died shortly afterwards, reaching an age of about 55 days. For most people this would not seem like much - one tuna out of quite a large number of eggs that were cultured would not after all - but the fact that one managed to survive just shows that the research is on the right track, getting closer to achieving the goal. This is a mere example of how fisheries and aquaculture contribute to science. The laboratories themselves are used to study various aspects of the fish: size, weight, sexual maturity, organ lengths and age. It is interesting to note how the latter criterion is dependent on the species in question. For example, in the common dolphin fish (or “lampuki” in Maltese), scales are collected from the upper and lower half of its body, which contain a series of rings, due to the development of the scale, and each ring is counted. The rings themselves represent periods of time, similar to the rings in a tree.

t u n a require very specific conditions to grow properly. Luckily, a wild stock of eggs is

Once this data is collected from each catch, it is processed and placed in a record of its own. E v e n t u a l l y, all the information from each catch in each year is studied for certain patterns or trends, such as variations in length or fluctuations in population number. This would spark efforts in certain areas of research, such as aquaculture, to bring about changes in that field. Current research being done in aquaculture involves blue fin tuna (as previously mentioned), amberjack and

meagre. Malta is able to culture silver bream successfully, and yields around two million fish every year. This is quite a large number considering how small the country is and limited the resources are. A lot of factors are taken into consideration when culturing certain fish, such as food; the fish are usually fed algae such as Artemia, and then switched to copepods or rotifers (each one has its own pros and cons with respect to growing the food, and feeding it to the fish versus buying readymade feed). The research also involves vaccinating the fish against certain diseases. This usually requires a fish pathologist or a specialised veterinarian to study the population and find any abnormalities in the fish, which are then treated accordingly. In Malta, regrettably, there is a severe lack of pathologists - in fact, there are none! Hence, research in these fields is very limited, and could result in the fish dying en masse. Fishing in Malta is quite popular and has been so for a long time, stemming from the fact that we are surrounded by water It is usually carried out by trawling (scraping the bottom of the seabed with a spiked net and collecting the fish from below), and by line depending on whether the fish are benthic or not. Thousands of fish are caught every year, yet surprisingly enough, fishing in the Maltese archipelago is very limited even to become a fisherman a license is required, and only a certain amount of licenses can be handed out. Further restrictions, such as yearly quotas, have also recently been introduced by the European Union in a bid to conserve dwindling natural resource of the Mediterranean. So as one can see, the fish industry is quite a vast and important one with respect to many aspects: conservation, ecology, economics, biology, pathology, etc. And everything melds together to play a role both for our enjoyment, as I’m sure most of us love eating fish, and to play a part in keeping the earth in shape with respect to its members. Fish are an interesting branch of science and prove to be quite vast with respect to the field, and are not to be underestimated. The same goes for the smell.


USSA - Representing science students in the 1980-90’s In an article published within the Science Students’ Society (S3) magazine In Touch with Future Scientists in January 2010 (Issue 2), Melchior Cini and myself had mentioned that after 1969, the Royal University of Malta Chemical Society had faded away. Eventually, the University Science Students’ Association (USSA) took over. As promised this article briefly describes the history of this association.

Karl Agius graduated in B.Sc. (Hons) Biology & Chemistry in 2009 and just completed his M.Sc. in Biology. He is currently Honorary president of the Science Students’ Society, Student representative on Senate and Elected Representative of the European Students’ Union (ESU).


To understand the whole picture one needs to go back in time and understand the changes which the University was going through. In the early 1980’s, the Faculty of Science was dissolved. No archives showing what happened before that time with respect to student representation in the Faculty of Science have been found in the offices of S3. However most probably, USSA had existed already. In fact USSA used to publish a scientific journal called Quantum, the first two issues of which had been published by October 1978. This journal used to include articles which were also targeted to nonscience students. Some articles included “The Science in Science Fiction”; “Science and Politics”; “Water Chemistry”; “Clones” and several others.

When in October 1987, the Faculty of Science was reconstituted, there was no body representing Science Students. This was in fact the main reason why USSA was formed. Indeed, few months later, precisely on 7th January 1988, students reading a course in BSc. (Gen) and BSc. (Tech) held a General Meeting during which the Statute of the USSA was approved. The first committee consisted of Andrew Apap (President), Audrey Vella (Secretary), Michael Rizzo (Treasurer), Adrian Cardona (International Secretary), Liliana Cutajar (PRO), Chris Scerri (Sports Coordinator) and Nicholas Callus (Member). The society’s main aims as approved during the General Meeting at the time were to: - represent its members at the University; - represent is members on a wider National and International level; - promote cultural and scientific interchanges amongst its members; - encourage the development of an environment more conducive to the advance of science. On 19th January 1988, few days after the

General Meeting, a letter was sent by the Secretary of USSA to the Senate sub-committee for the recognition of student societies to apply for Senate recognition. USSA got the green light but in 1989/1990 the rector had decided to re-evaluate the eligibility of all student associations. USSA was rerecognised by Senate.

point out any shortcomings in the Faculty of Science and/or structure of the course, and to strengthen the link between the committee and the USSA members. Some comments from students at the time included: • “Lecturers should try to avoid simply reading of their notes. It’s boring.”

During the first few years, USSA was a very active society. In fact several meetings with major stakeholders within the field of Science and Education were held to primarily discuss problems encountered by students throughout their studies. Several activities were also organised for students. Below is a snapshot outlining the activity of USSA based on the archives available at S3 office.

• “Some lecturers are better at explaining than others.” It also sent a petition to the Faculty Board of Science regarding the proposed changes in the course structure. The issue of the caution money, whereby students had to pay a fee to use laboratories, was introduced in 1991. Students opposed this system yet students and the Faculty could not find and compromise on the issue.

In 1989 the committee organised a number of meetings with the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) to request funding for a number of publications.

By 1992, the committee was composed of James Borg (President), Luigi Pellegrini (Secretary), Konrad Pirotta, Brandon Caligari, Ramon Farrugia, Rudolph Gaerty and Ruth Mallia.

On 7th September 1989, USSA met with Rector Prof. Serracino Inglott to discuss the work carried out by the society and to outline problems within the Faculty of Science.

During this year the USSA reported various difficulties such as lack of cooperation from the Faculty of Science and lack of student interest and participation in USSA activities as a result of the demanding course.

On 15th December 1989 the executive sent a letter to the Minister for Education, Chancellor of the University, Rector, Dean of the Faculty of Science and members of the Faculty board of Science regarding a number of problems dealing with lack of staff, lack of refurbishment, lack of library resources and lack of funding at the Faculty of Science.

The association used to carry out campaigns to encourage students to read for a degree in science. In fact, in 1992 USSA published a booklet entitled the “B.Sc. course: A Guide To, Part 1”. This included a complete list of credits offered in B.Sc. course, a note on the M.Sc. course and a message from the Dean.

In 1990, the committee consisted of Stephen Camilleri (President), Antonella Vassallo (Secretary), Ray Sciberrras (Treasurer and Student Representative), Joseph Zammit (International Secretary), Adrian Zahra (PRO) Sandro Baluci (PRO), Joseph Rapa (Sports Coordinator), Nicholas Zarb (IAESTE delegate) and Anton Mangion (Student Representative).

Throughout this year the association also organised several social activities and published a newsletter. In October 1992, the president of the association also attended a Student Exchange programme. Throughout the same year USSA managed to secure Lm 75 from the University’s Grants to Students’ Societies scheme.

In this year, the organisation carried out a study to identify special areas of interest to USSA members, to


USSA also made sure to keep good contact with several governmental bodies. For instance on 13th September 1993, Luigi Pellegrini, secretary of USSA sent a letter addressed to Mr. George Pullicino (nowadays Minster for Resources and Rural Affairs) who had just been appointed chief executive of MCST. During the meeting held with MCST, for which James Borg, Michael Grech and Nicky Gingell attended on behalf of the USSA, possible co llab o ra tio n between the two structures and the formation of a chamber of scientists was discussed. D u r i n g this same period, then president, James


Borg and General Secretary Luigi Pellegrini informed the Malta Chamber of Scientists, an entity which had just been formed, that the USSA was interested in actively participating in the work of Chamber. The USSA executive also held several meetings with the Dean, at the time, Prof. E. A. Mallia to discuss several issues. One of these meetings was held on 19th August 1993. During this meeting the Introduction of a B.Sc. Honours course, the deposit paid as caution money for the labs, and summer work for B.Sc. students were discussed. In 1993, the USSA also participated

in a protest organised by KSU and mobilised BSc. Students to attend and make their voice heard The USSA also commented on the Summer Work Scheme, expressing its disappointment about a number of issues including the lack of dialogue of the then Minister of Education and the University Administration, the extension of the academic year, and why the work phase had been reduced from three months down to two. On 22nd December of that year USSA organised an activity called “USSA for Charity� at Plaza Complex Sliema between

6pm and 8pm. The executive collected donations which were then given to ACCORD (Activities of Christian Cooperation on Research and Development). On 15th October 1993, USSA organised a party at Gianpula during which a live gig was presented by then top local rock band Ray & The Characters. During the party, live transmissions were held with Island Sound Radio. In1995/6 the USSA had organised a party at the common room and a wine and pizza party. The journal Quantum was also published. In the same year, the association also published a newsletter and organised a faculty football team, coached by Ludwig Bartolo, also a BSc. Student.

Secretary of USSA was in 1993 elected on KSU as Vice-President obtaining an all-time record number of votes. In 1994, James Borg then USSA president also ran for the KSU executive. Though very active in the early 90’s no records are found of this organisation in the late 1990s. It is said that this organisation possibly dissolved due to financial problems. Students at the Faculty of Science remained unrepresented until 2003 when a group of students decided to form the Science Students’ Society (S3). However, we will speak on this matter in the next edition.

Luigi Pellegrini, who was the Genreal


Get Out Th With the start of your tertiary studies, there also comes the exciting prospect of studying abroad – a mind-broadening opportunity not to be missed! There are several programmes which you can take advantage of: ERASMUS, ISEP, IAESTE, AEGEE, etc ... These may all be baffling names to begin with, so here are a few words from Science students who took the leap into the unknown.


Jan Cutajar is finishing his undergraduate studies in Chemistry, having recently spent one semester studying at Bishop’s University in Quebec, Canada under the ISEP programme: 1. How did you go about the application process? This is perhaps the most time-consuming part of the experience and at times can be quite daunting. I suggest first deciding whether you want to study within or without Europe, and then researching the available universities including the courses they offer, the campus, faculty and student services. There is also quite a bit of paperwork to be done as regards your Programme of Studies (i.e. selecting the right courses from the foreign university) and the endless hunt for signatures from office to office tests your patience. However, if you respect all the deadlines and ensure that you fill in all forms correctly beforehand, it will be more than worth the hassle. Also, keep your grades in mind as they will be taken into consideration in the selection process! 2. Why study so far away from Europe? Personally, I wanted to break new ground and try start afresh away from home and family, a break for a new kind of freedom and independence, you can say. Plus, the promise of sub-zero temperatures and hip-high snow was too much to resist! However, studying in North America is an experience in its own right and this is due to the completely different education system, the


The bottom line with studying overseas is to dare yourself to go beyond borders and your boundaries. Feel free to bug the students below, as well as many others for more info and keep your eyes peeled for notices and emails regarding studies abroad – you don’t want to be missing these chances! alien lifestyle, the overwhelming culture-shock and other-worldly landscapes. To be quite honest, most of the times I felt as if I were living in a movie! Also, the resources available at such universities, such as the high-tech equipment and state-ofthe-art labs as well as the massive campuses give an edge to your learning experience. Don’t forget that you also get to travel to places far beyond your imagination; in fact, ISEP offers exchanges not only in Canada, but the U.S.A., Australia and even Japan.

© V.Satiat

3. What kind of lifestyle does an exchange student lead in Canada? Quite frankly, one of the best ever! From going to your morning classes in your PJs to living in rez on campus to having barbeques at your professor’s place, every day is worth telling the world about. The Canadians are all driven by the same flame of a mentality that you should party hard then study hard. This is every ounce true; on one side you’ve got Frosh Week, the wild week kicking the year off, Acoustic Tuesdays down at the pub, themed house parties and road trips every other weekend while on the other you’ll find weekly assignments, pop quizzes and midterm exams plus many evenings spent in the cosy library. Overall, it’s a lifestyle balancing insane fun, hard work, sport and leisure, friends and study. Furthermore, the friends you make from around the world will become part of your closest family whom you can’t help but keep visiting well after your study period. Go for it!


Get Out Th Christine Zerafa (Masters & STEPS) is a B.Sc. (Hons.) Biology and Chemistry graduate, currently pursuing her doctorate in Chemistry, and chose Manchester to study a non-science subject, music:

1. How did you cope financially any suggestions? Like any student who studies away from his home, it wasn’t easy at all to cope financially. My tuition fees cost £6,600 per year (for a two-year Masters course) and I estimated that I spent another £6000 on living costs, which is a lot! Since I had already been planning to study abroad from a couple of years before, I had found myself a few jobs to save money for my studies. This was, of course, quite hard as I had to do this while I was still a full-time student at university, and I also worked during examination periods. Also, as soon as I was offered a place at a Music College in the UK, I started doing some research on funding entities who could grant me some money. I couldn’t apply with the major funding body, STEPS, as my first degree was not in Music but in Chemistry, so I was sure it would have been a waste of time. Nevertheless, I applied with 3 music-related funding bodies (both in Malta and the UK), and I received funding from two of them, so that covered half of the tuition fees. Ironically enough, a few months after I started the course, a new scholarship scheme, the Malta Arts Scholarship, was launched and I couldn’t apply for it since I had already started my studies - you can imagine how frustrated I was! Luckily, my parents could afford to help me a bit, and two very generous relatives of mine gave me some money. Other suggestions: get a job, and don’t drink too much beer ;)


2. What did you learn, academically and/or personally, from interacting with people around the world? I learned so much during these two years! The course was very intense and being my first time in Music College, I found myself in a competitive world of musicians, surrounded by amazing tutors and a great music vibe. All of this helped me become a stronger person and musician. The fact that I met so many people from all over the globe opened my mind to new cultures and personalities. Besides, different experiences (whether good or bad) have today made me a much stronger and more independent person. 3. What experiences will you always carry with you from this study period abroad? All of them: the good and the bad, including all the friendships, betrayals, arguments, great performances and bad performances; some amazing concerts which I attended, housemate problems, getting drunk in house parties and college events, sitting in the cafeteria chatting with friends, meeting new people as well as playing with so many great musicians and all the stress involved. I cherish all of them. 4. Why would you recommend studying abroad? Not only because some departments abroad are much better than in Malta, but most of all because it helps you grow so much as a person. It makes you much more independent and assertive, all because of the experiences and people you live and encounter together with the problems you have to solve all by yourself.


Thomas Farrugia is currently in his final year reading for B.Sc. (Hons.) Chemistry with Materials and undertook an ERASMUS work placement in Belgium this summer: 1. What drove you to seek a placement abroad? How did this help in furthering your academic/ personal experience? When I heard that Erasmus placements were available I thought it would make for a great experience, especially since it was research-based rather than an exchange. The fact that it was a placement meant I would have a taste of what a real-life research group environment would be like, whilst also being abroad; a bit of a challenge in other words. In terms of academic experience, I’ve learnt that my subject is really vast and that to really tackle something, there is a tendency to specialize. It also allowed me to consider which fields I prefer within chemistry and the kind of work that I would find fulfilling as well as whether I would like to carry out research or not. I’ve also had the opportunity to use apparatus that isn’t run-of-the-mill at our University, and learned to plan my work – you need to think 2 to 3 weeks in advance at times. Personally, ERASMUS pushes you, since you’re out there on your own, or at the most with a small group of Maltese people, so I found myself managing my own affairs – food, going to the bank, shopping – you’ve got to fit them all in, whilst going to work, making friends and doing things that add spice to your day. 2. What challenges did you encounter? Managing yourself is surprisingly challenging – you’ve got to learn to rely on yourself to do things, whilst keeping yourself motivated. It’s true that relatives are only a Skype call away, but they’re not on the ground

with you, and hence can’t do things that need to be done by you. Settling in can be challenging too – just keep in mind that it’s much akin to building a base – you’ll need resources and tools to create products that you need or provide yourself with a service. The greater the variety of tools and resources you have, the more choice you have – especially when it comes to food (even increasing the size of your chopping board may make a big difference, or buying a good kitchen knife). 3. Any suggestions for anyone who’d like to follow in your steps? Do some research about the place you’re visiting – events, clubs, culture, people you can meet up with – the greater your resource list, the more likely you’ll be doing something when you’re there, rather than planning or sitting in front of a laptop. Learn some of the language basics – they’ll be put to use for sure, and locals always enjoy it when you speak to them in their language. Choose your research group/topic wisely – make sure you’ll enjoy what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to shop around – you’ll be working there for 3 months minimum and doing something you don’t like is a killer. Get a group together – having a group of people to go out with not only increases the fun, but you’re more likely to do stuff and keep yourself out of your room. The possibilities are endless – karaoke nights, cooking together and going out are just a few. If there are international students you also get to learn about different countries and you’ve got something in common already ! (Tip: check with your local AEGEE, AIESEC or IAESTE offices if there are branches near to where you are – it makes meeting people far easier and they usually organize fun events too!) Lastly, try new things and be yourself!


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• Access to the Virtual Library including journals, e-books and business, environments and scientific databases • Discounts on all your key titles from major publishers such as Pearson Education and Oxford University Press If you wish to benefit from membership in the Royal Society of Chemistry you should: • If you are an Undergraduate student following a Chemistry-related course at the University of Malta you can benefit from a reduced annual membership fee of £16 (€19.43) by applying as an Undergraduate (Affiliate) member of the RSC. • Simply contact anyone from the S-Cubed executive by sending an email to info@scubed. info and they will instruct you on how to fill in the application form.

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{ICPS} – Where Physicists Come Together!


Norbert Bonnici is currently reading for a BSc (Hons.) degree in Computer Information Systems and Physics.

re you a physics student? Yes? Then read on! :D Are you bored? Then join the club. Let’s pose a simple yet somewhat complex question to start this article. How can a lot of physics students meet up and have fun together while showing off their latest research? The answer is 42. It’s also the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. A second yet important and valid answer is ICPS, which stands for the International Conference of Physics Students, the main event of IAPS (International Association of Physics Students), which is organised yearly by one of its member committees.

And yes the joke “we’re hungry because we are in Hungary” was as common as an angry Maltese bus driver B.A.(Before Arriva). The conference started 25 years ago and was organized by students of the Eötvös Loránd University, in Budapest, Hungary in the year 1986. The main aim was to bring physics students from all around the world in one place and let them discuss their favourite subject while having fun together. Only fifty students attended the first conference, but after all those years of hard work, over four hundred students now attend this annual conference. The one week conference has its fair share of social and scientific programs. Each student gets the opportunity to listen to and give lectures on various topics in physics, visit local laboratories and make friends with physics students from all around the world. The Maltese contingency currently gives a lecture a year to keep the professor away. The Maltese lectures tend to be focused on astro- and particle physics while the rest vary from medical physics to solid state physics, basically almost everything. Apart from student lectures, highly talented physicists give very interesting lectures.

This year ICPS took place in Budapest, Hungary, same as 25 years ago, where we had the opportunity to meet Carlo Rubbia, a Nobelprize winner (1984) physicist who conducted research in CERN’s Super Proton Collider (SPS) with Simon van der Meer and their work lead to the discovery of the W and Z bosons; who gave a lecture on sustainable innovation. Each ICPS has its own flavour due to different cultures, especially the local cuisine. Paprika and chicken was the everyday solution to feeding 400 hungry “Hungarians”. And yes the joke “we’re hungry because we are in Hungary” was as common as an angry Maltese bus driver B.A. (Before Arriva). Fortunately the joke never grew old. Culture can also be appreciated by the implementation of fun excursions with fun names. For example, this is what Budapest had to offer: Photosynthesis (swimming in a lake), Quantum Caving (small tour of a huge cave), Tourbulence (boat ride on the river Danube), Chain Action (walking tour to Rám Ravine) and the Crown Discharge (Buda Castle and Margret Island). There is better way to and a physics filled day than with a themed party. The most prominent party is the Nations’ party where the participants bring food, drinks and their traditional costume to share their culture with the rest. Physics can never outrun politics, same as no one can exceed the speed of light. During this year’s 7 hour Annual General Meeting, S-Cubed joined IAPS as a Local Committee, giving Malta voting rights in the meeting. During this meeting a new executive committee was appointed and Scotland won the bid to host ICPS 2013. Now you are wondering, where will it be next year? ICPS’s are planned two years in advance last year in Graz, Austria, physicists from Utrecht, Netherlands managed to win the honours to host ICPS 2012. I hope to see some new Maltese faces at the next ICPS in the Netherlands. Anyone who is interested about ICPS 2012 can obtain more information at http://www.icps2012. com. Information about IAPS can be found at or by contacting me at


Discover the scientist in you


Jonathan Falzon is a student representative on the Faculty Board of Science and an Honorary President of the Science Students’ Society. He is also the KSU Education Commissioner while reading for a B.Sc. (Hons.) degree in Biology & Chemistry.

have been involved in loads of different activities this summer. From jam-packed days at work, to lazy sun-kissed days on our blessed beaches, I have kind of done it all. True, this summer did not signal a full break from my academic commitments because I had to spend a lot of time doing research and fieldwork in preparation for my thesis. I tried to juggle all this while also getting to grips with my work at KSU and all the meetings and office work that this entails. In the meantime, I also tried to find some time to play water polo, go out with friends and read about the latest innovative technologies from the IT and automotive industries. What a refreshing and sweltering summer!

Participate in activities within your faculty and in other activities such as those organised by S-cubed, events which are always professional and of the highest quality. In the midst of all this, I have been feeling more and more a certain ‘scientist’ streak developing in me. . That is, I am now able to start grasping the perception and analysis of certain situations in a ‘scientific’ way. Being a science student for me is no longer only about going to lectures, studying or writing lab reports. Thinking in a scientific way has become something quite natural and I think this is a sign that I am in the right course. Up until a few years ago, I used to think that most of the stuff I will learn will never be used again in my life. In simple and mundane terms, if you think of the course as just a series of study-units which you need to take, you will find yourself in the most depressing situation you have ever been. However, I am now seeing the course as a sort of a training period which is helping me to discover the scientist crawling inside me. All those dreaded challenges that the course throws at us, be they complex equations, assignments, tests,


three exams in a week or presentations in front of our peers and academics are simply different training sessions which give us the opportunity to prepare our mind to start thinking in the scientific way. I truly believe that in order to survive this journey and intellectually benefit from this process, one needs to cultivate a genuine love for the course. You do not need to be a Sheldon Cooper, but at least you should show some interest in the topics being discussed. It is a real pity that certain students tend to always describe the course in a negative manner and in a way which does not do justice to the so many positive aspects one can highlight. The Faculty of Science is not perfect but let us not forget that in the past few years, numerous improvements have taken place in the Faculty and I predict that further interesting developments will be seen in our Faculty in the coming years. The scientist in you is also nurtured by being active in student life. Participate in activities within your faculty and in other activities such as those organised by S-cubed, events which are always professional and of the highest quality. You will learn a lot without even realising, that even by being part of a team for a one-off activity; these are the same skills which will be really useful later on in the course when you will be involved in tasks which require teamwork. This is also the perfect antidote for when our course tends to become stressful and if you do not make the most out of your campus life I can guarantee that you will miss a great part of what being a university student should be all about. Some final advice. There are loads of opportunities beyond our shores which you can benefit from. Be on your guard and make sure not to miss out on any of these opportunities. The openings provided by programmes such as Erasmus will only be possible in particular semesters and it is best to plan from before how to reap the desired benefits .Enjoy the course and be scientists.



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In Touch Issue 5  

The Science Students' Society's biannual magazine series.

In Touch Issue 5  

The Science Students' Society's biannual magazine series.