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ISSN 2306-0735








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nnovation breeds change, and with the current state of affairs change is in the pipeline. The tricky part is determining the right alterations for society—

To communicate with us and follow the latest in research news

with research playing a huge role. We start with our cover story, introducing a new and innovative way to raise

funds for charity while urging altruistic runners to perform better. Dr Franco Curmi and a diverse team (pg. 32) have designed a baton connected to social media that is carried by the jogger. A community of online supporters can

To see our best photos and illustrations

contribute to the cause by logging in to the platform and donate to cheer the runner on. Helping children get through tough times is a team led by Prof. Carmel Cefai (pg. 20). Together, they have created manuals for students, teachers, and parents to help build resilience in younger generations. Investing in children

To view some great videos

means investing in our future. Moving on to clean energy. At the Faculty of Engineering, wind and waves are being combined in a system that will work to both cool and power buildings (pg. 42). On a related green note, alumni are working to ensure

To read all our printed magazines online

cleaner food for us all (pg. 56).

Looking inwardly, this edition also re-addresses history. Two stories talk about Malta’s past—one relates to the lost knowledge of the neolithic Kordin III site (pg. 24), while the other tries to uncover the facts from several myths surrounding The Great Siege of Malta (pg. 15). But perhaps the most important part of being human is leaving this world a better place. And this is what the RIDT are trying to do, having just launched a

For our archive from the University of Malta Library

new initiative to encourage people to leave legacy gifts for research (pg. 54)— a chance to leave a mark on Malta’s future.


Edward Duca EDITOR-IN-CHIEF @DwardD

Cassi Camilleri


Are you a student, staff, or researcher at the University of Malta? Would you like to contribute to THINK magazine? If interested, please get in touch to discuss your article on or call +356 2340 3451




Testing MEMS



Bridging (through) the performing arts




Prostitution and cyberbullying



Why write?



Curses and protection against misfortunes


Research has shown that athletes who are cheered on during sporting events have an edge over those who don't.

Computer recognition of sheet music


Time to go


The Heartlink Project seeks to investigate how to cheer athletes on remotely during sporting events.

Robot see, robot maps


Where is the crowd?

The design by Roberta Scerri communicates the positive effect of remote participation on a runner through a flourish of colour.


CONTRIBUTORS TOOLKIT Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt WITHOUT BORDERS Dr Stefan Aquilina DESIGN ARTICLE Dr Raphael Vella OPINION Prof. Victor Grech

STUDENT ARTICLES Joseph Bezzina Rachael N. Darmanin Kristina Mifsud Yanika Schembri Fava FEATURE ARTICLES Dr Gianmarco Alberti Stefano Calleja Cassi Camilleri Dr Ing. Owen Casha Prof. Carmel Cefai Dr Franco Curmi Jessica Edwards Isabelle Farrugia Dr Ing. Robert N. Farrugia

Dr Katrin Fenech Matthew Galea Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt Jordan Lee Gauci Josef Magri Tuovi Mäkipere Prof. Victor Mallia-Milanes Shelby Marter Dr David Mifsud Prof. Ing. Tonio Sant Clive Seguna Prof. Nicholas Vella Marika Vella Montebello

RESEARCH ARTICLE Wilfred Kenely Sarah Spiteri CULTURE ARTICLE Valletta 2018 Foundation ALUMNI ARTICLE Prof. Shirley Ann Micallef Veronica Stivala FUN ARTICLES David Chircop Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi David Reuben Grech Alexander Hili

Dr Ġorġ Mallia Charlo Pisani ILLUSTRATIONS Roberta Scerri PHOTOGRAPHY Dr Edward Duca Jean Claude Vancell WEBSITE Cassi Camilleri Roberta Scerri Jean Claude Vancell

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1565: Was it that great?

Never take anything at face value. Not even history



Road to Resilience


Training our children to bounce back from hard times


Digging up stories untold FEATURE


Insects taking over A new endemic species has been found in Malta. Have you met it yet?


The Kordin Temples are finally handing over their secrets


Sea breeze



Working towards a brighter, cleaner future using renewables


Leaving a legacy CULTURE

Ephemeral spaces




56 FUN


Reviews (Books, Film, Games)

Green fingers Everyone loves their food. Find out what goes into yours











100 word idea: Think critically, think Malta


Fact or fiction?


ISSN 2306-0735 Copyright © University of Malta, 2016 The right of the University of Malta to be identified as Publisher of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Act, 2001. University of Malta, Msida, Malta Tel: (356) 2340 2340 Fax: (356) 2340 2342 All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of research and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this magazine are correct and active at the time of going to press. However the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate. Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent issues.

Veronica Stivala PROOF READING


Gutenberg Press, Malta




ow do you test the sensors in smartphones,

mechanical properties (for example shear testing

smartwatches, and up-and-coming medical

and flexure testing) of tiny mirrors that can be used

devices? With a Femtotools FT-RS1002 Microrobotic

to turn phones into high-quality projectors (part of

System of course! In 2016 the Department of

the Lab4MEMS2 project part-funded by the EU).

Microelectronics and Nanoelectronics (Faculty of

a station that can have additional add-ons to widen

probe, prod and poke devices up to a resolution of

its applications. Now the team wants to buy more

1 nm (thinner than the diameter of a human hair).

sensitive microforce probes and microgrippers that will

The team of computer scientists collaborated with

This toolkit’s micromechanical testing can be used in

to produce MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems).

many research and industrial applications. This way,

MEMS are the tiny sensors or devices often found in

the horizon is open for studies into semiconductor

smartphones that allow them to act like a compass,

technology, microsystem development, materials

know how fast a person is going, or detect sound. In

science, micromedicine, or biotechnology—

Malta, the new equipment is being used to measure

placing Malta on the semiconductor map.

• Number of axes: 3 • Maximum velocity: 5 mm/s • Minimum motion increment: 1 nm • Actuation principle: Piezoelectric scanning/ stepping • Sensor probe tip area: 50 µm x 50 µm • FT-S100000 sensor force range: ±100000 µN • FT-S100000 sensor resolution at 10Hz: ±5 µN • Operating temperature: 5°C to 100°C


allow the manipulation and assembly of microsystems.

global semiconductor chip maker ST Microelectronics



This toolkit is incredibly versatile, forming part of

ICT, UoM) set up a slew of devices to be able to to



Photos by Jean Claude Vancell



Without Borders




1, 3: White—A devised performance by SPA students. Directed by Mario Frendo and Lucía Piquero. 2 and main image: inFragments—A devised performance by SPA Dance and Theatre students. Directed by Mario Frendo and Lucía Piquero. Photos by Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Bridging (through) the performing arts T

heatre, dance, and music are changing at the University of Malta. Recently, three new research groups were

launched by the School of Performing Arts (SPA) with the aim of bridging different disciplines through the development of shared work processes and research areas. Through interdisciplinary research, these groups want to look outwards towards new concepts. The groups cover three themes. First, ‘Twenty-first-Century Studies in Performance’, which is committed to the locating, reimagining, and development of performance practices in the 21st century. Second, ‘Culture and Performance’, which is guided by the premise that culture and performance refer to complexities that emerge from the multitude of phenomena these terms describe. Third, ‘Performing Arts Histories and Historiographies’, which investigates and archives material related to historical events across the performing arts. These themes are possible thanks to a web of local and international collaborations, ranging from the Digital Arts and Humanities to Cognitive Science and Intelligent Computer Systems. These new research platforms seek to facilitate dialogue between scholars and practitioners, academics and citizens.

SPA has an upcoming conference featuring some of the above topics called Interweaving Cultures: Theory and Practice in March 2017. For more information contact Dr Stefan Aquilina ( or, on the conference, Prof. Vicki Ann Cremona (

Without Borders




The artworks on this page are from 4th year Bachelor of Education (Hons) students supervised by Dr Raphael Vella.

Prostitution no.2 by Abigail Attard


Prostitution is known as the oldest profession. It is also the one with the highest human cost. This artwork reflects the pain female prostitutes feel contrasted by the coldness of the men who fuel the business. Attard was inspired by news items on these issues, and her belief that more measures are needed to bring an end to the business that fuels the objectification of women.


Wooden Sculpture no.1 by John Paul Muscat This artwork’s imagery reflects multiculturalism. It is the artist’s first wood carving.

Untitled 1 by Lara Gove This artwork is part of a series interpreting a text known as Cities and the Dead 4 which is found in Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. The painting reflects a state of decay, an entire city turned into a burial ground with confined spaces with restricted movement.

Hollow by Cristina Formosa Cyberbullying can have dreadful repercussions. This art installation with figures made of transparent tape reflects the emptiness a person can feel when they are the victims of online harassment. The figures merged with their surroundings and became part of the space, with an almost ghost-like effect.

Many idioms reflect how curiosity is not always a good thing. This artwork personifies the mental struggle suffered when a curious mind tries to seek tranquility. It also represents a person’s cautiousness sheltering the self from exposing their state of mind.


CuriouSedative by Sharon McLean


Why write? Prof. Victor Grech


ll academics are constantly

been given official public recognition. Not only

encouraged to share their

this, but even if one has a worthwhile research

research with the world through

project to investigate and write up, there are

journals. Furthering knowledge

many intervening steps that must be negotiated

is the aim, providing colleagues

before a paper can be completed; from drafting

far and wide with a building block on which

a proposal for ethics and data protection,

to potentially further their own work. But

to opting co-authors, all the way to dealing

are these noble motivations what really drive

with rejections, editors, and resubmissions,

researchers to publish? According to a study by

the road to publication is a rocky one.

Bryan Coles (1993), the short answer is no. It has been shown that authors in the sciences

Understandably, the process can be daunting for many. Thankfully, there are people and

publish primarily to disseminate their own work

courses specifically tailored to help researchers

(54%). Other reasons are the furthering of career

with this. How to Write a Scientific Paper

prospects (20%), improving funding opportunities

(WASP) is one of them: this is a three-day

(13%), ego (9%), and patent protection (4%).

intensive course being held in London at the

Clearly, there are huge personal motivations to

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,

publish, and with good reason. Globalisation has

with formal lectures and interactive sessions

seen job competition skyrocket. Today, finding a

that will help researchers not only start their

job opening is hard enough, let alone climbing the

journey to publishing, but also see it through.

career ladder. The term ‘publish or perish’ takes

The organisers are also tentatively

on a more threatening and terrifying overtone

planning to hold another of these

as this is now literal and no longer a metaphor.

courses in Malta in 2017.


Careers depend on publishing. If research is


conducted without being written up as a paper and

For more information, visit:

accepted in a reputable journal, then it is almost and

as if it has simply not been done at all. It has not


Curses and protection against misfortunes Yanika Schembri Fava


tories, superstition, and rituals belong to every culture the world over. They give rise to magical

Schembri Fava researched the folklore behind these magical verses and spoke to

sayings and versifications which stand the test of

people who still believe in them. She felt that

time, proof of their relevance in people’s lives.

this approach was vital to help bring these

Yanika Schembri Fava (supervised by Dr Bernard

verses to life by speaking to those who still

Micallef) focused on Malta’s own expressions and

give voice to them. The interviews helped

sayings and their social function within society

colour intonation, body movements, rituals,

as part of her thesis. In the past people believed

and any other accessory that was an essential

they needed protection from curses. Rituals were

component in carrying out the magical ritual.

created as a form of magical versification powerful

It is important that every so often such

enough to calm an entire community. These rituals

versifications are researched. They need to

also served as a means of proof, if you will, that a

be preserved so that changes in tradition

particular misfortune had been overcome. These

can be studied over the years, effectively

verses served both those who exorcised: “San

mapping cultural changes. Such reflections

Barnabaw, jekk haw’ xi daqqa t’għajn tmur minn

dig deep into a part of Maltese society.

haw’, San Pietru ta’ Ruma, jekk haw’ xi daqqa t’għajn

Schembri Fava hopes to develop

terġa’ lura” ("Saint Barnabas, let the evil eye turn

these studies into a book on popular

away from us, Saint Peter of Rome, let the evil eye

Maltese superstitious verses.

cursed, “Seħta bedudu jdur ma’ jdejk, u jaqtagħlek

This research was carried out as part

nofs idejk” ("May the curse worm its way around

of a Bachelor in Maltese at the Faculty

your hand and cut half of it off", Judith Schembri).

of Arts, University of Malta.


go back home", Carmena Fenech), and those who


Computer recognition of sheet music Joseph Bezzina


n his book This is Your Brain on

stage, each different symbol is

could be read. Most systems ignored

localised and grouped with similar

for any reason, music is there.’ From

basic musical rules such as accidentals

symbols. In the final stage, the pitch

weddings and funerals, to graduation

(symbols placed before a note on a

of each individual note is measured

parties and men marching off to

music sheet in order to raise or lower

and musical rules are implemented to

war, ‘music is and was [always] part

the pitch of a note). Building on this,

give the different symbols a musical

of the fabric of everyday life.’

the goal of Joseph Bezzina’s research

meaning. All this data is then converted

(supervised by Dr Alexandra Bonnici)

to MIDI format in order for the musical

culture, and preservation is key. Thanks

was to create an OMR system capable

piece to be able to be heard digitally.

to computers, we can digitally store

of reading complex score sheets

music, and this does not just mean

acquired using a mobile or tablet

94% was achieved when tested with

preserving recordings: Optical music

camera, instead of a scanner.

complex musical scores containing

recognition (OMR) refers to a discipline

To implement the OMR system,

With this system, a precision rate of

accidentals and key signatures which

that investigates how scanners or

Bezzina loosely followed the structure

affect the note’s pitch value. In the

cameras can automatically transform

most researchers have used. The

future, Bezzina and his team wish to

scanned sheet music into a computer-

structure is made up of three sub-tasks,

extend this work to include a larger

readable format.

namely: staff line (the long horizontal

variety of music notation, especially

lines in a music sheet) identification

notation associated with music’s

OMR. For one, a musician can listen

and isolation, symbol localisation, and

expressive quality.

to a piece of music before trying to

musical recognition. In the staff line

learn it, by converting the printed score

detection and isolation stage, staff

This research was carried

sheet into an audio file. Beginners, on

lines are removed from the score sheet

out as part of a B.Eng.

the other hand, can play along to the

image, since staff lines make the next

(Hons) in Electrical and

There are many applications for

music. OMR could also be performed

Electronics Engineering at

on a musical score for re-configuration

the Faculty of Engineering

of the music by, for example,

(Department of Systems

transposing it to a more suitable key, or

& Control Engineering),

re-writing it for musicians with special

University of Malta.

reading requirements, like Braille for the visually impaired. Research in OMR started in the 1960s when scientist Dennis Pruslin first attempted the automatic recognition of sheet music. From there, the field of OMR flourished, seeing the creation of systems such as the MUSER, LEMON, and CANTOR. All these systems achieved high performance values above 95% Students

step harder. In the symbol localisation

‘Whenever humans come together

Music is an essential part of human


However, these systems had their restrictions. Only simple score sheets

Music, Daniel Levitin writes,


Time to go Kristina Mifsud their children to school using their

benefits far exceeded these costs! For

year can bring about feelings

private vehicles. The results were

every €1 invested by the government

of excitement to some and dread

very promising with more than 70%

into this school transportation

to others. After the relatively quiet

of mothers indicating that they would

system, society would reap €2.66 in

summer months, children need to

switch to the government-provided

benefits. Additionally, the direct cost

start making their way to school in

school transport if it was implemented.

(time and fuel) of individual school

the mornings. The result is traffic,

Those who said they would not take

runs per child per year amounts to

an ugly monster that brings Malta

up the service gave three main reasons

€993.22, based on the average time

to a standstill every morning. One

for this: mistrust of minivan drivers,

taken per child of 48.8 minutes per

solution could be the grouping of

their children being too young, and that

school day. Given that the average fee

school trips to and from homes.

the drive to school was a distraction-

by minivan drivers for a year worth

free time with their children.

of school runs is around €600, the

Kristina Mifsud (supervised by Ms Amanda Borg) decided to investigate

Then Mifsud estimated the

minivan school transport option is

the issue of traffic congestion caused

benefits and costs for the service

much more sensible, economically

by school transport by studying a

using the take-up percentage

speaking, and all the more so with

hypothetical scenario in which the

from the questionnaire. The list of

regards to protecting our environment

free school transport policy for

benefits was plentiful; time and fuel

and solving the traffic headache.

government-run schools was extended

would be saved, while air pollution

to church and independent schools.

and environmental costs would be

This research was carried out as

First she conducted a survey: parents

reduced. The costs included the

part of a Bachelor of Commerce

who have children at church and

initial investment (minivans), fuel,

in Economics at the Faculty of

independent schools answered a

maintenance, and staff payment.

Economics, Management and

questionnaire. These parents drove

When compared, the total estimated

Accountancy, University of Malta.



he start of a new scholastic


Robot see, robot maps Rachael N. Darmanin


he term ‘robot’ tends to conjure

(SLAM). For the robot to decide which

of the environment to evaluate the

up images of well-known metal

location to explore next, however, an

robot’s mapping accuracy. The Next

characters like C-3P0, R2-D2, and

exploration strategy would need to be

Best View approach generated the

WALL-E. The robotics research

devised, and the path planner would

most accurate maps.

boom has in the end enabled the

guide the robot to navigate to the next

Mobile robots with autonomous

introduction of real robots into our

location, which increases the map’s size.

exploration and mapping capabilities

homes, workspaces, and recreational


have massive relevance to society. They

places. The pop culture icons we

by Dr Ing. Marvin Bugeja), used a

can aid hazardous exploration, like

loved have now been replaced with

software framework called Robot

nuclear disasters, or access uncharted

the likes of robot vacuums such as

Operating System (ROS) to develop

archaeological sites. They could also

the Roomba and home-automated

a robot system that can explore and

help in search and rescue operations

systems for smoke detectors, or

map an unknown environment on its

where they would be used to navigate

WIFI-enabled thermostats, such

own. Darmanin used a differential-

in disaster-stricken environments. For

as the Nest. Nonetheless, building

drive-wheeled mobile robot, dubbed

her doctorate, Darmanin is now looking

a fully autonomous mobile robot

PowerBot, equipped with a laser

into how multiple robots can work

is still a momentous task. In order

scanner (LIDAR) and wheel encoders.

together to survey a large area—with a

to purposefully travel around its

The algorithms responsible for

few other solutions in between.

environment, a mobile robot has

localising the robot analyse the sensors’

to answer the questions ‘where am

data and construct the map. In her

This research was carried out as part

I?’, ‘where should I go next?’ and

experiments, Darmanin implemented

of a Master of Science in Engineering,

‘how am I going to get there?’

two different exploration strategies,

Faculty of Engineering, University of

the Nearest Frontier and the Next

Malta. It was funded by the Master

must have some awareness of their

Best View, on the same system to

it! Scholarship Scheme (Malta).

surroundings in order to carry out tasks

map the Control Systems Engineering

This scholarship is part-financed

autonomously. A map comes in handy

Laboratory. Each experiment ran for

by the European Union European

for humans. A robot could build the

approximately two minutes until the

Social Fund (ESF) under Operational

map itself while exploring an unknown

robot finished its exploration and

Programme II Cohesion Policy

environment—this is a process called

produced a map of its surroundings.

2007–2013, Empowering People for

Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping

This was then compared to a map

More Jobs and a Better Quality Of Life.

Like humans, mobile robots


Rachael Darmanin (supervised





A historical discovery does not always equal the unearthing of new documents or artefacts. Sometimes it’s about re-evaluating what we already know. Prof. Victor Mallia-Milanes tells Tuovi Mäkipere more.


he old adage goes;

be garnered without the use of the

confrontation? The seeds were sown

‘History is written by

aforementioned time machine. Mallia-

in 1113, when Pope Paschal II took the

the victors.’ As far as

Milanes disagrees, in part. While

order under his wing, finally formally

accuracy is concerned,

there have been no new revelations

recognising it as a privileged order of

stories from decades

or archival discoveries made in recent

the Church. Based in Rhodes, the order

past should be taken with a grain

years, there is always the wider

made itself a thorn in the Ottoman

of salt. Scribes’ biases need to

context to be taken into account when

Empire’s side, attacking Turkish trade

be accounted for. Unless science

evaluating any phenomenon in history.

ships doing business in the Levant

develops a working time machine that

The Great Siege is one such example.

and making a mockery of them. The

will allow researchers to experience

Maltese history is interwoven

events first-hand, the past will have

with the Mediterranean’s, however,

twice, proving successful in taking

to be reconstructed through careful

as Mallia-Milanes notes, ‘traditional

the island on their second attempt

analysis of facts based on empirical

historians have tended to approach

in 1522. Not long after, Sicily’s King

evidence and their re-evaluation.

the island in almost complete

Charles V gave the Maltese Islands

isolation, which doesn't make

and the port of Tripoli to the order.

(Department of History, Faculty of

sense at all. No event or series of

1551 rolled around, Tripoli was taken

Arts, University of Malta) believes

events at any point in time can

by the Ottomans, and the order made

that this ‘reconstruction’ can be made

make complete sense outside its

a gruesome stand. It proceeded with

through various means, namely ‘the

wider context if it is weaned off its

fury to prove its indispensability as

discovery of new facts, a new method

broader framework.’ To understand

widely and convincingly as possible,

of approach, a new interpretation of

the Great Siege, he explains, we

looting Muslim villages, disrupting

the significance of long-established

need to look at the bigger picture.

Muslim trade and commerce, and

Prof. Victor Mallia-Milanes

dragging Muslim men, women, and

facts, or a combination of them all.’ Questioning the traditional panorama, the established perception of the past, lies at the core of these efforts.


Mallia-Milanes exhibits his point


Ottomans reacted, attacking Rhodes

MALTA AND THE KNIGHTS 1565 In 1565, the Ottomans besieged Malta

children into slavery. In doing so, the order thwarted the Ottoman Empire's expansion westward. During the 1560s, Malta still

with one of the most famous events

for four bloody months, laying waste

formed part of the late medieval

in Maltese history—the Great Siege

the island which the Knights Hospitaller

Mediterranean world. With a native

of 1565. With all the research

of the Order of St John called their

population numbering between 25,000

conducted around the siege, it is hard

home. Atrocities abounded, one worse

and 30,000, the island was rural and

to imagine what new information can

than the other. But what led to this

its economy predominantly agrarian.

Matteo Perez d'Aleccio, (c. 16th Cent.) The Siege of Malta (1565) — The capture of St Elmo. Oil on canvas. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection.

fortified. The small fort St Angelo, equally poor in its fortifications, guarded the entrance to the island's deep and spacious harbour, with Birgu as its suburb. The forts lulled the native population into a false sense of security, but this was rectified after the loss of Tripoli, with the construction of two new forts: St Elmo and St Michael. Hospitaller activity made Malta a target. The Ottoman Sultan Süleyman I sought to besiege Malta and bring the knightsʼ headquarters down. ‘The only way to bring such hospitaller hostility to an end was to try and eliminate the institution that sustained it once and for all. That, and only

The only way to bring such hospitaller hostility to an end was to try and eliminate the institution that sustained it once and for all. That, and only that, explains 1565.

that, explains 1565. Francisco Balbi

that saved the day. But the price to be paid for that victory was steep. The island lay in ruins. The countryside was ravaged and devastated. The victorious Grand Master de la Valette rose above it all, focusing on his victory and celebrating it with the construction of a new fortified city that would bear his name—Valletta.

INNOVATIONS IN HISTORY The enlightened French philosopher Voltaire once wrote; ‘Rien n'est plus connu que le siège de Malte.’ (Nothing is better known than the Siege of Malta). But plenty of questions remain. Mallia-Milanes dissects its very name. What makes the ‘Great Siege’

di Correggio's [who served in the

Grand Master Jean de la Valette, 500

great? This is the innovation in

Spanish contingent during the siege]

hospitallers, and around 8,000 Maltese

history he speaks of—the qualifying

claim that the sultan wanted Malta

men rallied, grossly outnumbered by

term which denotes the essence

to garner a stepping stone to invade

the Ottomans. Battles and bloodshed

of the siege; ‘It does not consist of

Sicily and make larger-scale enterprises

pushed the island and its people to the

any discovery of new documentary

more feasible does not sound very

brink that summer, but by the second

facts. It is a re-evaluation, a rethink,’

convincing,’ reveals Mallia-Milanes.

week of September, the invincible

he asserts. The question regarding

On 18 May 1565, the Ottoman

Ottoman armada was sailing back

what makes the siege ‘great’ seeks to

armada with some 25,000 men made

home, embarrassed and humiliated. It

determine the criteria that could be

their terrifying appearance in Maltese

was Spain's gran soccorso (great relief),

adopted to measure greatness. Since

waters. Under the leadership of the

consisting of an 8,000-strong army,

a continuous process of change


The capital city, Mdina, was weakly


constitutes the quintessence of history,

Dragut destroyed seven more Spanish

the siege.’ What did they do? What

the criterion the professor adopts

galleys. In 1562 a storm wrecked the

was their role in this huge war?

here is to assess the phenomenon’s

armada’s remaining 25 galleys off

capacity to bring about any long-term

the coast of Malaga on the western

structural change of direction. In this

shore of the Mediterranean. By then,

sense, how historically significant was

Spain was in no position to offer any

‘The humiliating departure of the

the siege? The answer proves quite

naval assistance to the hospitallers.

besiegers in September 1565

controversial. The episode and its

‘The Ottomans could not have been

confirmed the orderʼs permanent

outcome did not bring about major

unaware of these dramatic events,’

sojourn [on Malta],’ notes Mallia-

changes. As Mallia Milanes states, ‘In

notes Mallia-Milanes. That would have

Milanes. For Malta and the Maltese,

the long-term historical development

been the ideal moment to strike, but

the order’s long stay on the island

of the early modern Mediterranean,

the Ottomans failed to do so until

‘constituted a revolutionary force

no radical, no permanent changes

a new Habsburg armada had been

in its own right, whose ingredients

may be convincingly attributed to

constructed, equipped, and fully armed.

included long-standing hospitaller

the Ottoman siege of Malta.’

Mallia-Milanes continues: ‘This failure

traditions, practices, a highly elitist


on the part of the Ottomans, whatever

lifestyle, courtly manners, ambitions,

concerns the timing of the siege: why

the reason, may explain the outcome

aspirations, values, their social

did the Ottomans decide to besiege

of their hostile expedition to Malta.’

assumptions, and social patterns,

Another controversial issue

Mallia-Milanes also points out

hospitaller Malta in 1565 and not

their widespread network of prioral

two or three years earlier? In 1560

that barely anything is known

communications, and especially

most of the Spanish armada had

about ‘the part played by most of

their revenue, flowing regularly from

been destroyed at Djerba (present

the members of the local clergy

their massive land ownership in

Tunisia). In 1561 the Ottoman Admiral

and the Maltese nobility during

Europe into the Common Treasury





sighted off the coast of Malta




The Turks land at Marsaxlokk. Some 23,000– 25,000 men disembark

The Turks make the first move against Fort St Elmo





is transported towards St Elmo


MAY Siege of Fort St Elmo begins



arrives in Malta with some 2,500 men, establishing his headquarters at St George's Bay. He then sets up a gun emplacement at Tigne Point





Dragut is struck by a piece of rock and dies 5 days later

Fall of Fort St Elmo

And while the rule of the Knights

to be invested in Malta to finance their activities and to render the

in Malta ended some 226 years

infrastructure more efficient,’

ago, this was by no means the end

Mallia-Milanes comments. These

of the history of the order. ‘The

elements drastically transformed

history of the Order of the Hospital

Maltaʼs social and economic reality,

spans more than 900 years and still

triggering the island to move from late

shows no signs, no symptoms, of

medieval into early modern times.

waning,’ Mallia-Milanes explicates.

The knights invested lavishly in

The resilience of the institution, its

Malta, fortified it, urbanised it, and

capacity to recover quickly from any

Europeanised it. The population

crisis, is what makes it so enthralling.

grew steadily from some 12,000 to

The beauty of historical research

well over 80,000 between 1530 and

lies in the fact that nobody can claim

1789, during the time the order ruled

the last word. There are no time

Malta. Cotton and cumin industries

machines to bring the theories and

flourished, as did the island's slave

musing to an undeniable conclusion.

Prof. Victor Mallia-Milanes

market. The inhabitants enjoyed

And that is not necessarily a bad thing. As Mallia-Milanes notes:

advanced by the standards of the

asserts Mallia-Milanes. For hospitaller

‘It is always healthy to revise and

time. ‘[…] Malta of 1530 or 1565

Malta, the long-term impact of the

update our knowledge of the past;

and Malta of 1800 were two widely

siege was ‘great’, highly significant

it is necessary and vital to rethink

distinct islands. The knights placed the

and important. And the same may

it. It is in this sense that the past is

island firmly on the geopolitical map,’

be said of the Order of St John.

always present, always alive.’





A small relief force of 700 men (the piccolo soccorso) arrives to help Hospitallers

King Hasan of Algiers arrives in Malta to aid the Turks


all their efforts on Fort St Michael on the Senglea promontory and on Fort St Angelo and Birgu





from Mdina hurled 'itself upon the Turkish rearguard' spreading

Philip II's great relief force (the gran soccorso), under Don Garcia de Toledo, lands in the north of Malta.




efficient medical and social services,


R Feature




Hardships do not befall us all in equal measure. Cassi Camilleri talks to Prof. Carmel Cefai about his work at the Centre for Resilience and Socio-Emotional Health and the dedicated curriculum that seeks to impart the skill of resilience to those who need it most.


ate Reardon states that

multicultural European society that

needed to overcome such challenges

one of the signs of a ‘good

is currently facing various challenges

in their lives in the hope that they

school’ is its ability to

in this regard. The project focuses on

too will achieve academic success

teach its students how

early years and primary education,

and social and emotional wellbeing.

to overcome difficult

targeting young, vulnerable children

The University of Malta has been

stumbling blocks life puts in their

exposed to potential disadvantage,

involved in RESCUR since its inception,

way and ensure they keep growing

discrimination and exclusion. Cefai

with Cefai kicking off the project as

academically, socially, and emotionally.

highlights the struggles of children

its coordinator along with various

Director of the Centre for Resilience

from Roma communities throughout

European counterparts, including

and Socio-Emotional Health Professor

Europe as an example of the people

Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Sweden, and

Carmel Cefai would agree. Interested

who will benefit from the programme.

Greece. Cefai was involved throughout

in the development of resilience in

These are children who come from

the project’s journey, starting with

children from marginalised contexts,

the biggest minority on the continent,

the construction of a resilience

Cefai is working with five other

he says, who face risks such as

curriculum in the first year. Activities

European universities on a project

absenteeism and early school leaving,

are spread over six major themes such

that seeks to equip young people

unemployment and social exclusion.

as developing healthy relationships,

from difficult backgrounds with the

Closer to home, the curriculum also

developing a growth mindset,

skills they need to grow healthily. This

targets immigrant children and children

developing self determination and

project is the resilience curriculum

with disability and learning difficulties

turning challenges into opportunities.

—RESCUR Surfing the Waves.

amongst others. Through intercultural

What followed after was a process of

and transnational collaboration, this

evaluation including piloting, internal

transactional process between

new curriculum takes into account

evaluation, and external evaluation.

individual qualities a person has

current social, economic, and

and the context within which they

technological needs while developing

curriculum was carried out in 199

operate. It is a process of successful

in learners the knowledge and skills

classrooms with 1,935 students

Cefai defines resilience as a

The pilot evaluation of the

adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity. Resilience is not nor is it one that is automatically kept once achieved, it is about learning to overcome obstacles and adapt effectively in order to continue growing and thriving. RESCUR Surfing the Waves seeks to promote equity, social inclusion and social justice within a

Resilience is not a trait a child will inherently have [...] it is about learning to overcome obstacles and adapt effectively in order to continue growing and thriving.


a trait a child will inherently have,


spanning six countries. Activities

complaining at every given opportunity.

included mindfulness, storytelling

It was later determined that this

with puppets, role plays, music, drama,

behaviour stemmed from his belief

drawing, and take home activities,

that his mother showed preference

among others. Teachers Marika Vella Montebello and Isabelle Farrugia, active participants in the project, said the use of visual tools was very useful. Six-year-olds with short attention spans need something attractive to keep them interested, they said, so the use of visuals combined with movement was very effective. While the exercises were to be conducted just once a week, Isabelle notes that she also tried taking the ideas and reinforcing them across the curriculum throughout the rest of the week. Marisa noted the positive effect the exercises were having on her students. She spoke of one boy in particular who portrayed distinctly pessimistic behaviour in the classroom,

Material is not only translated to the country’s language but stories are adapted, with characters getting local names and contexts changed to reflect the child’s real-world surroundings.

to his sister. Over the year, with the RESCUR programme, his positivity improved greatly, Marisa says. Interestingly, while the structure of the curriculum is very present, the flexibility allowed during implementation stage is noteworthy. Material is not only translated to the country’s language but stories are adapted, with characters getting local names and environments changed to reflect the child’s real-world surroundings. In Malta, for example, the forests and mountains in the stories were changed to hills and gardens to create a familiarity that would have otherwise been missing. That said, the basic structure of the curriculum and its themes remain



RESCUR Surfing the Waves seeks to promote equity, social inclusion and social justice within a multicultural European society that is currently facing various challenges in this regard. The project focuses on early years and primary education, targeting young, vulnerable children exposed to potential disadvantage, discrimination and exclusion.


Teachers Marika Vella Montebello and Isabelle Farrugia

intact. it is important to preserve

designed specifically to be completed

curriculum. On this note, when asked

programme integrity, Cefai emphasises.

by the parents with their children.

what happens next with RESCUR,

Parents also receive a Parents’ Guide

Cefai has a very clear view of the road

who need to be resilient. ‘We know

with tips and strategies they can

to be travelled. The curriculum now

that teachers will be in a stronger

employ to build up their children’s

needs to undergo rigorous evaluation.

position to promote student resilience

strengths. There is, however, something

if they are resilient themselves,’

more important that parents need to do

is already very apparent with a

notes Cefai. In fact, RESCUR has

for the curriculum to be fully covered.

cluster of Maltese schools in Malta

made teacher training mandatory,

As in the case of the classroom’s

expressing interest in implementing

instructing educators on how best to

teachers, parents are encouraged

the curriculum in their classrooms.

use their activities, how to respond to

to be good role models of the skills

And not only that—the appeal has

the student interventions and so on.

being learnt for their children.

traveled beyond Europe, Cefai states.

Respect is also high on the priority list,

The preliminary results from the

Locally, enthusiasm for the project

USA and Australia have their eye on

and teachers always need to ensure

pilot implementation of the curriculum

the valuable work being done despite

that they are following a specific

were overwhelmingly positive.

the numerous programmes already

pedagogical approach, caring and

Teachers and learners alike found it

developed on that side of the world.

inclusive, where all children can have a

‘highly enjoyable, useful, relevant,

sense of belonging, and engagement.

and easy to use.’ It was even said

that which everyone already

that they looked forward to having

knows—investing in children means

important part of the equation here.

the programme implemented on a

investing in our own future. What

Home tasks within the curriculum are

regular basis as part of the mainstream

could be more valuable?

The child’s parents are a very

All of this continues to reinforce


Of course, it is not just the children





umankind has a powerful inclination

from the British School at Rome. Made up of three

to preserve its stories for future

temple complexes, the find was unprecedented at

generations. This has given rise to

the time. Now, 100 years later, Prof. Nicholas Vella

entire industries and technologies.

(Department of Classics and Archaeology, Faculty

From internet fora, to blogs and

of Arts, University of Malta) and his team are sifting

vlogs, to documentary filmmaking and so much

through that soil again in order to gain insight into

more, we are ever keen to document and discuss

the prehistoric culture that built them, focusing

our lives, our stories. But there was a time when

on the only surviving complex currently under the

all this was not possible, a time even before the

care of Heritage Malta—Kordin III. Using a variety

written word, which has seen so many stories being

of approaches and research methods, they are

lost. Now, a team of research fellows, graduate,

seeking to give an understanding of what life was

and undergraduate students are working hard to

actually like in the Maltese Islands over 5,000 years

get them back.

ago. What was the temple’s role in the economy at the

Dating as far back as 3600 BC, the Kordin

time? How did it shape the surrounding environment?

Temples were dug up for the first time in 1909

The smallest of discoveries, a piece of pottery or a

by archaeologists Thomas Ashby and T. Eric Peet

soil sample, could help answer these questions.


Malta’s megaliths have attracted droves of archaeology and history enthusiasts over the years, all clamouring for the rich narrative our little rock has to offer. Shelby Marter talks to Prof. Nicholas Vella and his team as they dig up the past in Kordin and attempt to piece together long lost stories. Photography by Faisal Sadegh and Dr Edward Duca.


DIGGING UP THE PAST Long days in the hot summer sun might not seem like the ideal way of spending their holidays for most undergraduates, but the opportunity to complete coursework by excavating a prehistoric temple complex alongside specialised researchers has been an excellent opportunity for archaeology students from the University of Malta to put what they learn in class into practice. So far, the students have found bits of pottery, obsidian (volcanic glass), bone, and painted plaster. These finds might not seem particularly exciting to the untrained eye, but as second-year archaeology student Gabriel Farrugia wisely remarks: Kordin III ‘must be seen within the whole context of the area.’ These finds will be able to tell us much more after they have been analysed with the appropriate scientific techniques that were unavailable at the time of the first dig. Naturally, working alongside professional researchers is what makes this experience so valuable for students. Farrugia explains: ‘We learn from them, they teach us new techniques, new ideas, and it’s interesting to see how they look at prehistoric Malta.’ First year anthropology and archaeology student Gavin Borg comments: ‘Seeing different approaches to the discipline is rewarding.’ The variety of experience levels and research backgrounds united by this project enable undergraduates to become fully involved in the multidisciplinary


approach necessary to discover the


unwritten stories of the past.

For Prof. Nicholas Vella, this project is interesting because it allows him to pursue his research while also training his undergraduate students.

SIMPLIFYING THE COMPLEX Overseeing the undergraduate coursework and archaeological fieldwork at Kordin is Vella. For him, this project is interesting because it allows him to pursue his research while also training his undergraduate students. For several members of the team, this is the first time that they are working within the precincts of a prehistoric temple. Excited about the finds, he introduces many of the main features of the complex, and describes

the significance of several temple design features. The temple builders probably approached the site from what is called the forecourt, the area that sticks out of the two contiguous temple buildings. At Kordin, this feature is paved and creates a tiered level in front of the temple complex building, which Vella explains is quite significant because paved forecourts like this do not exist at other sites. This fact is an important detail, he says, ‘even the layout, the curve defining the outer limit is perfect.’ Across the forecourt are two temple entrances. To enter the main one to the left, one must mind a large step, or sill stone. Vella explains that the temple builders appear to have deliberately placed the sill in the doorway to emphasise that it is an entrance to an important place. Once inside, there is a feature unique to Kordin III: a stone block described in the original 1909 site report as a ‘boat shaped receptacle.’ This “boat” is made out of hard Coralline Limestone, which is different from the softer Globigerina Limestone used in the rest of the


monument. It does not quite fit into

This excavation at Kordin III was developed as a result of Fragility

position either, as if it was placed there

and Sustainability in Restricted Island Environments (FRAGSUS), a

at a later stage. Because of this, ‘it’s

larger initiative made possible by the European Research Council,

very clear it’s special,’ he notes.

which is funding several excavations in Malta and Gozo over a

Yet what does a prehistoric

five-year period. The overall goal of this programme is to gain

representation of a boat, or dugout

insight into the lives of people who left no written records. As a

canoe, tell us about this site? Vella

result of FRAGSUS support, researchers from Queen’s University

notes how the site is relatively close

Belfast, the University of Cambridge, the University of Malta,

to the sea. ‘We are at the head of a

the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (Malta) and Heritage

promontory that juts into the Grand

Malta are able to collaborate on this project. From experienced

Harbour. It would take us a few

archaeologists to first year undergraduates, a variety of viewpoints

minutes to walk to the water’s edge, in

and experience levels are helping put together this story.

(Department of Conservation


Marsa. My colleague, Dr Reuben Grima


MEET THE RESEARCHER DR KATRIN FENECH Fuelled by the potential unearthing of extinct or yet-to-be-discovered snail species, Fenech is working on sediment cores from all over the archipelago—Mgarr ix-Xini in Gozo, Xemxija, Wied Żembaq in Birżebbuġa and Marsa among others, in a bid to investigate the past environment and the impact humans may have had on it. Under Prof. Patrick J. Schembri’s (Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Malta) and Vella’s supervision, and with the aid of radiocarbon dating, Fenech has made strides in putting together the puzzle our ancestors left behind. In fact it revisits many of the issues raised in a seminal article written thirty years ago by Prof. Anthony Bonanno (Department of Classics and Archaeology, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta) which looked at Malta’s prehistory from a socio-economic perspective. The Xemxija cores reveal that the environment prior to the arrival of the first food-producing settlers in the sixth millennium BC was open country, mainly grassland and karstland. There was also a body of freshwater, possibly even a small lake, in the area. Very interestingly, the study shows that Malta boasted woodland during the beginning of the Temple Period around 4000 BC and persisted into the Bronze Age, until around 1800 BC. At the same time, charcoal was only found in very small amounts, suggesting that there were no human fires set to clear any kind of vegetation. All this seems to lay to rest the long-standing theory that the first settlers found a forested environment and cleared the pristine vegetation to make space for agriculture. The environment was already open prior to the settlers’ arrival, meaning that erosion of land and vegetation


changes happened due to climate changes and storm surges.


and Built Heritage, Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta), who is supervising students on the other side of the site boundary wall, has suggested that the court area of the temple, where the stone “boat” is found, could represent the sea, one of two cosmological domains of importance to the prehistoric islanders,’ explains Prof. Vella. ‘When it rains, the court area gets flooded and the stone boat appears as though it is floating’ he remarks. Pointing in the direction of Sicily, he adds, ‘the sea facilitated mobility, would have brought the prehistoric islanders in contact with the world beyond the horizon, with raw materials not available locally, and other exotic objects.’ Whoever had ideas, its knowledge traditions, must have had a special role in the society that built the temples. Other members of that society, including shepherds and farmers, will have been concerned with the other cosmological domain—the land—the source of food for humans and animals alike.


This is a rare opportunity to explore below the floors of a prehistoric temple structure.

were eating, or perhaps feasting on. Focusing on the molluscs in particular is Dr Katrin Fenech (Department of Classics and Archaeology, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta) whose studies provide answers to the question of what impact humans have had on our environment. All this work, in combination with an understanding of the ecology of the time, will provide a fascinating glimpse into life in prehistoric Malta. Malone explains that the team is also

Most of the team is focused on

before they were built. This is a rare

examining temple structures and

opportunity to explore below the floors

finding animal bones from very young

finding artefacts, yet perhaps the story

of a prehistoric temple structure, and to

livestock, mostly lambs and piglets, in

of the temple people is not revealed by

do so, the team is carefully digging up

the deposits below the paving stones.

the artefacts in the soil, but instead by

part of the stone paving slabs which sit

Evidence from the first few samples

the soil itself. Prof. Caroline Malone,

over a thin layer of crushed limestone.

of charred bone demonstrates that

from Queen’s University Belfast leads

Underneath, they have found dark soil

everything from these animals was

the FRAGSUS project and is overseeing

deposit, signifying organic activity.

boiled down for meat—nothing was

the analysis and recovery of soil

Large samples of these deposits from

wasted. However, Malone explains

samples being carried out by several

the site are being taken back to the lab

that the young animals were too small

specialists in an effort to understand

to be analysed. Searching this soil for

to justify for a decent meat payback,

what type of activity was taking

organic remains such as shells, seeds,

and may have been killed before the

place at the site while the temples

pollen, and animal bone might provide

summer set in due to the lack of fodder

were being used, and even perhaps

clues as to what the temple builders

available. Understanding the temple


access to this world, to its objects, its



builders’ diet offers greater insight into the culture as a whole. ‘What you eat is who you are, in part. It distinguishes us. So food becomes a huge matter of cultural symbolism,’ Malone comments.

At Kordin III, the archaeologists retrieved soil samples to allow

This anthropogenic activity suggested

specialists to reconstruct the natural environment of the area at

by the dark soil, the pottery, and the

the time the temples were in use. In order to put this evidence in

human and animal rubbish has led the

context and to gain a long-term view of how the islanders modified

team to believe that the temple sites

their environment, Alberti has spent two years working with

were probably special gathering places.

Grima and Vella to develop a logistic regression model in GIS to

‘We don’t think they’re necessarily

understand possible determinants of agricultural quality before heavy

religious in the way we would see

mechanisation. To do this, a sample of 1860s land-use maps of British

religious buildings today,’ Malone

Crown property in Malta was chosen. The model has highlighted

explains. The divide between sacred

how drastically the quality of the land, and its exploitation, can vary

and profane that we envision in our

over small distances. Micro-environments and ecological niches are

modern society might have been looked

characteristic of Mediterranean islands, providing affordances which

upon very differently in the past.

make it possible for human groups to thrive in otherwise inhospitable

The finds are important, but the

environments. The cultural responses to such challenges are richly

difficult part comes in organising the

documented in historic periods; for archaeologists these insights

data. Malone explains: ‘The simple

may allow questions to be posed for prehistory when evidence may

story here is that we have a multiphase

be meagre. The results of the modelling may allow archaeologists to

temple structure and a creation of

predict where evidence of earlier landscapes is likely to be located.

building upon building, layer upon

Alberti has also created 3D visualisations of some of these maps.

layer.’ The time period that the first

His work gave geographical references to around a hundred of them,

samples are providing are from a two-

through a painstaking and time-consuming GIS-based procedure.

thousand-year span of history, so the

These were then digitised and fed into a geographic database he built;

team is trying to refine the data they

some of these maps were wrapped over a digital model of the terrain.

are collecting to the earliest phase of

Future students and researchers will be able to use these tools for

temple development. ‘We are dealing

their own research. Even more importantly, search tools can be used

with a range of time that was as old

to data mine the maps. For example, researchers can retrieve the

to the ancient Greeks as the ancient

precise locations of nineteenth-century farmhouses in the study area,

Greeks are to us,’ she says. The data

then compare these data with water availability and the type of crops

is difficult to piece together, but by

grown, besides the existence of grazing grounds—an immeasurably

analysing dated information from

useful tool.

the site in the hopes of linking soil samples to culture material to organic remains, the team can unravel the story of the temple builders. Malone notes: ‘We have so many questions, and yet, they’re very simple questions. They relate to trying to reconstruct the environment of the ancient temple builders, how that environment changed over time.’

VISUALISING THE PAST With the project focused on


scrutinising the role of the temples


within prehistoric Maltese society,

Whoever had access to this world, to its objects, its ideas, its knowledge traditions, must have had a special role in the society that built the temples.

work (Department of Classics and Archaeology, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta), Bennett hopes to model the landscape changes over time to show the changing environment on the islands in the hope of connecting our modern views with the prehistoric landscape the temple culture would have experienced.

‘Archaeology is inherently destructive,’

Piecing together a story as important

on the islands is vital for visualising

Bennett explains, because to collect

as that of the temple builders takes

the context of the finds at this site.

valuable data, this team had to disturb

multiple approaches and methods, and

Jeremy Bennett, a Ph.D. student

the prehistoric floors. However, the 3D

the insights of Jeremy Bennett, Prof.

from Cambridge University is one of

scans from this excavation might easily

Caroline Malone, Prof. Nicholas Vella,

the researchers contributing to the

address post-excavation questions that

and the undergraduate archaeology

project by helping the team scrutinise

arise, and preserve as much information

students are only just a representation

this environment in a high-tech

as possible for future researchers,

of the larger team this initiative

way. He operates a Leica C-10 laser

or even scholars within this same

encompasses. As a result, the dig at

scanner that creates 3D visuals of

excavation project. Working in the

the Kordin temple complex is a true

the excavations the team is carrying

FRAGSUS project, different researchers

testament to the spirit of collaboration.

out. This scanner, which takes over

focus on varying details of the temple

Although the finds might at first

260 camera images of the objects it

culture. Bennett is specifically studying

glance appear unexciting, it certainly

is placed in front of, then calculates

terracing and agricultural change in

does not mean they are insignificant;

the distance of degree, and meshes

Malta and Gozo, while others focus

every sample of soil, shard of pottery,

the images together to create a 3D

on the information provided by the

or piece of animal bone connects the

bubbled effect. The result is a vantage

human remains, the pollen from the

dots of a story that hasn’t been told for

point from a 3D perspective that helps

soil samples, or the human story as a

5,000 years.

the team easily visualise the site or the

whole. Using drones and LiDAR data

recovered objects and easily save the

obtained from the Planning Authority,

For more information visit

scanned images to a flash drive.

and building on Dr Gianmarco Alberti’s


understanding environmental change





Athletes who are cheered on during sporting activities are likely to perform better than athletes who don't. The HeartLink project is investigating how to remotely cheer athletes while they are participating in sporting events. Dr Franco Curmi writes about his work for the HeartLink project.

are waiting for you at the finish line some ten

You are halfway through the 42-kilometre task

kilometres ahead. You smile and keep on running.

and are truly struggling. Your friends came to

The above is an imagined scenario based on

cheer you when the race started, but at this

the HeartLink project I (Dr Franco Curmi) am

point you are alone, and exhaustion is rapidly

developing between Lancaster University and the

kicking in. Perhaps you want to call it a day and

University of Malta. The idea is for an athlete to

stop, as you are about to hit the fatigue wall

be wearing a vest measuring all their vitals, which

runners suffer. Maybe if your loved ones could just

would be transmitted to social media. Online

push you to keep on trying, it would give you the

friends could then track the runner through

extra boost needed to run that extra mile or ten.

biometric data and share their experience and well-

Through the vest you are wearing, your

wishes via a live video stream. These Facebook

friends’ voices start petering in as they notice

friends could even see whether it is raining, how

your running stats sagging. But they are not

many other athletes there are, or if their friend

anywhere near the course and are instead

is in a tight spot. The idea is that they would

distributed across different continents. Sara

egg the athletes on when they are struggling.

(the Facebook addict) is in Malta, Peter (who

The athletes should be cheered right when

managed three marathons this year) in Los

they need it most. And this is where it becomes

Angeles, while John (your workaholic boss) and

interesting: while the athletes might think it’s their

your sister Rebecca have just buzzed in that they

lucky day that their friends plugged in just



magine you are running the London Marathon.


when they needed them, in reality we have developed an algorithm that understands when a runner is unmotivated or tired and which nudges their friends right when help is needed. It has been called an empathetic algorithm, which collects real-time data from the biometric sensors within the vest, and with some help from a neural network, it understands the athlete’s feelings and subliminally nudges supporters. The HeartLink project explores


how crowds can remotely support


others during challenging times in an

Dr Franco Curmi

This ‘cheering’ is what is meant to

work is supported by the UK Research Council, Lancaster University, and the University of Malta. We have been working on the project for four years with a team that includes designers, managers, and computer scientists. This diverse team has already built the HeartLink App (, which can do the above. The app can be installed and downloaded by the participants and their friends. Through a ‘cheer’ button they can instantly send vibrations and sounds to the athlete.

The idea is for an athlete to be wearing a vest measuring all their vitals, which would be transmitted on social media.

make the athlete aware that a crowd is following their performance. Together we looked into different ways these cheers can be communicated to the athletes. These varied from vibrations or sound effects, to live audio streaming from their friends’ devices, among others. By analysing data from social networks and the athletes’ performance, we then explored how to improve the design of systems, technologies, and final product. How can we seamlessly interact with


event through social networks. The


the athletes? How can we improve

mile relay race across the UK with

engagement between the spectators

650 spectators across the globe.

and athletes to motivate them? Our


to remotely cheer and support others

vision is to turn HeartLink into a

device to find out how to connect

in real-time. The app and the tools

household name. HeartLink will be for

athletes remotely. For example, one

we developed for it let us measure

cheering what Skype is for meetings.

idea we developed is a relay baton for

the effectiveness of this support

long distance relays (e.g. the Queen’s

on the athletes and monitor their

of experiments to figure out if

Relay Race or the British Relay Race).

performance. Performing research

athletes who receive cheers from

The baton collects data from biometric

through social networks lets us

remotely located supporters

and location sensors, and broadcasts

gather data on the people cheering.

perform better. There is already

this data to spectators instantaneously.

For example, which spectator is

plenty of research that shows that

The baton communicates the cheers

best? The athlete’s partner cheering

athletes perform better when they

to the athletes through small,

them on or a thousand strangers?

are cheered on during sporting

controlled vibrations, allowing the

events. We trial ran our app in a

athlete to be aware that the crowd

was most effective during charity

charity run, a triathlon, and a 170-

is following their performance.

events. People seem to prefer remote

We trialled our app in a series


This research helped us tweak our

Through HeartLink we could compare and contrast different ways

We found that the HeartLink app

relationships between spectators

for a good cause. To answer the

and athletes. As an unexpected

above question, the data showed that

consequence, it has also helped build

cheers by mum and dad are not the

the relationship between Lancaster

most relevant, acquaintances seem

University and the University of

to have a more powerful effect. Put

Malta and their Faculties of ICT

differently, you would expect your

and Economics, Management and

partner to be cheering you on, but

Accountancy (FEMA). We are now

finding your boss rooting for you

working with NGOs and industrial

instead on a Saturday morning may

partners to turn this research into

be more surprising and effective.

an app that people can and want to

After starting as a Ph.D.

use. We want to make it possible

adventure at Lancaster University,

for people to raise money through

the HeartLink project has now

this app while supporting their loved

evolved into an underlying platform

ones in fundraising events—perhaps

that facilitates the building of

at the next London Marathon.


Which spectator is best? The athlete’s partner cheering them on or a thousand strangers?

cheering when the athlete is running




Malta is thought to harbour around 6,000 to 8,000 species of insects. In the last two years almost 200 new records of these fascinating creatures were found around the Maltese Islands, and a new endemic species, unique to Malta, was also described as new to science. Jessica Edwards meets up with Dr David Mifsud to find out more about these amazing findings and why insects really do run the world. Photography by Dr Edward Duca.


Dr David Mifsud examining a tiger beetle.


nsects are mostly thought of as creatures with

(supervised by David Dandria and Edwin Lanfranco

far too many legs that disturb our sleep and

respectively) that led to his first placement on

dreams, or often as unwelcome kitchen visitors

whiteflies on the Maltese Islands. He then flew to

on hot summer nights, and sometimes as the

Switzerland for his doctorate (supervised by Daniel

transmitters of diseases in humans and domestic

Burckhardt) managing to revise 30 new species

animals. But with over 1 million named species,

from South East Asia and the African Tropical

they are key to the world we live in. Some insects

Region—he hasn’t stopped since.

keep our economy running by pollinating flowers

Mifsud is also a workaholic. He has over 150

and crops, and by controlling pests that would

scientific papers to his name, most on insect

otherwise devastate crops. Insects eat waste,

research in Malta. He spends a good chunk of

helping to break it down, while being gobbled

the interview showing me how to capture the

up themselves—they are a vital part of the food

very small insects found growing on mouldy plant

web. Dr David Mifsud (Institute of Earth Systems,

bushes: first, place a white paper underneath the

University of Malta) is one of the few people to

plant, shake it, then collect any insects present

have dedicated most of his life to studying these

using a test-tube, rubber stopper, and pipe. These

beautiful creatures.

are then preserved, viewed, and sorted using a

Mifsud is passionate about insects, a passion

microscope. This technique is one of the methods

which has been with him since childhood. ‘When

Mifsud uses to collect specimens for identification

I was a small boy I used to spend most of my

and for studying various insect groups, varying

time in my parents’ garden, looking at ants and

according to what insects are being collected.

woodlice. This probably sparked my love for teacher Guido Lanfranco ‘used to bring boxes


full of pinned insects and other animals—I loved

Mifsud has described over fifty new species, eight to

them.’ The flames turned into an all-consuming fire

ten of which are only found in Malta. One of the most

with an undergrad and master's degree in Malta

recently described species Mifsud discovered


insects.’ The spark was fanned; his sixth form


dates back to two years ago. Known as a gall midge, Asphondylia scopuli is an insect that causes pea-like galls to develop in an endemic saltbush plant (Atriplex lanfrancoi) found on seaside cliffs. To date, he has managed to provide original information on around 1,800 different species of insects. So how has he managed to do it? In order to identify species, field samples need to be gathered. With some groups of species, keys (a tool

Dr David Mifsud

used to identify species according to distinguishing characteristics by a process of elimination) can be used. With other insects, when little is known about them, specimens are compared to those found in museums. Mifsud explains that, ‘usually you would need to collaborate with scientists abroad since they have access to museums, material, and can compare with actual specimens.’ In Malta, things are not as simple since information and infrastructure are limited. The situation

Mifsud has described over fifty new species, eight to ten of which are only found in Malta.

is much better now than 30 years ago

Many feed on them (known as phytophagous). These relationships seem to have co-evolved, with both needing the other to survive. An example of positive co-evolution between plants and insects is seen in plants that have developed bees. The bees fly from one flower

to two university students per year to

mother, males are very rare. Peripsocus

to the other, gathering pollen but

work with him.

stagnivagus has been known under

also pollinating the flower. Both the

many different names in the new world

plant and the bee need each other to

in Mifsud’s field samples is a

and in the Palaearctic (a habitat type

survive; the plant needs the bee to

booklouse (Peripsocus stagnivagus)

found in Malta). The discovery of the

be fertilised and the bee needs the

which reproduces asexually. The

first male specimen in Verdala Palace

pollen from the flower for food. On

offspring normally develop from

in Malta proved that they were the

the other hand, negative co-evolution

unfertilised eggs—no men allowed—a

same species that had spread around

occurs because the plants develop

mechanism known as parthenogenesis.

the world. Mifsud collected over 2,000

new strategies to fend off parasitic

Parthenogenesis is advantageous when

insect specimens to find that very

insects. In turn, the insects develop

it is difficult to find a mate. Another

rare male that was key to unlocking

new strategies to keep surviving and

benefit is that the parent passes on all

this puzzle. Booklice were previously

reproducing on the plants. This drives

of their genes to their offspring instead

unknown in Malta, and now research

the evolution of the plants—only

of half of them. Since the offspring

has led to the discovery of 30 different

those plants and insects with new

produced asexually are clones of the

species locally.

strategies survive, the rest die off.

One of the many species identified


Most insects live on plants.

brightly coloured flowers to attract

and he manages to attract around one



plant galls in Malta for these last

released the eighth volume of its

plants produce abnormal growths

fifteen years. So far, more than 120

bulletin. In these eight years, Mifsud

called galls. These galls have similar

different galls have been identified

has managed to gather over ninety

properties to cancerous growths

and others are still being discovered.

scientists from all over the world to

As a reaction to parasitic infection,

in humans. These galls are usually

Most of the insect-related research

work on Maltese insects. Together,

induced by organisms such as insects,

that happens in Malta is published

they have generated over 130 peer-

mites, fungi, bacteria, viruses, or

in the journal of the Entomological

reviewed papers, placing Malta and

nematodes. Mifsud has been studying

Society of Malta which has just

its insects on the scientific map. Together with another twenty partners from across Europe, Mifsud is also currently working on a bee conservation project called Smart Bees. The main aim of this project is to revive indigenous European subspecies of bees, including the Maltese bee, Apis mellifera ruttneri. Bees have a great economic importance because of their role as the main pollinators of various agricultural crops and flowers. Bees are worth billions. Apart from their economic worth, insects are vital to safeguard nature. While there are only around 1,000 vascular plants, 25 breeding birds, ten mammals, few reptiles, and two amphibians in Malta, there are thousands of insects. Without knowledge of insects it is impossible to understand the environment including maintaining farmland and nature reserves. Basic knowledge about the nature around us and the species within it is critical not only to preserve it but also to create wealth from it. Such research allows for a better understanding of the interactions between the different species found and their environmental impact. Mifsud’s final comment is that ‘what we know so far is just a tip of the iceberg and many more things are still unknown!’


Galls induced by a gall midge, Cystophora sochii on Sochus sp.



a 42

Malta’s long Mediterranean summers mean that ACs are everyone’s best friend. In a country endowed by sun and wind, renewable energies cannot be an afterthought, yet they are. The UoM’s OWTEP project is creating a cuttingedge solution by combining an offshore wind turbine with a district cooling system. Prof. Ing. Tonio Sant and Dr Ing. Robert N. Farrugia speak to Tuovi Mäkipere.

Se U

nrelenting heat is a thorn in the side of Malta’s electrical

perfect scenario for cooling buildings on land. In the OWTEP concept, the wind turbines

infrastructure. In summer the

do not generate electricity, but pump cold,

energy peaks substantially as

deep seawater through a pipeline to a land-

most of the population and

based district cooling plant. This district cooling

their grandmas hit the power button on

system would then work to transfer water to the

their AC remote. Cooling is a big deal here,

buildings which need cooling. What is unique

and the electrical demand is massive.

about this project is that the transfer occurs

Despite this, the country is almost exclusively

without electrical power, unlike in traditional wind

dependent on fossil fuels and imported

turbines. The floating turbines would use only

electrical energy through the interconnector.

hydraulic power. This is all about the ‘hybridisation

This year just 5% of the island's electricity

of renewable energy sources,’ explains Sant.

was generated by renewables; mostly from Talk of wind farms in Malta has garnered


different reactions from politicians and the public,

To understand where to place wind turbines, one

with the government now leaning away from

needs the construction of a wind-flow model

wind power to meet EU 2020 renewable energy

of the Maltese Islands. Enter Dr Ing. Robert

targets. Many point to the size of the island, the

N. Farrugia (Institute of Sustainable Energy,

high population density and the environment as

UoM) who has done precisely that. His work is

deal breakers, but while the area of some 316

important in determining the ideal positioning of

km2 could be a limitation, all this really means is

the turbines. ‘Wind is site—and height—specific,’

that we need to look beyond our shores. Malta's

clarifies Farrugia, meaning that wind conditions

renewable energy potential offshore is enormous

depend on the site, any unique features of the

given the availability of large territorial waters.

area, and the fact that wind speeds increase with

This was the starting point for Prof. Ing. Tonio

height. Over several months, measurements were

Sant (Department of Mechanical Engineering,

taken from four locations, namely Wied Rini and

Faculty of Engineering, UoM), project leader of

Aħrax Point in the west and Ħal Far and Bengħajsa

the University of Malta’s Offshore Wind and

in the south of Malta. Sites in the west boasted

Thermocline Energy Production (OWTEP) project.

fairly ‘complex terrain’, reveals Farrugia, while

The idea is to have floating wind turbines

the eastern sites had ‘higher surface roughness

located in deeper waters. The traditional wind

and obstacle characteristics.’ By analysing long

turbine foundations as seen in the North Sea

and short term datasets, Farrugia could make

would not be viable for far offshore sites due

comparisons between the two sitesʼ wind

to the deeper sea depths of the Mediterranean.

patterns and validates his computer models.

That said, what some might perceive as a

Farrugia’s results were used by a Ph.D. student

geographical disadvantage can actually provide

in his research. Ing. Daniel Buhagiar (Department

new opportunities. Because solar radiation

of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering,

doesn’t reach beyond a certain depth, known as

UoM) became involved in the OWTEP project

the thermocline, this means that the deep sea

when, as part of his masters, he created an

water is colder than the water at the surface—a

OWTEP turbine simulation.


solar PV panels. Change is needed fast.


NREL 5MW Reference Turbine Motor

Variable-Displacement Piston Pump

Air Intake

Shaft Power


Pressure Boost System

GRE/GRP Pipeline


Pelton Wheel



WIND ENERGY Electric fans use electricity to create an air flow. Wind turbines work in the opposite way, using wind to rotate their blades and generate electricity. A typical wind turbine consists of the tower, the blades and a hub (rotor), and the nacelle, which is the enclosure on the top of the tower and behind the blades. The tower is typically 25 to 135 metres in height because wind is faster and less turbulent above the Earth’s surface, and the rotor blade diameter usually varies between 20 and 160 metres. The wind turns the rotor blades around an axle. The turbine axle is connected to a generator, which converts the rotational energy into electrical energy. There is usually a gearbox between the rotor and generator which steps up the rotation speed from about 10 to 60 rpm (revolutions per minute) up to between 1,000 and 1,800 rpm. A wind farm can consist of a few or even scores of turbines. The distance between the turbines in a wind farm is usually five to ten times the rotor diameter, to avoid power losses which would occur if the turbines are located too close to each other. To maximise the energy generated, the rotor/nacelle combination is turned automatically to face the direction of the wind. Moreover, the blades can have their angle of attack regulated to maximise energy capture. If the wind speed rises over 25 m/s, the turbine shuts down to avoid unwanted wear of the mechanism.

Air Cycle Machine

ol o C ict iD str

in g

k wor t e N

Fin-and-Tube Heat Exchanger


Heat Exchanger Pump 45

Buhagiar in now running his Ph.D. research on hydraulic power transmission and offshore energy storage. Instead of modelling a single turbine, he now models groups of turbines working together. ‘Our aim is to have a model of an OWTEP wind farm with different turbine configurations, capable of running simulations, with or without integrated energy storage,’ he remarks. Energy storage is another aspect

Prof. Ing. Tonio Sant, Ing. Robert N. Farrugia, Daniel Buhagiar and Matthew Galea. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell

worth consideration in wind systems.

conversion, making it less efficient.

venture, the technology behind it

Being that wind is only available

However, the cold sea water may

can still be improved by integrating

sporadically, energy storage helps with

be used to increase the energy

other components. The OWTEP

overcome the problem of intermittent

performance efficiency of large-scale

project plans to make use of the

supply and continuous demand. With

cooling processes. This was when M.Sc.

wind turbine’s floating platform to

this in mind, Buhagiar developed a

student Matthew Galea stepped in.

generate energy. The idea is to install

novel energy system. The system uses

Galea has developed a mathematical model to analyse the efficiency of an

‘We want to use the same platform

and an external floating chamber to

OWTEP system coupled with a large-

to harvest solar energy,’ claims

stabilise pressure. This can be directly

scale air conditioning plant. According

Sant. ‘Integration of technologies

integrated into the OWTEP system to

to his study, while the efficiency of air

is the future,’ he emphasises.

store cold deep sea water. ‘This has a

cycle machines is not ideal, this can

dual advantage,’ maintains Sant, adding

be increased considerably when these

Directive has ‘set a binding target of

that, ‘energy is stored in directly usable

are driven by cold deep sea water

20% final energy consumption from

form, as pressurised fluid, while also

supplied by OWTEP turbines under

renewable sources by 2020. To achieve

retaining its cold temperature.’ The

hot and humid climate conditions

this, EU countries have committed

development of this storage device

such as Maltaʼs. the pressure from the

to reaching their own national

has recently received funding (FUSION

turbines, coupled with the availability

renewables targets. For Malta, this is

Research and Innovation Technology

of cold seawater, is perfect for a hot

10%, double the current levels. It was

Program, Malta Council of Science

and humid climate such as Malta’s.

found that PV systems could offer

and Technology). This will lead to the development of a proof-of-concept prototype over the next three years. In traditional electricity-generating


The EU’s Renewable Energy

9.1%, onshore wind farms 5.4%, and


offshore wind farms 3.4%. There is still

The project is moving along at

these goals and avoid being fined.

a long way to go for Malta to reach

turbines, the rotor is mechanically

a fast pace and ‘there is parallel

coupled to the electrical generator

research being conducted right now

could be a part of renewable energy

to directly convert the kinetic energy

to commercialise the floating wind

generation in Malta. Buhagiar

available into electricity before

turbine technology,’ discloses Sant.

contends that ‘more detailed modelling

transmitting to the shore. In the case

In fact, there are already full-scale

and prototyping need to be carried

of the OWTEP turbine, however,

prototypes in production, with the

out before implementation. We

the rotor drives a hydraulic pump to

latest turbine being installed at

haven’t done any detailed analysis

pressurise deep sea water, transmitting

Fukushima, Japan, by Mitsubishi.

on the materials yet,’ he says. The

it to shore through a pipeline before


a photovoltaic (PV) system on board.

a submerged pressure accumulator

However, while the idea of

That said, the OWTEP concept

study is essential to determine

having it converted to electricity via

combining the turbine with a district

costs that are always an issue—a

a hydraulic turbine. This convoluted

cooling system is already unique,

brighter, cleaner, and more energy-

process results in energy loss during

with Malta at the forefront of this

efficient future awaits.

UPGRADES, UPDATES & ALICE Business, research, education—whatever you do, having up-todate tech is no longer an option in today’s world. CERN is no different. Cassi Camilleri talks to Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt, Dr Ing. Owen Casha and their team about their indispensable work in upgrading the tech in Europe’s Nuclear Research Centre.

produced by the collisions in the LHC. One of

Nuclear Research (CERN) is a place

those detectors is the High Momentum Particle

synonymous with innovation. Every

Identification system (HMPID) which takes

day since its inception, it has tested

‘snapshots’ of the faint patterns generated by the

the boundaries of what is thought

high-energy collisions for analysis, a process that

to be humanly possible. One of the biggest tests

generates a terabyte of data per second. Cue the

is ALICE, a massive experiment that attempts to

team from the University of Malta.

answer the basic but infinitely complex question:

Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt and Dr Ing. Owen Casha,

What is everything in the world made of? How did

together with their team of talented Masters

we come to be?

and Ph.D. students from the Faculty of ICT, are

The process, on the other hand, is far less elegant.

working hell bent to keep the technology that

In fact, it is beastly, involving the acceleration of

makes the ALICE experiment possible updated

lead ions to tremendous speeds and smashing

and efficient. In a world where advances are

them together in a machine that has now become a

considered out-of-date in the span of months,

household name—the famous Large Hadron Collider

this is no mean feat.

(LHC). Massive detectors then pick up whatever

‘What we’re doing is improving the electronic

particles are produced. This is how the Higgs Boson

systems in the HMPID detector to work more

was discovered and how many more yet-unknown

efficiently and process data at a higher speed,’

particles will hopefully be identified in future.

Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt clarifies, ‘enabling it to

There are fifteen detectors in ALICE, all

gather even more information.’ Picking up the

playing a key role in the identification of particles

camera metaphor once more, Ph.D. student



he European Organisation for


Jordan Lee Gauci explains simply, ‘It’s like having a movie camera which we are upgrading from 30 to 60 frames per second. We are working on the raw interface to gather and transmit more data; to get a clearer picture.’

BREAKING THINGS DOWN Working on the transmission side of things in the ALICE experiment means that to improve one part of the system, work on the various other parts has to be done in tandem. The team reflects this in that each group works on their own projects, but all are moving towards one common goal. ‘To improve one part, you need to improve the other,’ confirms Josef Magri. ‘You get the data, gather it as quickly as possible, you convert and transmit to computers and servers, and then your job is done. It’s a closed loop which needs to be coordinated.’ This is, as one might imagine, easier said than done. The HMPID detector is located in the bowels of ALICE,


meaning that one cannot access it


It’s like having a movie camera which we are upgrading from 30 to 60 frames per second. Top to bottom: Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt and Dr Ing. Owen Casha. Photos by Jean Claude Vancell.

Construction of the ALICE chamber (2003). Photo by Maximilien Brice for CERN.

easily to replace hardware. ‘If you want

detector, improving its throughput and

which collisions are read from 4 kHz to

to have access in HMPID, you have

making it more efficient.

50 kHz. This means that the detector

As part of his Masters, Josef Magri

will be able to follow the interactions

practically impossible. Logistically, they

is currently optimising the electronic

in true real time, effectively creating a

can only take it out in the shutdown,’

circuits and control boards within the

moving recording of the collision, rather

says Casha. Magri confirms, noting

HMPID detector to improve how data

than a set of photographs. Seguna’s

how during his time at CERN he

are handled. He aims to effectively

research will also be taken on at CERN

saw machines that are still made up

manipulate computer processes

around 2020.

of discrete components. ‘This is an

to create parallelism, meaning

environment where they can’t afford

that processes which previously

combines all these efforts, working on

to stop processes, to stop working. It

happened in sequence can now occur

the design and the implementation of

might be old tech but if they work, they

simultaneously. This, together with

a trigger module—an electronic card

work,’ he states.

high-throughput interconnects, is

—which will be the interface between

Ph.D. student Jordan Lee Gauci

expected to increase data collection

the trigger system in ALICE and the

Calleja had to face. As part of his

tenfold. Magri’s work will be integrated

detector. Casha interjects to explain,

Masters thesis, Calleja focused on the

within the system by 2020 in order

‘The system is very large. Cables run for

readout firmware development. To do

to improve the detector’s accuracy,

miles. If you assume the signals from

this, he tested the available hardware

potentially revealing building blocks of

the particles will arrive at the exact

to see if it would manage to process

matter yet unseen.

time on that detector, you would be

This was the challenge Stefano

information as fast as it needed to

Using Magri’s work as a springboard,

very wrong. You need to account for the

when one trigger was removed.

Ph.D. student Clive Seguna will upgrade

time it will take for the electrical signal

Realising that it could, Calleja removed

the electronic circuitry for the HMPID

itself to travel. What Jordan is doing is

one of the three triggers within the

detector which will boost the speed at

creating a delay in certain parts


to remove all the other detectors. It’s


The ALICE chamber. Photo by Mona Schweizer for CERN.

that will synchronise the whole thing.’ Picking up the camera analogy once more, Gauci clarifies, ‘This is one large camera made up of many small ones. They need to be triggered at different times to go off at the same time, when everything is in place. This is my job.’

THE WORK NEVER STOPS What is interesting about this project is its continuity. Magri notes how ‘all this work is part of the same upgrade but the work done now can be used for the next one. Even with the same


upgrade, they continue to make it


better until the very last moment

Magri’s work will be integrated within the system by 2020 to improve the detector’s accuracy, potentially revealing building blocks of matter yet unseen.

when they need to move on to the next thing.’ This philosophy of striving continuously to better the situation, it seems, is how CERN always stays at the cutting edge. But there is more to it. The scale of CERN can be daunting. Gauci reveals how the building he was working in was twenty minutes away from where experiment was actually happening. Gatt laughs at his own memories, ‘I was driven from one detector to the other in a car.’ However, despite this, everyone felt welcome as part of a worldwide team of professionals. ‘The sense of trust and collaboration that the place is

fosters is impressive,’ says Casha. ‘It is definitely something we should learn from here in Malta. We need to drop the silo mentality and work together in a better way.’ What lies ahead for the team from UoM’s Faculty of ICT? Casha confides that the plan is for them to go to CERN early next year in February 2017 and start implementing some of the work they have developed remotely onto the actual machines. In the future, Gatt hopes to have biannual trips to CERN’s facilities. With more contact comes more contribution and more lessons there was one.

Top to bottom: Stefano Calleja, Clive Seguna, Josef Magri, and Jordan Lee Gauci. Photos by Jean Claude Vancell.


to be learnt. That’s a triple win if ever


Photo by Joshua Choukroun

Ephemeral Spaces Valletta 2018 Foundation


s the beginning of

We Camp, a non-profit organisation

local initiatives with specific skills

Valletta’s term as

which brought together professionals

and tools—from creating a local radio

European Capital of

from various walks of life to create new

station to setting up outdoor cinemas,

Culture draws ever

or repurposed transient spaces within

or even creating a pop-up kitchen in

closer, stakeholders in

the framework of the city. ‘We had

social housing. ‘The way we intervene

the tourism industry are increasingly

the idea of a place that would be open

can be different, but the objective is

excited about the opportunities the

all summer long, seven days a week,

always to surprise people and get them

title will bring for Malta. Despite the

gathering visitors, artists, neighbours,

involved, in a festive and family-friendly

economy’s diversification, tourism

and tourists,’ Nicolas, the organisation’s

atmosphere, through our creativity,’

remains its backbone, and there is a

founder and director, explains.

notes Nicolas.

hope that the throngs of new visitors


Yes We Camp’s current large-scale

Valletta 2018 will attract will drive

describes as ‘an artistic campsite’,

project is Les Grands Voisins (The

income to hotels, restaurants, bars,

seeing tourists housed in modules

Great Neighbours), the occupation

pubs, shops, and more. It is a buzz that

designed by artists who formed part

of a former hospital in the middle of

is all too familiar to Nicolas Détrie,

of the collective. ‘We had room for

Paris, which the organisation is sharing

born and bred in Marseille. ‘When

artistic residencies, sports activities,

with a number of other non-profit

the news broke that Marseille would

music, shows, and food and bar

organisations. ‘This project provides

be the European Capital of Culture in

services. The sanitary facilities on the

emergency housing for 600 people,

2013, there was a kind of frenzy about

campsite were ecological prototypes

cheap working spaces for craftspersons

the income that it would generate

like solar showers with phytosanitation.’

and small companies, and many

for touristic operators. But we saw

The whole endeavour was driven by

facilities for local people and other

it as something more—a fantastic

a community of like-minded people.

citizens, including a sports ground, a

opportunity for Marseille to showcase

This was a project with no funding,

steam bath, a campsite, a gallery, and

not just its hospitality, but also its

realised in a collective way, with the

so on. When working with vulnerable


help of hundreds of volunteers. Smaller

people, our role is to create an

projects followed. One included the

intermediate space, different from their

use of customised caravans to support

daily spaces but also different from the

The idea of combining these two


The first project was what Nicolas

elements led to the foundation of Yes

fast, brutal merchant spaces that are

but if they are offered the possibility to

typical of mainstream urban life. We

get involved and contribute, they will,’

encourage everyone to get involved,

reflects Nicolas. ‘We strongly believe

bringing innovative opportunities

in concomitance. We do our best to

through shared work and the creation

attract different social groups and make

of a new kind of urban park. We aim

them first cohabit, and maybe mix or at

to show that it is possible to create

least get to know each other. We like to

a space with multiple uses for the

feel that we are catalysts for this kind of

common good of everyone.’

social action.’

This is certainly an appealing prospect to consider for Malta as one of the most densely-populated countries in the world. The cramped situation of the island is worsened by an excruciatingly high number of vacant properties—226 for every square kilometre—the highest in Europe. The social repercussions of leaving vast quantities of properties abandoned and disused need little elaboration. The inflation of property prices, the encroachment on fresh lands for new developments instead of repurposing old ones, the creation of an unsafe and unpleasant environment— these are all headline-grabbing topics of

Although ephemerality is a key concept in Yes We Camp’s projects, Nicolas believes that the projects can also have a longterm impact.

Although ephemerality is a key concept in Yes We Camp’s projects, Nicolas believes that the projects can also have a long-term impact. ‘Being constrained to a short time-frame gives us the freedom to experiment and innovate. We have to be low-tech, lowcost, use the resources close at hand, involve local communities and their skills, and last but not least, have fun! By doing so, we try to collectively prove that with just a little creativity and heart, you can change a lot—and that’s the longest-lasting impact we’d like to leave on society.’

late in Malta. All this begs the question: Can Yes We Camp’s projects cohere with the more permanent infrastructure and social fabric of the cities they take place in? ‘Before we take action in a new place, we first take time to listen, to understand the context and figure out what the needs of the community really are. Then we do our best to create something, ignite a feeling of possibility which will then hopefully spread far beyond where it started manage a building or a vacant space,


from. People are not always able to




Leaving a

Legacy The University of Malta has

future donation to a

world-class research in a number of

charity or trust which

fields being carried out by dedicated

is given through a will

teams including cancer, motor neuron

or other designation. It

diseases, stroke, and epilepsy, to

allows individuals to express personal

mention a few. Making a gift to the

values by integrating charitable, family,

University of Malta in a will to support

and financial goals. Planned gifts drawn

this research can be one of the greatest

up in wills can be made in cash, or by

gifts one can make. After providing for

donating assets such as stocks, real

loved ones, why not make an impact

estate, and art pieces. The possibilities

on future generations and leave a

are endless.

donation to the University of Malta

Legacies represent a key source of

Dr Samuel Godfrey, Cancer Research UK

through the Research Trust (RIDT)?

revenue for research activity around

There is no minimum or maximum

the world. More than a third of major

amount for legacy gifts. Even a modest

research funders’ income, such as

amount will make a huge difference to

Cancer Research UK, comes from

the University. Legacy gifts can also

legacy giving.

be left specifically for certain research. They can also take the form of personal


items such as books, which can become

Research in the medical, environmental,

which will continue to benefit future

agricultural, and other fields, needs

students and staff.

part of the University collection and

financial assistance to happen. When a person leaves a legacy gift in their

Contact the RIDT on

will they help research teams make an

to discuss ideas. Total confidentiality

important difference in the community.

will be applied throughout the

These teams have an impact on our

process. Gifts large and small are

lives and wellbeing.

important. Help us make a difference!

‘As a survivor of cancer, having been in hospital for treatments, I’ve seen what cancer research has done. When you donate a legacy gift, it is to help all future generations. Cancer research could aid children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.’ Testimonial from a Cancer Survivor



legacy gift is a planned

‘Without legacy gifts, our cancer research would not be the force that it is today. Our research is world-leading. We have been integral in seeing survival go from 1-in-4 people in 1970 to 2-in-4 people today, and a third of that can be attributed to legacies.’






oast pumpkin with soft

food system, the risks associated with

goat cheese strewn on a

producing, handling, transporting, and

bed of basil and drizzled in

storing food, as well as how tenuous

a herby olive oil dressing.

food safety can be.’ Micallef’s course

What’s your favourite salad?

about the microbiological safety of

While this is certainly a more common

fresh produce is enriched by the

question than: How safe is your salad?,

diversity in academic backgrounds

the latter is probably the one we should

among the students it attracts. ‘Most

be asking. In fact, How safe is your

people only think about it when

salad? is the title of an intriguing course

something goes wrong, but for people

run by Assistant Professor Shirley

in the agriculture and food industry,

Micallef (University of Maryland).

food safety pervades many decisions

‘Everyone eats, everyone has an opinion about food, how it is made

they make,’ explains Micallef. It comes as no surprise that in her

and where it comes from,’ notes

free time Micallef can be found happily

Micallef. ‘However, few are aware of

pottering away in her garden. ‘The

the complexity and globalisation of the

botanist inside me is still there,’ Alumni

A love for botany, the birth of her children, and a strong interest in public health problems—this is what led Assistant Professor Shirley Micallef to her current position in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture (University of Maryland). She speaks to Veronica Stivala about beer brewing, native plant gardening, and the safety of our salads.


‘I think it is challenging for most scientists to communicate the significance of our work to people outside of their field,’ she confides. she confides, sharing how she has

for public health problems all inform

filled her back yard with native

my multidisciplinary research on

species to attract and support wildlife,

the interaction of human pathogens

including the local bee population.

with plants that we grow for food,

Micallef has a zest for life and the

using a Salmonella-tomato model

natural world. It is autumn when we

system.’ This work will ultimately

speak and she mentions how the season

provide a better understanding of

means that her and her family can now

foodborne diseases and reveal better,

pick apples and pumpkins, bake pies,

more effective ways of reducing

brew beer and celebrate Halloween.

their transmission and incidence.

Indeed Micallef’s children helped

has been present since childhood

with food. ‘After having our daughter,

when the subject was at the top of

I became more aware and interested

the list when it came to her favourites

in food and nutrition, so when the

in school. At university she went on

opportunity for a postdoc in food

to study botany and ecology. This

safety microbiology came along,

scientist also ventured underwater and

I went for it,’ she recalls. ‘A few

studied seagrasses for her Masters

years later I was offered my current

in Plant Biology (University of Malta).

position [as Assistant Professor in

‘Eventually,’ she says, ‘I did a Ph.D.

the Department of Plant Science and

in plant and soil microbiology at the

Landscape Architecture] where I finally

University of Massachusetts, which

found a way to tie all my studies and

kept me mostly in a lab running

experiences together. My background

molecular biology experiments.’

in plant science, my training in Alumni

microbiology, and my enthusiasm


Micallef’s fascination with biology

her develop such a strong relationship

Her love for botany stands out prominently in our exchange. Micallef

spent a while working in Malta as an

her scientific field, Micallef reveals

do believe knowledge is power, so

environmental biologist, mostly bringing

that rather than the science, it is

I feel I can make very good choices

botanist skills to the table. However,

the communication that can be

when buying and preparing food,’ she

although she loved this work, Micallef

tough. ‘I think it is challenging for

notes. There are only a few things she

admits that there came a point where

most scientists to communicate the

will not touch with a 10-foot pole:

she felt she needed a new challenge

significance of our work to people

undercooked minced beef, raw milk.

and a change. ‘That is how I ended up in

outside of their field,’ she confides.

She is wary of raw sprouts, and while

the US, studying how plants influence

That can make it hard to acquire

she will never give up raw oysters,

the type of microbes that colonise

funding or garner attention. She

she does avoid them in the summer.

their root system,’ she comments.

goes on to note how, in her current

What advice does Micallef

position, the most challenging aspects

have for anyone who is

science and the microbiology of plants.

are securing external funding for

interested in Plant Biology?

By managing to attract externally-

her research, which works not only

‘Plant biology, or anything—go for

funded research programmes, she

to conduct research but to support

it. Seek out advice if you can, but do

now leads a team of post-docs, and

postgraduate students. ‘The more

not be discouraged if it looks hard

doctoral, Masters, and undergraduate

personal challenge,’ she goes on to

or info is lacking. You cannot plan it

students. The team conducts field and

note, ‘is keeping up with work while

all. When I came to the US, 16 years

laboratory research on plant-bacterial

maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

ago, I knew very little about this

interactions. Recently, Micallef and her

I love my job, I am dedicated to my

part of the world, the educational

team, in collaboration with the US Food

students, but I also need to keep some

system here or where I would end

and Drug Administration (FDA), have

space for my own personal life.’

up, but I followed my interests and

been looking at how soil fertilisation,

Micallef admits that knowing

opportunities that I came across,

rain, and insects affect the microbiome

so much about food safety and its

and a path unfolded. Academically,

of tomato and cucumber crops.

contamination means she is ‘acutely

we are in an era of multidisciplinary

aware of the risks.’ But, sensibly,

thinking—so seek out opportunities

she also tries not to be paranoid. ‘I

that broaden your perspectives.’

When asked about what she thinks is the most difficult aspect of


Micallef’s research fuses both plant


BOOK REVIEW by David Reuben Grech

Newton and the Counterfeiter THOMAS LEVENSON


etective stories are exhilarating. There’s no

in London. The author sets the stage, explaining

argument against it. The recent resurgence

that the British currency is in crisis, held hostage

in Sherlock Holmes’ popularity peaked with TV

by counterfeiters pumping an unprecedented

programmes like Sherlock and Elementary. However,

number of fake coins into circulation. Despite

the problem with these stories, some might say,

initial hesitance, Newton eventually sets off on a

is that they are quite adept at stretching the truth

mission to hunt down the people responsible.

when it comes to certain practices in forensic

Newton’s main antagonist by the name of William

people looking for a fictional detective story with

Chaloner. Levinson does an excellent job of

solid roots in reality, look no further than Newton

humanising the antagonist, taking the reader on a

and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective

journey into his past. We see Chaloner using his

Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by author

brilliance to rise from the ashes of poverty and

and documentary-maker Thomas Levenson.

build his own empire as one of London’s most

Isaac Newton was a revolutionary in modern

clash is tantalising, with the two engaged in an

gravity and the laws of motion. He then

intricate game of wit. The struggle between

turned 26. And boredom reigned. So what

them is exhilarating, with both utilising their

did he do for some mental stimulation? He

influential ranks in society to one-up the other.

Levenson recounts the journey of Newton from


prominent counterfeiters. Newton and Chaloner’s

physics, a man famous for his theories on

became the new Warden of the Royal Mint.


The book’s title refers to ‘the Counterfeiter’,

science and cybersecurity. If you are one of those

This book’s primary selling point is its look into Newton’s story as a detective, a relatively unknown

his humble beginnings as a rather incompetent

part of the famous scientist’s life. Apart from

sheep herder to the final days of his life, taking time

this, the book has a captivating narrative and it

to focus on his stint as Warden of the Royal Mint

definitely deserves a spot on your reading list.

GAME REVIEW by Costantino Oliva

Trump the

Thumper Platform:

Playstation 4 (version tested), Steam



THUMP to be here by now? The idea

Thumper uses a synergy of minimal audio signals, intense speed, and

of putting on some bulky headset

obscure visual settings. The result is

to be projected into a digital world

a heightened feeling of danger fused

already looked passé about 15 years

with a brutal challenge that modern

ago. However, in an unexpected turn

games have mostly forgotten about.

of events, in 2016 a plethora of slick

No easy gratifications are to be

devices have finally become available

found in the alienating, unforgiving

to consumers. Enter the Oculus Rift,

repetition cycles of Thumper.

Samsung Gear VR, and the more game-oriented Playstation VR. Thumper can be played on a regular

The game was created by a diminutive two-man team that aimed for a confrontational,

TV screen or Playstation VR. Its retro-

uncompromising style. Brian Gibson

futurism embeds visions of dystopian

is better known as the bass player

virtual realities. The game is set in a dark

of the ultra-kinetic noise rock band

world, where what looks like a metallic

Lightning Bolt, which explains the

space beetle is propelled at breakneck

original mix of influences that makes

speed over an infinite rollercoaster

the game stand out. Far from the

ride. This race cannot be stopped, but

idea of an ideal, peaceful virtual

players will quickly discover that the

reality simulation, Thumper is

sparse musical elements being played

aesthetically the marriage of

are deeply meaningful. Players use them

the Nintendo classic F-Zero with

as cues to collect objects, anticipate

the challenging nature of 1980s’

sudden steerings, and survive a veritable

arcade and contemporary rhythm

rain of crushing obstacles. Precision and

games. The game will revolutionise

rapid reaction times are imperative for

your thoughts on the VR

avoiding spectacular impacts.

experience—if you dare play it. Fun


asn’t virtual reality supposed


BOARD GAME REVIEW by David Chircop

Martian Renaissance M

ars themes had a renaissance

cash wins. It becomes the market

most exquisite and intricate game

this year. No less than three

leader in humanity’s next chapter.

engines in recent memory. The

games set on Mars were released at

The game centres around project

game is vastly different every time

the Essen Game Fair in October 2016.

cards. These all require cash, or

it is played. It all depends on which

While not everyone cares for the red

megacredits, to invest in. There

projects come up during the game.

planet, it cannot be denied that it has

are hundreds of these cards, and

It takes a bit too long to play, but

spawned many interesting games,

many are unique. The crux of the

is satisfying till the very end.

particularly with game mechanics.

game lies in carefully investing in

Terraforming Mars satisfies

At Essen, Terraforming Mars was

those projects that best benefit the

the classic idiom ‘don’t judge a

the talk of the town. When I visited

player’s corporation. Each of these

book by its cover’, so cave in to

their stand to see what all the fuss

cards does something different on

peer pressure and buy it!

was about, I was unimpressed by

Mars, affecting the planet’s state,

the unappealing art and graphic

or terraform rating. This rating

design, and left the booth without a

identifies how valuable a contributor

copy. I bought a copy when only one

your corporation is in making Mars

was left due to the fear of missing

a better place for everyone.

out. The fair was full of people carrying a copy of this game.

These game mechanics give Terraforming Mars one of the

Terraforming Mars Designer:

Jacob Fryxelius


Fryxgames/ Stronghold

Terraforming Mars is not a pretty game. Its sense of graphic design oozes ‘amateur’ or ‘1990s’. It feels like a relative or friend was hired to keep costs down. The situation became increasingly giggle card images are credited to the ‘Fryxelius’ surname, which appears very often in the credit list. So how is the game played? A player heads a corporation trying to make the planet’s environment habitable. The game ends when the temperature, the landscape, and oxygen levels have reached levels amenable for life. At this point, the corporation


that has built the most respect and


Photos by Nate Anderson/

worthy after realising that most

FILM REVIEW by Charlo Pisani

Somewhere also receives a text message on his

explores the world of showbiz by

phone from what seems to be a stalker.

delving into those intimate instances when a famous actor is by himself. The opening sequence lays the

The stalker subplot, likely a major narrative driving force in most other films, is reduced to yet another incident

blueprint for the film’s cinematic

which is touched upon transiently.

mood and language. Two roads split

Instead, Somewhere sees its protagonist

the screen diagonally. A car zooms

following a more personal, existential

past, flitting in and out of the frame.

journey in which he must decide upon

The camera remains motionless.

what future holds—in or out of showbiz.

The car races back in... and out

What holds our attention throughout

Somewhere Year of release: 2010 Director:

Sofia Coppola

Production company:

Pathé Distribution, Medusa Film, Tohokushinsha, American Zoetrope



again. The camera pans out and

the film is the close, intimate view

we realise the driver is going round

of the protagonist, as he takes in his

in circles, alone, in what seems

surroundings and the people around

emotions, he tries to re-establish

to be the Californian desert.

him. Coppola frequently keeps the

contact with his ex-wife with whom

camera focused on the same image after

he shares custody of his daughter. In

famous actor Johnny Marco (Stephen

the action has finished, as if refusing

the end, Johnny ends up where he

Dorff) between films while recovering

the cut, thus emptying the space which

started: driving alone in the desert with

from a minor hand injury. He spends

nevertheless demands our attention.

a smile on his face. Did his meditative

most of the time by himself, travelling,

This way, she introverts the narrative

efforts lead him ‘somewhere’?

checking into different hotels. On

through a repetition of stasis rather

other occasions, he attends press

than the introduction of new action.

At a basic level, the film follows

conferences and parties where he

Luckily, Johnny’s redemptive

While Coppola’s other films, such as Marie Antoinette (2006), explore more elaborate aspects of gender,

finds his next conquest. He should

chances stare him in the face through

Somewhere excels in minimalist but

be reading the new scripts that are

his eleven-year-old, unspoilt, multi-

effective cinematic language and plot.

being sent to him of course, but that

talented daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning).

It remains one of the more engaging

matters little. From time to time, he

As he comes to terms with his fatherly

films in her respectable oeuvre. Fun


ofia Coppola’s film Somewhere




his is a murky area to discuss. Cognitive-Enhancing drugs are usually used to treat conditions such

as sleeping disorders and ADHD. However, if taken by a person (and we do not recommend these pills)

Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi


without these conditions, they can enhance the brain for a short time. But no gain comes without pain. Side effects are a problem. Take coffee, a weak stimulant that increases focus for a short period. A person slowly builds up tolerance and an addiction to the effect of caffeine. The ability to maintain a normal state of focus now requires that cup of coffee. Mind enhancement drugs

The Continuity Product

taken without a prescription could lead to sharper wits in the short term, however they could lead to addiction in the long term. Ritalin and

Individuals crave security, stability, continuity, and the option to create change. How? By retaining project progress. Your Continuity Product can make this happen. Your policy, concept, or idea

Adderall, prescribed for ADHD, can also lead to heart problems. The benefits many of these drugs give are usually

is for the benefit of humanity, not just your

minor—nothing like the

lifetime. Even though Steve Jobs has passed

movie Limitless. But while our

away, your iPhone still blinks. A continuity mind

minds do have limits, they are

frame is what lies behind successful enterprise.

probably fewer than one might

A continuity product is packaged in four parts:

expect, especially if we push

one, your team is indifferent to pressure; two,

ourselves that extra mile.

you are not in recovery mode, you take action; three, key resources are always ready; four, Big Data will manage your stats and your impacts.


Send in your science questions to

by Ġorġ Mallia

THINK - Issue 18  

Social media for charity, resilience development in children, clean food and energy, and the Great Siege of Malta revisited. All this and mo...

THINK - Issue 18  

Social media for charity, resilience development in children, clean food and energy, and the Great Siege of Malta revisited. All this and mo...