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in TOUCH October 2012

Issue 7

Opportunities beyond our shores

Students share their experiences

Bridging the Gap:

University life - fulfill the experience!

Film Photography Learn about the complex process of photography

Characterisation of Maltese Honey


Arrow Pharm (Malta) Ltd Proud Sponsor of the Science Students‘ Society

Science Drives Our Global Mission Every day the employees of Arrow Malta, now a member of The Watson Group, are committed to a singular global mission: to develop and distribute trusted generics and advanced, specialty branded pharmaceuticals, enabling people of the world to achieve a better quality of life.


Arrow Malta • HF62 Hal Far Industrial Estate • Hal Far BBG 3000 • +356 22298000 • •


Meet the Exec

a fresh new team



Bridging the Gap university: not just academics

Film Photography

the science behind the camera

16 Characterisation of Maltese Honey research on honey


Opportunities beyond Our Shores iaeste summer traineeship


Bright Molecules with Thinking Abilities research on molecular logic gates within the Department of Chemistry.


Address: Office number 6, Science Students’ Society, Students’ House, University of Malta, Tal-Qroqq, Msida MSD 2080 E-mail: Telephone: +356 9923 4771 Design: Front Cover: Printing Unit, University of Malta J.P. Formosa

S-Cubed Committee 2012-2013: Michael Buhagiar Timothy Debono Johann Galdies Martina Mizzi Antonella Portelli Ryan Sultana

Marija Cini Chris Desira Eman Mifsud Anna Pulo Elena Schembri

From Vine to Wine the science of winemaking

recycle Please recycle this copy after reading it.


The editor


elcome to another issue of ‘In Touch’! October signals the start of another exciting year at University, be it your first time or not on our lovely campus. We hope you have had a great summer and are now ready to get back to work. Work has been pretty much non-stop here at S-Cubed this summer in order to guarantee another year packed with top notch activities and initiatives.

Michael Buhagiar is currently President of the Science Students’ Society and is in his final year of studies, reading for a degree in BSc. (Hons) Chemistry with Materials. His passions include travelling and meeting new people.

This issue features yet another collection of quality articles as has now become customary ever since the first Issue of ‘In Touch’ three years ago. For this reason we’d like to thank every past and present executive member of S-Cubed who contributed in some way or another to this magazine; for if it were not for the enthusiastic dedication and commitment shown ‘In Touch’ would not have grown as it has done so today. Written by a variety of authors, from fresher students and post-graduates, to lecturers and researchers, in this issue you will delve into a wide range of topics which promise to be a very interesting read indeed. The science behind photography, smart molecules, honey, wine you name it! We hope you enjoy reading this edition of “InTouch” magazine, and we wish you a year full of fulfilling experiences and wonderful memories. The editorial team Martina Mizzi Johann Galdies Michael Buhagiar

Martina Mizzi is currently the Public Relations Officer of the Science Students Society and is presently in her third year of studies for a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Biology & Chemistry.


d October Join us on Wednesday 3rquality for a night of nibbles and mates! time with your new class able Tickets out now and avail r, from any executive membe nd! or check at our Fresher’s sta Johann Galdies is a second year student currently reading for a BSc (Hons.) in Biology and Chemistry, and has recently been appointed as S-Cubed’s Educational Officer.


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xecutive This year ’s e a mix s re board featu stly o m t of old bu eager l al s, ce new fa pact to leave an im er d and work har sure en than ever to nues ti n co S-Cubed s it n o to build the m o fr ss e succ The . ar previous ye tive cu e x e S-Cubed . 3 1 0 /2 2 for 201





o - ordinator

Bridging the Gap


Michael Buhagiar is currently President of the Science Students’ Society and is in his final year of studies, reading for a degree in BSc. (Hons) Chemistry with Materials. His passions include travelling and meeting new people.

ctober is upon us once again and with it another academic year! If you are reading this magazine for the first time because you are new to University, I would like to welcome you to the Campus life and I can guarantee you are in for some fun times. While many of us were enjoying our summer holidays, the S-Cubed executive has been hard at work preparing for what should be a very important year; next April, S-Cubed will be celebrating its 10th year anniversary since its inception. It’s safe to say now that S-Cubed has come a long way from being a just small group of friends with a dream, to presently one of the leading active student organisations on campus. The current executive board comprises eleven enthusiastic students and draws its strength from its rich diversity – it has a balanced representation of students from all the major departments within the Faculty of Science from all course years and also a roughly equal proportion of male and female students. Such diversity can only bode well for the


organisation which is always striving to live up to the main aim of its establishment, that of promoting unity amongst all students and potential students within the Faculty of Science, irrespective of the department to which they pertain. In order to accomplish this, this year S-Cubed is bent on achieving two principle goals – firstly to actively engage the student body to contribute themselves to their organisation and make it their own, as opposed to merely attending activities and secondly to increase its outreach and accessibility to its members. Although not many of you may know, every student reading for a degree within the Faculty of Science is automatically a member of S-Cubed and thus it is every student’s responsibility to participate in any way one can. Being an active student within your organisation in no way implies that one needs to be part of the executive board and if you would like to be involved and are wondering how you can do so, I am pleased to tell you that this year we have launched a number of opportunities to satisfy all tastes. If you have a passion for video editing, communicating science in a fun and informal way, writing, photography, sharing your knowledge with others or would simply like to help out and put your own ideas forward we are here to listen to you and give you the chance to do so. I am certain that there are a number of talented students from our faculty who have so much to offer and do not yet know it or shy away from doing so. Fostering a sense of belonging to one’s organisation between all students however means that we must constantly work towards increasing our outreach and accessibility towards our members. For this purpose, S-Cubed has created a Twitter account this summer to compliment the current social media channels such as the Facebook page and Facebook group, which is open to everybody and is a great way to stay in touch with our activities and share knowledge. Besides this, we have just launched a new website designed with added features, aimed at improving communication between the executive and the organisation’s members whilst simultaneously encouraging increased student interaction through a more user-friendly interface. This has been achieved by revamping our mailing list and integrating it within the website so that students may subscribe to a newsletter which will allow students to receive regular updates on our activities. Apart from this, S-Cubed has also organised

a couple of activities throughout the summer. The summer holidays with S-Cubed kicked off with a day at Golden Bay to celebrate the end of exams called “The Beach Chillout”, which was a free event where students were encouraged to bring food and cook it over the BBQ and drinks were also available for a small charge. Towards the end of August, S-Cubed also organised a Try Dive in collaboration with DiveMed for the second successive year. Here students had the opportunity to go on a Scuba diving session accompanied by a qualified instructor for a very reasonable price. Students were also able to benefit from discounts on courses and apparatus offered by DiveMed. As you may have begun to realise it has been a pretty hectic past few months. Meanwhile, as preparations for this year’s Freshers’ Week are in full swing, the executive is also hard at work on other activities which are in the pipeline for the next academic year. Be sure not to miss out on our Annual Science Seminar which is held towards the end of October as this is guaranteed to be a weekend of great fun and the perfect opportunity to make friends right away. Here at S-Cubed we try to instil the notion that your time at University should not be simply limited to shuttling between home and the lecture room, but in addition to that making friends and having fun are necessary ingredients for a holistic campus experience. Understandably, being a Fresher at University, thrust in an environment completely different to what you have been used to at secondary school or 6th form, can be quite a disorientating experience but rest assured we are here to help you. Do not hesitate to go up to one of the executive members and ask for guidance or advice both during Freshers’ Week and throughout the year – funnily enough we are students ourselves and were also Freshers’ once upon a time (it’s already been two years for me, time sure is flying by!). We are committed to making your University experience here as worthwhile as possible. Although implementing these goals remains a constant challenge I am confident that together we can continue building on past achievements and work towards overcoming this common hurdle. We’re super excited to kick off on another year here at University, and we sure hope you are too. If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter, and join our Facebook group and stay tuned for yet another jam-packed year with S-Cubed – The Science Students’ Society!


Bright Molecules wit


n exciting area of frontier research combines ideas from mathematics and computer science with chemistry and electrical engineering. It involves designing intelligent molecules capable of computation. Computers count using binary, the universally adopted number system of 0s and 1s. This idea of counting using 0s and 1s is being done at the molecular level in labs around the world.

Dr. David C. Magri is a senior lecturer and researcher in the Department of Chemistry. He lectures courses in analytical chemistry including CHE1350 Principles of Analytical Chemistry and CHE3240 Separation Techniques. His research interests include the design and synthesis of luminescent sensors, molecular logic gates and intelligent materials.

My research laboratory in the Department of Chemistry is one of them. We design and synthesize molecules with built-in logic operations according to Boolean algebraic functions (e.g. YES, OR, AND etc.). Just as individuals use these commands searching the internet for information on Google, molecules can be designed to retrieve chemical information from a solution for various applications. To accomplish this, molecules are designed to response to a stimulus (input) such as a change in pH or the addition of a chemical to a solution. The response (output) is conveniently monitored as the emission of light from the molecule. Molecules that work this way are known as sensors or switches. Molecule 1 is an example. It works like a light bulb with a switch, where the stimulus is the addition of acid. When the switch is ‘off’ (input 0), the light bulb is ‘off’ (output 0). But when the switch is turned ‘on’ (input 1), the light bulb turns ‘on’ (input 1). The truth table is shown is Figure 1. The YES logic gate 1 is ‘off’ when no acid is added to the solution. However, when acid is added to the solution (input 1), the nitrogen atom becomes protonated. This allows a molecule like 1 to glow bright blue (output 1) when irradiated with UV light as demonstrated in Figure 2. When no acid is added (input 0) the solution does not glow (output 0). There are also many two-input logic gates, sixteen in Figure 1


Figure 2. The ‘on’ and ‘off’ states of a fluorescence YES logic gate for protons. The logic gate fluoresces blue at low pH (high acid concentration).

th Thinking Abilities fact. Choosing between which of two shirts to wear in the morning is a practical example of OR logic. As long as you go to work wearing at least one shirt (you could wear two shirts, one on top of the other) OR logic is satisfied. The point to remember about OR logic is that it is not selective. For selectivity, we use AND logic. Ballroom dancing is a classic example of AND logic − without a partner you can’t dance. A rather interesting two-input logic gate is exclusive OR (XOR) logic. This logic gate describes society’s general view on dating. It is generally considered acceptable to date more than one person, but don’t try to go out on a date with two individuals at the same time as the net result tends to cancel out. A potential application of AND logic at the molecular level could be for use in photodynamic therapy (PDT), a promising treatment for cancer. The treatment requires a laser, a photo-reactive drug and oxygen found in human tissue. Before surgery the patient takes a photo-reactive drug. During surgery, the laser is directed at the tumor site, which activates the drug to generate single oxygen, a reactive molecular species that kills cancer cells. The problem is that it also kills healthy cells too − in other words, the treatment is non-selective. A solution to this problem is to take advantage of the fact that the insides of cancer cells are different than normal healthy cells. Notably, cancers cells have higher levels of H+ and Na+ ion levels than normal cells. By designing molecules that only participate in PDT when both H+ and Na+ ions are detected, according to an AND logic algorithm, would save healthy Figure 3

Figure 4

Copyright American Chemical Society, 2006.


cells and only result in the death of cancer cells. This novel approach could reduce the recovery time of patients after PDT treatment.

“In the future,

Another potential application of molecular logic gates is in medical diagnostic applications. Molecule 2 is an example of a three-input logic gate. With three-inputs, there are eight possible output conditions. After irradiation with light, 2 communicates the presence of sodium (Na+), protons (H+) and zinc (Zn2+) ions by a fluorescence signal. Each receptor in the molecule is selective for only one of these ions. In the absence of one, or two or all three chemical species, the fluorescence light signal is low (output 0). However, when all three chemical species are present in solution the molecule gives off a blue fluorescent light (output 1) as summarized in the truth table. In the future, molecules could detect a number of disease related parameters simultaneous, and also have the “thinking” ability to make a diagnosis like a doctor. Do-it-yourself home medical examinations, somewhat like a pregnancy test, that if positive would allow the individual to consult a medical professional for a more-thorough examination, could be another possibility.

molecules could detect a number of disease related parameters simultaneous, and also have the “thinking” ability to make a diagnosis like a doctor.”

Students working on related research projects are exposed to a broad perspective of chemistry including organic, analytical, inorganic and physical chemistry. The projects involve the synthesis of organic molecules and the application of separation techniques, organic

photochemistry, Boolean algebra, and the utilization of many analytical techniques including UV-visible, fluorescence and NMR spectroscopy. Anyone interested in learning more is always welcome to come by my office. If I’m not in my office, then try the lab.



Film Photography


hotography as we know it today derives its roots from ancient times at around the 5th Century B.C. where the Chinese philosopher Mozi discovered that light passing through a small opening forms an inverted image. This observation led to the invention of the Camera Obscura which consists of a darkened chamber with a small aperture which projects an inverted image onto the wall opposite to it, similar to a pinhole camera.

Jean Paul Formosa is a first year student reading for a degree in BSc. (Hons.) Chemistry with Materials. He is also passionate about all types of photography especially landscape and studio photography.


Pinhole Camera A pinhole ‘lens’ works by blocking most of the scattered rays of light coming from the source and projecting ‘single’ rays of light onto the screen. This phenomenon was later studied by Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haytham – c. 1000 A.D.) an Arabic scientist who made significant contributions to the science of optics. In fact a number of properties were discovered about the pinhole camera such as; the relation of the size of the aperture to the brightness and sharpness of the image. Brightness increases with a wider aperture however this has a detriment on the sharpness of the image. In fact,

one of the largest pitfalls of the pinhole camera was that it was difficult to obtain a bright image which was sharp enough. Invention of Lenses However in the 16th century it was discovered that if one enlarges the aperture and fits a lens into the pinhole a clearer and brighter image forms. The ability of a converging lens to focus light rays on a screen as opposed to the pinhole selecting a ‘ray’ of light reflected off an object allows for a larger aperture without a large detriment to clarity. Furthermore with the invention of the diaphragm the brightness of the image could be adjusted by varying the size of the aperture. As with pinhole cameras the smaller the size of the aperture the dimmer the image gets until a certain limit is reached where very small apertures give a softer image due to diffraction. Diffraction happens when the aperture is small enough to disturb the rays of light entering the lens and hereby scattering the rays of the image being projected on to the screen to significant amounts, resulting in a softer image.

Recording the Image Nonetheless photography involves another process apart from projecting the image onto a plane; it requires the image to be captured on a photosensitive medium. In 1614 Angelo Sala observed that Silver Nitrate darkens when exposed to sunlight, this happens as the silver ions in some silver compounds are reduced to silver by a photochemical reaction. Furthermore in 1727 the German professor Johann Heinrich Schultz discovered that a mixture of Silver, Nitric Acid and Chalk in a flask darkens at the areas exposed to sunlight. Decades later the English physicist Thomas Wedgewood and Chemist Humphry David worked on this principle to try and produce images. The process consisted of covering white surfaces such as white leather with silver salts then putting the treated sheet behind a painting on glass and exposing it to sunlight. The image produced was a negative with the darkest patches being where there was most exposure to light. Alas they were not very successful as the images soon degraded and became completely black unless viewed under candlelight. The Calotype Process Eventually the British pioneer and inventor Henry Fox Talbot discovered a way of fixing the image formed hence stopping the photochemical reaction and making it permanent by devising the calotype process. The calotype process allowed for significantly shorter exposure times as it only required the latent image to be barely visible as opposed to previous methods which required hours for the image be exposed completely. The process involves treating the paper on which the image was to form with potassium iodide and silver nitrate to form the light sensitive silver iodide. Furthermore this mixture of chemicals on the paper will prevent it from being affected by light. When the paper is needed for exposure it is brushed with a mixture of acetic acid and gallic acid and after exposure it is developed further by brushing it with more gallic and acetic acid until the image is formed. Finally the photograph is fixed with sodium thiosulfate to wash out the unreacted silver halides and leaving the silver crystals behind giving a permanent image. This process yields a calotype negative which can be used to make multiple positives by contact printing which involves placing the calotype negative onto an activated calotype paper and developing it. Although the calotype process was nowhere near perfect due exposure times still being long at about two minutes it was the roots for modern film photography. Photographic Film With the invention of better cameras, lenses, chemistry, and the invention of flexible transparent film which could be rolled into a cartridge, photography became more practical and more widespread due to shutter speeds as short as a fraction of a second and much better portability. Much of these improvements can be credited to George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak and the inventor of roll film and the first practical camera.

Pin hole camera

Photographic film consists of four main layers; the protective coating, the light sensitive emulsion, the film base and the antihalation backing: The protective coating is a thin layer of gelatin, a polymer made of amino acids (a protein); this layer protects the emulsion found underneath from being scratched. Gelatin is derived from collagen which is derived from various animal byproducts and it is used in film due to its elasticity and strength. The light sensitive emulsion is made up of a matrix of a mixture of silver halide crystals (silver iodide/bromide/chloride) and gelatin. The silver halide grains usually make up to 12% of the emulsion in negative films; typically films with higher sensitivities have thicker emulsion layers. The mixture of halides depends on the intended sensitivity and tonal response of the film. Silver Iodide has the highest light sensitivity but fixes slowly therefore Silver Chloride and Silver Bromide are added with more sensitive films having a larger portion of Silver Bromide. Furthermore the tonal qualities of the film also depends the dispersion of the different crystals of Silver Halides and the different sizes they have. Crystals of different sizes and


surface area have different sensitivities and thus give film its dynamic range. Dynamic range is the amount of different levels of brightness a film can show, the more different crystal sizes the larger the dynamic range hence the more tones a film can show. The geometry of the Silver Halide crystals or grains also affect the sensitivity of film, Silver halide crystals have two structures; Cubic and tablet form, with the tablet form having a larger surface area making the film more sensitive to light. The asymmetric geometry of the tablet form means that the crystals can display a large range of surface areas according to its orientation. Moreover the tablet form consists of fewer silver atoms per unit area therefore reducing the amount of silver used in films decreasing the cost. Lastly the actual size of the grain directly affects the sensitivity of the film with larger grain being more sensitive to light due to a larger probability of a photon hitting them, this explains why sensitive films appear to be grainier. The gelatin also plays an important role in the matrix as it involved in the maturation and ripening of the film as it determines grain size and crystallization hence

affecting the tonal qualities of the film. Lastly a number of chemical sensitizers are added to make the film more sensitive to light as silver halide crystals are mostly responsive to light at the blue end of the visible light spectrum hence other chemicals are added increase sensitivity to other wavelengths. These chemical sensitizers absorb light from different wavelengths and donate energy to the Silver Halide crystals adjacent to them thus activating them. The film base is made up of a polymer which holds the emulsion in place; it should be flexible to allow the film to be rolled up in its canister. Early films used nitrocellulose as a film base. These films, known as Nitrate films were very flammable, consequently Nitrate based films frequently caused accidents in cinemas and storage rooms due to decomposition to flammable gases after several years of storage. Consequently nitrocellulose based films were replaced by safety film which were acetate based and hence not flammable, polyester based films then replaced acetate films due to strength and stability. The anti-halation backing prevents light from reflecting off from the back of the film causing the image to become blurred and halos around bright light sources hence the term antihalation. Exposure, Development and Fixing During exposure photons of light fall on silver halide crystals and cause a silver halide molecules to separate into an ions of Silver (Ag+), free Halides (X) and a free electrons which are absorbed by the Silver ions to form a free atoms of Silver. If enough light reaches the crystal the process continues to form Ag2+, Ag20, Ag3+, Ag30, Ag4+, and eventually Ag40 which results in the latent image. Only crystals containing Ag40 are readily reduced by the developing chemicals such as metol and hydroquinone to form a darker image in the development process. In fact developers are reducing agents which reduce activated silver halide grains to black silver atoms. As a result the barely visible latent image is amplified by


large amounts into a visible image. Moreover underexposed (unaffected) grains are not affected by the developer under the same conditions hence an image is produced due to areas of different shades. However the development process must be carried at certain temperature and for a given period of time to prevent the unaffected grains of silver halide to be reduced or else the photograph would become foggy and eventually black. Lastly the developer which only works at a high pH must be halted using a stop bath which consists of a weak acid such as acetic acid which lowers the pH. The final step is to fix the image, fixing involves the removal of the unreacted Silver Halide grains from the gelatin emulsion. If these grains are not removed the picture will darken over time as the grains will react with light. The Silver Halide grains are not very soluble in water therefore an aqueous solution of Sodium Thiosulfate is used as a fixer. The Thiosulfate ion (S2O32-) reacts with the Silver ion (Ag+) to form Silver Thiosulfate which dissolves in water leaving the developed Silver Crystals behind.

Silver Halide

Colour Photography In colour film photography is based on the same principle of black and white photography but instead of one emulsion layer the film has three each sensitive to a different colour; green, red and blue. The layers are sensitive to different wavelengths with the use of dye couplers. Dye couplers absorb light energy from different wavelengths and donate it to the silver halide crystal which in turn forms the silver atoms. Between the blue sensitive layer and the green sensitive layer there is a yellow filter which blocks blue light from passing through and activating Silver Halide crystals in the green and red sensitive layers. This filter is colloidal silver which then removed by bleaching in during development. Lastly the film base has an orange colour to account for colour imperfections in the green and red sensitive layers. In spite of the vast use of digital photography nowadays, due to various reasons of practicality and image quality, film is still used today with by some photographers. Film still has some advantages over digital when it comes to colour and dynamic range. Furthermore film is not just about

Negative film image quality and numbers but is also about a meticulous controlled process from which individual photons of light are recorded and developed into a final image. Apart from the appreciation of the chemistry that goes on during the production, exposure and development of the film itself one should also appreciate what film has contributed to photography and the high standards it set for thriving photographic methods.


Characterisation o T he history of the Maltese honey industry dates back to the Pheonician Era, some 800 years B.C. Earthenware jars used for the domestication of wild swarms, are still found today in some Punic apiaries (Selmun Bay, M치iebah) (figure 1). Malta was known as the island of honey or Melite, for the Greeks and Romans. In spite of cultural changes and change in land use over time, Maltese honey is still sought after nowadays.

Dr Everaldo Attard is a senior lecturer and co-ordinator of the Division of Rural Sciences and Food Systems within the Institute of Earth Systems. His main areas of teaching and research are medicinal plants, and the evaluation of value added animal and plant products.

Local honey production depends mainly on season and location of apiaries. There are three honey harvests occurring during spring, summer and autumn, successively. Winter is not a favourable season for honey production. Most frequently, bees do not forage during this season, due to the cold weather and due to the scarcity of flowers in the Maltese countryside. Honey colour is usually associated with a particular season (figure 2). Spring honey is a multifloral type of honey characterised by the presence of red clover (Hedysarum coronarium), boar thistle (Galactites tomentosa) and borage (Borago officinalis) pollens. The honey is usually light yellow in colour. The second season, summer, is typified by monofloral golden yellow thyme honey. Wild thyme (Thymus capitatus) is a shrub that starts flowering during late May. Wild Thyme grows on the garrigue in the north of Malta and on the Island of Comino. Consequently, many beekeepers translocate their hives to the North of Malta. During the autumn season, bees collect their nectar from the flowers of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus melliodora) followed by those of the carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua). The carob honey may occur as a monofloral type of honey and is characterized by a dark brown colour. During these seasons, other monofloral honey types may also occur, mainly depending on the foraging area of a particular plant species. Typical monofloral honeys include boar thistle, citrus and red clover. Honey can be declared as monofloral or polyfloral mainly on the abundance of pollen grains from typical plant species. In 2007, the Division of Rural Sciences and Food Systems, within the Institute of Earth Systems, embarked on several research projects dealing with the quality of honey.


Figure 1- Punic apiaries in Xemxija.

Figure 2 - Honey samples from different localities and different seaso

Figure 3 - Pollens in honey - (a) thyme, (b) carob, (c) eucalyptus and (d) red clover

of Maltese Honey Prior to this research, a few scattered pieces of work were conducted with no conclusive results. The quality of Maltese honey was investigated as a response to several challenges and opportunities arising due to the accession of Malta into the European Union, the increasing competition from neighbouring countries and the ever increasing number of tourists visiting Malta. Along these years several part-time beekeepers have emerged. Although this may be positively foreseen as a way of strengthening our honey industry, amateur honey products may jeopardize the industry altogether. The study of Maltese honey initiated with the characterisation of the basic physicochemical parameters. The main characteristics studies were pH, conductivity, colour intensity and refractive index. This initial study was conducted on twenty honey samples, around the Maltese archipelago, obtained from various beekeepers who were keen to know more about the honey they were producing. The study was extended to the phytochemical and pharmacological activity of Maltese honey. Maltese honey contains several


phytochemicals including flavonoids, terpenoids and proteins that are derived from blossom nectar. Honey also exhibited a significant pharmacological activity when compared to a fructose/glucose/sucrose solution that mimics the sugars present in honey. The characterisation of honey by pollen abundance was also studied (figure 3). This is scientifically termed as melissopalynology. Another study was initiated to follow the procedure of beekeeping and honey production on the island of Gozo. Several honey samples were obtained from various beekeepers and the physicochemical characterisation was conducted. This study revealed the abundance of polyphenols in honey and concluded that within this context, Gozitan honey contains less than 20 mg/kg hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). HMF values increase when honey is liquefied. This is because during heating sugars and amino acids, present in honey, react via the Maillard reaction to give HMF (figure 4). Unfortunately, the Maltese consumers prefer liquefied honey as opposed to several foreign consumers. A Hazard Analysis Critical Control System (HACCP) was assessed on various beekeepers’ premises. This system was complemented with microbial analysis of various components on the system, by swabbing. Operators showed a high level of awareness of hygiene practices. A project under the National Research and Innovation Programme, funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology, was awarded in 2010 aiming at developing molecular technique to determine the quality and quantity of pollens in honey samples, without the need to count pollen samples under the microscope. The first phase of this project was concluded and results will be presented during the second International Symposium on Bee Products (9-12 September 2012) Bragança in Portugal. Briefly, eleven physicochemical characteristics were studied, namely visual colour, consistency, colorimetric analysis, Brix, moisture content, pH, free acidity, conductivity, HMF content, diastase and proline levels. Statistical analysis revealed that the honey samples were segregated by season. During the same year, a collaborative study was initiated with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Laboratory of Apiculture and Sericulture and the Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Farmåcia, to conduct research on Mediterranean thyme honey. The Division will continue to pursue work on the value of Maltese honey in order to confirm its worth through scientific methods. For more information contact Dr. Everaldo Attard on or

Figure 4 - The Maillard reaction monosaccharide-amino acid interaction



Opportunities beyo IAESTE summer traineeship


rom the moment I landed on Slovenia I instantly felt like I was heading to something extraordinary this summer. I knew that this was going to be a summer that will surpass all others. Not only was this feeling true but it was much more than I ever expected at that point. These past two months have helped me perceive how life is after you graduate and put yourself in the working world.

Maria Clara Masini has recently been elected Activities Officer for IAESTE Malta and is presently in her third year of studies reading for a degree in BSc. (Hons.) Biology and Chemistry. This summer, Maria had the opportunity to go on an IAESTE work placement in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Michael Grech has recently been elected National Secretary for IAESTE Malta and is currently in his final year of studies reading for a degree in BSc. (Hons.) Chemistry with Materials. This summer, Michael had an opportunity to go on an IAESTE work placement in Espoo, Finland.


During my time in Ljubljana, I worked in the area of inland and marine fishery at the government run Fisheries Research Institute of Slovenia (Zavod za ribištvo Slovenije). The Institute handles many different areas; they provide expert research services, monitor sport fishing, fish farming and the safety of waters. Working at the institute was quite an experience mainly because I got to do various tasks each day and every time it was something different. This variety made my days more enjoyable and gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge. I became familiar with the fishing techniques employed and the sorting of commercial and non-commercial marine species from working both in the laboratory and on the field. The people with whom I worked were friendly, outgoing and made me feel quite at home. They were always ready to take me on fishing trips which was something I used to look forward to (not for the waking up early part though!). Not only did I get to visit different fishing villages and towns outside of Ljubljana, like Piran, Koper and Izola and spend some days on the sea, but I also got a chance to see how the data recorded in the laboratory was collected. The field work consisted of trips on board of fishing vessels in which various monitoring was performed such as pH, salinity and oxygen concentration at certain locations and at particular water depths.

ond our shores:

Among these monitoring, recordings of fishing activities as well as catch composition are also observed. After each field trip, the sorting of the fish according to species would follow so that data collected from each catch can be processed in the laboratory. The laboratories themselves focus on fish, cephalopods and crustacean biometry, sex, gonad maturity and age determination. Once this data is collected from each catch, it is processed and placed in a record of its own. Eventually, all this gathered information from year to year is studied for certain patterns or trends, such as variations in length or fluctuations in population number. When I was not at sea and I had more free time on my hands, other trainees and I usually used to meet up and do something

together as a group. Although Ljubljana is a very quiet and tranquil city during the summer with not a lot of students around, we were never bored and always found different places to visit. Nights in Ljubljana consisted of having drinks in bars next to the river, listening to live music and having ice-cream in PreĹĄeren Square, cycling around in Tivoli Park, partying with Erasmus students and experiencing night life in Metelkova City which is an urban cultural centre. During the weekends, IAESTE members used to organize trips to other cities and villages outside of Ljubljana and here is where the real fun lied. I got to experience swimming in lakes such as the famous Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj and rivers such as Kolpa River, rafting in SoÄ?a River, mountain climbing, snorkelling,


having BBQs and camping, pottery making in Prekmurje, going to festivals, wine tasting, visiting castles, museums and the famous caves of Ĺ kocjan and Postojna, to name just a few. Also, during my last weekend I was lucky enough to visit Krk Island in Croatia. I have to be honest and say that I did not expect such an eventful experience but I am pleased to say that IAESTE proved me wrong. I am now here back on the rock, going through the photos and saying to myself how good this decision was. In fact, I am already planning what country I am going to visit next summer. I sincerely believe that each and every student should give it a try and see for themselves what a great opportunity this is. It not only gives you a sense of independence, responsibility and awareness of the working world but you also make connections and friendships with other students all over the world. We are so lucky that our university offers all these chances for students to travel to other countries so why hold back?! Go ahead and apply! You will not regret it, I can promise you that.



still remember the mixed feelings I had as the day which I was supposed to leave on my IAESTE traineeship approached. I was both excited and afraid at the same time as I was stepping out into the unknown and I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Finland.

I was working as a research assistant in Aalto University on a project involving the optimization of the delignification of pulp used to make paper using a method known as oxygendelignification. The experience I gained during my traineeship was unparalleled as I couldn’t have possibly done anything close to this in Malta because if you look around you, you will realize that Malta will not be producing paper anytime soon as we barely have any trees left. During my two month stay in Espoo, Finland I barely had any time to rest as there was almost always something going on after work. Either something crazy like swimming in the cold Finnish sea or something more humane like watching a movie or going out for a beer (P.S. - beware of Finnish beers...there’s nothing worse). Overall, I believe that I learnt a lot from my stay in Finland, not only academically speaking but also on a more personal level. Living alone gives you a sense of independence although you have to keep in mind that mommy and daddy are thousands of miles away so you can’t turn to them when the going gets tough. However, I did get used to living on my own very quickly and although it’s a bit of a pain to have to do all the cooking and cleaning yourself it is very satisfying and as long you know how to manage your time and money, it’s fairly simple to do. Fortunately, since I travelled with the IAESTE program, it was fairly easy for me to get to know other people since there were loads of other trainees just like me (most of which lived less than a minute walk away) and we even had a group leader to show us round and make sure we enjoyed our time over there.  The only sad part of the whole experience came at the end, when it was time to say goodbye.  Knowing that I will probably never see most of the friends which I made in Finland again in my life is a bit depressing but at least nowadays it is very easy to stay in contact through facebook and skype.  I strongly suggest to everyone to go on an exchange be it with IAESTE or any other exchange programme, I promise you will not be disappointed.


From vine to wine T

Jonathan Falzon has just finished his BSc (Hons.) degree in Biology and Chemistry and has started a masters degree in Sustainable Environmental Resources Management. Jonathan is a student representative on the University of Malta Senate and an honorary president of the Science Students’ Society. He is also a trainee viticulturist at Emmanuel Delicata Winemaker Ltd.

he hot summer months are well known amongst us Maltese as a time for relaxation, days at the beach and reduced hours at work. As school days are over, many tend to plan more time with their families and the main business shift towards the sea side, where the local families join the myriad of tourists which also come to Malta to enjoy our wonderful beaches, culture, cuisine and hospitality. Relaxing is however surely not an adjective that can be used to describe the work during the summer months in the winemaking industry. I had the opportunity to discover this through hands on experience that I had this summer at a leading local winemaking company, where I worked mainly in the viticulture sector, which deals with the management of vineyards. The hectic summer months revolve around the harvest of the grapes, which happen between the end of July to mid-September. The harvest date depends on the grape variety and the altitude of the vineyard and it is essential that the grapes are harvested at their optimum conditions in order to obtain a good quality wine. Really and truly, the work needed to obtain grapes of the finest quality starts well before summer, as vineyards need to be well kept all year round. They are pruned January and in the months which follow given nutrients and pesticides, especially when the young grape berries start growing. The leaf canopy is essential for protection of the grape bunch from direct sunlight, as long-term exposure in our climate dries the grapes. As the days start to get hotter in spring and the rain becomes scarce, one needs to start helping the vines with water through irrigation. As I write this article I read that August 2012 was the fourth warmest since 1922. Surely the excessive summer heat is one of the factors that call for frequent monitoring of the vineyards,


especially relating to water loss through transpiration and evaporation from the soil. This also makes us reflect on the importance of freshwater management in the Maltese Islands which is needed to help the agricultural industry have enough water to use for irrigation without having to overuse the water from our aquifers. Let us not forget that last winter was one of the wettest winters we had for the past years, and so the water management needs to focus on collecting as much freshwater as possible from rain, and storing it for use during the summer months. The grape development continues at the beginning of summer when the berries grow larger, start to soften and the colouring beings. This process is known as veraison and suggests that the harvest is getting closer. The grapes are eventually harvested when they are ripe enough. This is determined from tests on the grapes which give the amount of sugars present. The sugars are essential in vines that are used to make wine as these sugars will be converted into alcohol in the fermentation process. I had never realised before that Malta has hundreds of vineyards located essentially in all rural zones and sometimes even close to urban areas. Sampling grapes from all around Malta and Gozo was a fantastic experience, especially when realising the differences found within each area; depending on the soil composition, altitude and land topography. The vine growers were all very welcoming and they were very proud of their hard work as they saw their dedication leaving the desired product. When the date for harvest is set, the growers take their grapes to the winery for the winemaking process to start. In a very simplistic overview, this first of all involves the removal of the stem from every bunch and cooling down the grapes. The grapes that will make up white wines are also pressed so that the skin of the grape is removed and they are then stored in specialised and highly monitored tanks that are used for fermentation and filtration. Rose wine is made up from grapes that can also give red wine, but like for the case of white wines, the skin is removed immediately and so they do not take as much colour. For the production of red wine, the

skin is left with the grape juice for some more days and the wine gets a much darker colour. These are also eventually removed by pressing and filtering the juice. While looking at a local bottle of quality wine, one may have also come across the words DOK (Denominazzjoni talOrigini Kontrollata) or IGT (Indikazzjoni Geografika Tipika) on the label. Quality wines include wines that have what is known as a protected denomination of origin or a protected geographical indication. DOK wines are split into two main categories: DOK Malta and DOK Gozo, while IGT wines make up a single category: IGT Maltese Islands. DOK wines are produced under stricter parameters than IGT wines and are thus considered to be of the highest quality; however this does not necessarily mean that IGT wines are of an inferior quality. Our local Quality Wines are mostly produced from international varieties such as the white grape varieties Chardonnay and Sauvignon bland and the red wine grape varieties Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot. However, wines are increasingly being produced from local Maltese grape varieties. Interestingly, in Malta we have two indigenous grape varieties, which mean that they are only found on the Maltese Islands. These are the white ‘Girgentina’ and the red ‘Gellewza’. As they are purely Maltese, they add a unique character to local wines and distinguish them from wines produced in other countries. These are either blended with other international wine grape varieties or else used exclusively to produce what a single variety wine (For more details check out the Green Paper published in April 2012 by the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs: The Maltese Wine Sector: A focus on quality wines). Now that the summer is over, the only thing left to do is to wait for this year’s wines to continue developing into great wines. While keeping in mind that we should always drink responsibly, I do recommend you to drink some local quality wine and appreciate the work and dedication required for its production; starting from our local fields and developing under constant monitoring from our local winemakers.


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In touch issue 7  

S-Cubed's 7th issue of In Touch

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