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WINTER 2013 • ISSUE 4

I D E A S

M A LTA

R E S E A RC H

P E O P L E

U N I V E R S I TY

IF DISASTER HITS MALTA

How can 2000 people die? DIGITAL EDITION


THINKIDEA SMALTARE ARESEARC HPEOPLEU EUNIVERSI THINKIDE ASMALTAR ARESEARC CHPEOPLEU Cover photo

Satellite image captured at 09:45 on the 31 May, 2012. Maps the Maltese Islands to 0.41 metres in black and white, and 1.65 metres in colour. Disaster management teams need this level of detail to use the image as a reference point. After an incident, a new image can be taken and the two compared. Damage to buildings, roads, and other vital organs can be quickly determined to co-ordinate a country-wide response. Analysts can also identify different landcover use for many other purposes. The satellite used is called GeoEye-1 and can revisit any point on Earth every three days.


ASMALTA ESEARCHP CHPEOPLEU UNIVERM ITY EASMALTA RESEARCH CHPEOPLE UNIVERCONTENTS 12

Learning for the future

Video games: curse or saviour? Can they teach our kids how to read and write?

Research is Vital

alta is a beautiful place. Dr Formosa’s research made my jaw, and the designer’s, drop. Inspiration hit and we painted everything silver. Malta deserves no less. It also merits proper research investment. At the time of writing, the election season was in full swing. Research was off the political agenda and never debated. Contrast that with every developed country investing heavily in research and innovation (R&I) since it generates wealth, jobs, and ultimately a better society. Flip to our contents page to find a snapshot of some of Malta’s best research. So, I came up with a few suggestions I hope politicians consider. Items bought through EU research funds or national/ government funds (MCST) should be tax-free. After all, the funds are sourced through citizens’ taxes. Tax cuts should also be provided to companies that employ PhD graduates or support R&I in Malta. Government should include research in already existing cofinancing schemes for EU projects. This would help the country source millions in funds. Apart from attracting EU investment, Malta also needs national competitive funds to support post-doctoral positions and research. After a Ph.D., a scientist usually works as a post-doc and produces their best results at this point. The country also needs competitive funds to communicate research to the public creatively. Malta has to reverse the brain drain to its advantage. Incentives are needed to bring back the best and brightest researchers to Malta. Ultimately, more funds should be pumped directly into University research. Fingers crossed. Malta needs it.

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COVER STORY

Future-safe Malta

Malta mapped in 3D and free for all to use this June

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Discover University 2012 Open week: over 200 events last November

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Edward Duca

EDITOR

A new business model for University

Cosmetics, businessmen, and science

edward.duca@um.edu.mt @DwardD

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CONTRIBUTORS Prof. Marie Therese Camilleri Podestà

CONTENTS OPINION

Prof. Mark Brincat

Shattering women's glass ceiling 10

Prof. Charles L. Mifsud

Prof. Camilleri Podestà voices her thoughts on gender equality at University

Prof. Liam Delaney

FEATURE

Healthier Fitter Happier through economics

Dr David Mifsud

Dr Saviour Formosa

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Obesity, climate change, and recessions solved

Prof. Helen Grech

Victoria Muscat FEATURE

Daphne Pia Kelleher

Experiment Malta: Maltish or Engtese?

Patricia Camilleri

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Bilingualism in Malta: force for good or confusion?

Dr Ġorġ Mallia FUN

The Left Brain is Creative the Right Brain is Logical?

Costantino Oliva

Dr Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

And much, much more

Dr Karsten Xuereb

Wilfred Kenely 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 think@um.edu.mt or call +356 2340 3451

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CULTURE GENES

Meme


CONTENTS

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STUDENTS

Students' thinking About: diamonds, molecular labs, earthquakes, and modelling

OPINION

Assisted Conception

THINK

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Prof. Brincat shares his ideas on IVF in Malta

I D E A S

M A LTA

R E S E A RC H

P E O P L E

U N I V E R S I TY

WINTER 2013 - ISSUE 4

EDITORIAL

Edward Duca EDITOR

PRODUCTION

FEATURE

Insects of Malta

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Meet moths, beetles, and bees: they dig into trees, rot fruit, and produce honey

Jean Claude Vancell

PRINTING

Print It Printing Services, Malta ISSN 2306-0735 Copyright © University of Malta, 2013 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.

Alumni Talk Making the real world digital and communication law in Bahrain

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University of Malta, Msida, Malta Tel: (356) 2340 2340 Fax: (356) 2340 2342 www.um.edu.mt

THINK is a quarterly research magazine published by the University of Malta.

ALUMNI

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.

CULTURE

Europe, Culture and the Southern Mediterranean The challenge and power of culture in the Arab context 53

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.

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STUDENT

students’ THINKing Diamonds in computers, shaking in Xemxija, and molecular labs, all being researched by University of Malta students PET

Labs in solution IMAGINE the smallest thing you possibly can. The eye of a needle? A human hair? A particle of dust? Think smaller, something you cannot even see, something on a molecular scale. Now imagine that molecule has the potential of a whole laboratory. This dream is now becoming a reality. In recent years, the field of molecular sensors has grown into one of the most groundbreaking areas in Chemistry. Molecular sensors are compounds that can detect a substance, or unique mixture of substances, and provide an easily detectable output. Usually this is a change in the absorption of ultraviolet or visible light, or in the emission of Fluorescence. In other words: colours! John Gabarretta (supervised by Dr David Magri) created a simple example of these fluorescent molecular sensors. The molecule was based on the Fluorophore-Spacer-

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Flourophore

SPACER

Receptor

hv

Flourophore hv

SPACER

Receptor

F

The molecule’s structure, based on the Fluorophore-Spacer-Receptor model (shown as a scheme), allowed for a bright blue fluorescence when exposed to Ultraviolet light

Receptor model, where the ‘output’ part of the molecule (the fluorophore — a structure which shines light) is separated from the ‘input’ part (the receptor — a structure which is sensitive to a particular substance, such as acidity or a metal ion) by an intermediate spacer, whose main function is to link these two components together. The model means that a molecule can detect a chemical and respond by shining light or not. The process gives information about the chemicals in a solution. The molecule was made by a two-step synthetic route (which took several attempts and resulted in several different colours), and its behaviour was tested by dipping into an acid. In water the molecule was switched ‘off ’, but quickly turned ‘on’ in an acidic solution by giving a bright blue light when exposed to ultraviolet light (UV) — a pretty satisfying sight!

Molecular sensors have some very advanced applications — the pioneer A. P. de Silva said that there is room for a “small space odyssey with luminescent molecules”. This odyssey includes some that detect substances such as sugars. While very advanced systems are approaching chemical computers, since they have multiple inputs and use Boolean Logic, the so-called ‘Moleculator’ or ‘gaming tic-tac-toe’ systems. The future is bright (if you pardon the pun) and with more complex structures more possibilities will appear; the molecular laboratory may become a reality detecting diseases or toxins in no time at all.

This research was performed as part of a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at the Faculty of Science.


THINK STUDENT

Scientific beauty of diamonds LAPTOPS AND MOBILES are smaller, thinner, and more powerful than ever. The drawback is heat, since computing power comes hand in hand with temperature. Macs have been known to melt down, catch fire and fry eggs — PCs can be even more entertaining. David Grech (supervised by Prof. Emmanuel Sinagra and Dr Ing. Stephen Abela) has now produced diamond–metal matrix composites that can remove waste heat efficiently. Diamonds are not only beautiful but have some remarkable properties. They are very hard, can withstand extreme conditions, and even transfer heat energy faster than any metals. This ability makes diamonds ideal as heat sinks and spreaders. The gems are inflexible making them difficult to mould into the complex shapes demanded by the microelectronics industry. By linking diamonds with other materials, new architectures can be constructed. Grech squashed synthetic diamond and silver powders together at the metal’s melting point. The resulting composite material expanded very slowly when heated. The material could dissipate heat effectively, and was cheaper and simpler to produce

than current methods — a step closer to use on microchips. Grech’s current research is focused on obtaining novel types of interfaces between the diamond powders and the metal matrix. The new materials can improve the performance of heat sinks. New production techniques could help make these materials. By depositing a very thin layer of nickel (200 nanometres thick) on diamond powders using a chemical reaction, the gems would form chemical bonds with the layer while the metal matrix would form metallic bonds. The material would transfer heat quickly and expand very slowly on heating. A heat sink made out of this material would give us a cooler microprocessor and powerful electronics that does not spontaneously catch fire — good news for tech lovers.

This research was performed as part of a Bachelor of Science (Hons) at the Faculty of Science. It is funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology through the National Research and Innovation Programme (R&I 2010-25 Project DIACOM) and IMA Engineering Services Ltd.

Main image: Diamond particle without an interface taken by Scanning Electron Microscopy Above: Diamond particle with metal matrix taken by Scanning Electron Microscopy

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STUDENT

Xemxija and Earthquakes ON FEBRUARY 22, 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 181 people and causing widespread destruction. Curiously, this damage was not evenly distributed, even for areas right next to each other. This phenomenon is called the site effect and depends on the underlying geology. Malta, unlike New Zealand, is not typically associated with earthquakes. The islands lack a seismic building code and many structures could be damaged with moderate shaking. Malta’s past records list several earthquakes that have damaged buildings and even caused some to collapse. Apart from not being reinforced, buildings have been built on less stable ground, which increases risk. Sharon Pace (supervised by Dr Pauline Galea) investigated this effect in one test area — Xemxija, in the north of Malta. She studied how sites in Xemxija would respond to the energy from an earthquake by using a portable seismograph to record ambient noise (caused by sea waves, vehicular traffic, and other anthropogenic

sources) at over 100 points across the village (pictured). The ground’s surface can be considered a vibrating platform, which can be shaken both by ambient noise as well as stronger waves from earthquakes. The ground may “resonate” at particular frequencies, or not at all, depending on the kind of rock or soil layers making up the top 30 to 50 metres. Analysis of ambient noise shows if such resonance phenomena exist, how they are related to the local geology, and how this would translate into actual earthquake shaking. At Xemxija, the study confirmed that the presence of clay (whether at the surface or buried) does amplify the grounds motion at certain frequencies. The results match previous studies in other areas, but this research went further by constructing geological models that can determine the ground’s underlying structure . Taken together, the survey shows areas in Xemxija that might need extra support to survive future earthquakes and prevent deaths. Xemxija is not the only area with soft clay geology, the urbanised area of

Mellieħa and historic citadel Mdina are built on top of similar structures. Considering the importance of these areas means that more studies are needed to better understand the structure of Maltese buildings and how they would respond to earthquakes.

This research was performed as part of a Masters of Science in Physics at the Faculty of Science. It was partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta). This scholarship is part-financed by the European Union — European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational Programme II — Cohesion Policy 2007 - 2013, “Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality of Life”.

Resonant Peak Frequencies f<=2

2<f<=4

4<f<=6

f>6

35.965 35.960

Latitude

35.955 35.950 35.945 35.940 35.935 35.930 14.365

14.370

14.375

14.380

14.385

14.390

Longitude Resonant peak frequency distribution patterns around the Xemxija area

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14.395

14.400

14.405

Setting up the Micromed Tromino, the instrument used to perform recordings of ambient noise measurements


THINK STUDENT

Illustration of a 2x2x2 unit cell of Benzene I as calculated through ab initio simulations

Playing with Solid State Benzene

COMPUTATIONAL chemistry is a powerful interdisciplinary field where traditional chemistry experiments are replaced by computer simulations. They make use of the underlying physics to calculate chemical or material properties. The field is evolving as fast as the increase in computational power. The great shift towards computational experiments in the field is not surprising since they may reduce research costs by up to 90% — a welcome statistic during this financial crisis. Keith M. Azzopardi (supervised by Dr Daphne Attard) used two distinct computational techniques to uncover the structure of a carcinogenic chemical called solid state benzene. He also looked into its mechanical properties, especially its auxetic capability, materials that become thicker when stretched. By studying benzene, Azzopardi is testing the approach to see if it can work. Many natural products incorporate the benzene ring, even though they are not toxic. The crystalline structures of solid state benzene were reproduced using computer modelling. The first technique used the ab initio method, that uses the actual physical equations of each atom involved. This approach is intense for both the computer and

the researcher. It showed that four of the seven phases of benzene could be auxetic. The second less intensive technique is known as molecular mechanics. To simplify matters it assumes that atoms are made of balls and the bonds in between sticks. It makes the process much faster but may be unreliable on its own due to some major assumptions. For modelling benzene, molecular mechanics was insufficient. Taken together, the results show that molecular mechanics could be a useful, quick starting point, which needs further improvement through the ab intio method.

This research was performed as part of a Masters of Science in Metamaterials at the Faculty of Science. It is partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta). This Scholarship is part-financed by the European Union – European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational Programme II – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, “Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality Of Life”. It was carried out using computational facilities (ALBERT, the University’s supercomputer) procured through the European Regional Development Fund, Project ERDF080 ‘A Supercomputing Laboratory for the University of Malta’.

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OPINION

Shattering women’s glass ceiling Prof. Marie Therese Camilleri Podestà

T

he role of women in academia has always greatly interested me. Several years ago, when I was asked to become Gender Issues Committee chairperson at the University of Malta, I readily accepted. Apart from other tasks, the committee has just compiled a booklet about the profiles of senior female academics. Our objectives are twofold: one is to incentivise junior staff to aim higher and move forward in their career; the other, to help sensitise male colleagues to better appreciate the hurdles women face when pursuing an academic career together with raising a family. Multitasking needs a number of skills. An individual has to prioritise various contending needs and to hone the skill of time management. It is definitely an advantage for children to be exposed to parents who practice such skills early on. I am the first woman to be appointed full professor at the University of Malta. Without the support of both my parents, when they were still alive, and of my husband it would have been difficult for me to succeed here. My three children were born in a very short time span and unfortunately my father died when my youngest child was only one and a half years old. Now that my children are grown up, I feel that my example has been useful in enabling them to develop their skills to cope with the various commitments demanded by a modern lifestyle. The booklet we are compiling has a prevailing recurrent theme: the need to support women. Many universities abroad provide mentors for their academic staff. I am sure that a similar scheme locally

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Image: kozzi.com

would be a step in the right direction to empower female academics to achieve more. Unfortunately, our university does not have a structured unit to adequately cater for gender issues. The only help that the Gender Issues Committee receives is the provision of a part-time secretary. To promote gender equality, many foreign universities give financial awards.

“To promote gender equality, many foreign universities give financial awards” In recent years, child care facilities are one factor that has undoubtedly contributed greatly to help women achieve their career goals. Gladly, I have lately noticed that the number of these child care facilities has increased. University has its own nursery. However, this facility has its limitations. It is not large enough to match the ever increasing demand, it also does not open for long enough nor caters for a wide enough age range of children. Overall, I am glad to have seen a great improvement in the proportion of female academics, but a glass ceiling still exists. The statistics still show low percentages for the top academic posts. The numbers at the top for women still fall short of their male counterparts. This ceiling needs to be broken.


THINK OPINION

Assisted Conception IVF and other procedures

Prof. Mark Brincat

A

ssisted conception procedures arose as a type of treatment for infertility. They opened a whole new range of possibilities for couples that were unable to have children due to a variety of problems. Initially, the difficulty addressed was of blocked or absent fallopian tubes in women. This prevented the oocyte from making contact with sperm, hence preventing the formation of an embryo. Naturally, this also prevented an embryo from moving into the uterus, implanting itself, and developing into a foetus. In vitro fertilisation bypasses tubes by obtaining oocytes from the ovaries and fertilising these oocytes outside the body (in vitro — in glass). The procedure became a reality in humans with the pioneering work of Steptoe and Edwards and the delivery of Louise Brown in 1974. She gave birth naturally in 1999. With the further development of ICSI (Intra cytoplasmic Sperm Injection) it was possible to fertilise an oocyte (egg) with an individual sperm. This was a breakthrough therapy for men with low or absent sperm counts. When sperm are lacking in the ejaculate, a doctor can retrieve them directly from the testicles, or the epididymis (a tight-

ly coiled tube from the testes to the rest of the body). The procedure is known as TESA or PESA. In combination with ICSI, these techniques made it possible for these men to father children. In our society, infertility is becoming more common and 8 out of 10 couples can experience problems. This simple statistic makes these procedures increasingly important. Nowadays, even couples with the most severe problems can become parents.

“In our society, infertility is becoming more common and 8 out of 10 couples can experience problems”

These procedures have been mixed in controversy from the beginning, with most countries allowing science to proceed within certain safeguards. This restrained approach allows for progress. Regrettably, infertility still carries a large stigma. The thousands who have benefited from these and other simpler infertility procedures (they precede attempts for assisted conception) do not speak out. Normally they don’t because of how society would perceive them or their children. IVF is a physically, psychologically, and financially demanding procedure. Couples normally only proceed after having spent a considerable time beforehand seeking help, investigating, and trying alternative simpler treatments. It is usually the final recommended solution to the problem. IVF essentially means that fertilisation of the oocytes occurs out of the body. The oocytes are then fertilised with sperm and in a percentage of cases this is successful and an embryo starts to develop.

This article continues the focus on IVF from last year’s opinion piece by Prof. Pierre Mallia. Other local experts have been contacted and we are open for further opinions and comments from our readers.

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Learning for the Future Video games make billions as part of the entertainment industry. Parents often view them as a waste of time. Prof. Charles L. Mifsud talks about studies showing their use in education. Cleverer, alert, interested students could be coming to a classroom near you

Prof. Charles L. Mifsud

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THINK FEATURE

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FEATURE

V

ideo games can be a cause of concern. Parents worry about the large amount of time their children spend playing games. They fear for their children’s health, academic achievement, and social development. Teachers worry about the increasing competition from enthralling games and other media for their students’ attention. Students are frustrated by the wide gap between their exhilarating experience when playing games and their slowpaced lessons at school. Video games can be beneficial. There are laparoscopic surgeons who play games to ‘warm-up’ before surgery. Younger, newer radiologists are more accurate in reading mammograms than older, more experienced doctors and some researchers have put this down to keener eyesight gained from playing video games. Extensive research now shows that video games can teach a multitude of skills. They can help problem solving, language, collaborative and cognitive skills, critical and strategic thinking, multitasking, hand-eye coordination, and parallel processing. They help cultivate new thinking skills, which enable children and teenagers to process information more effectively. Games can help teach skills that the children will require as enterpreneurs in a twenty-first century economy. They encourage creative solutions and adaptations that can be applied to real life situations. As a therapy for young people, video games can help them deal with emotional and behavioural problems. Furthermore, when children learn to play video games, they are learning a new literacy. Video gaming is a multimodal literacy par excellence. Multimodal literacy extends beyond words and images to include

sounds, music, movement, and bodily sensations. Concerning more traditional forms of literacy like reading and writing, video games improved children’s spelling and reading comprehension by statistically significant levels. Teacher reports claim that students who use video games show improvement in basic literacy skills, writing, and higher-level sentence and question construction.

d

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“Today’s kids are not ADD, they are EOE: Engage Me or Enrage Me” ­ Kip Leland

Los Angeles Virtual Academy (LAVA)

Research into video games is related to new ideas in literacy. New Literacy Studies argue that reading and writing should be viewed as social and cultural practices with economic, historical, and political implications. “Situated cognition” contends that human learning is not simply what goes on inside people’s heads but is fully embedded in a material, social, and cultural world. Another idea called connectionism consid-

ers human beings to be powerful pattern recognizers. People think best when they reason on the basis of patterns they have picked up through their actual physical experiences.

The educational potential of video games More evidence is showing the positive effects of video games on learning. Gamers are able to alter and change various situations and environments, which in real life would be unalterable. They can view phenomena that are impossible to witness for real, and can observe a changing environment over a span of time. For learning to be successful, learners need to feel engaged. They must be aware of the value of their role within the whole process and feel that their investment will bring progress and goal achievement. Motivational features that can contribute to effective learning are present in video games. They just need to be exploited by game designers and educators. Students are more engaged in video gaming when compared to normal schooling, namely in challenges, curiosity, and particularly in independent mastery. Student engagement, learning, discipline, responsibility, increased communication by the students with each other and with teachers, and a meaningful integration of skills can be achieved through the use of video games. They can bring about quicker advancement, enhanced production, and increased confidence. The elements of challenge, reward and success in video games, and peer feedback can contribute towards student enthusiasm and motivation to work successfully in classrooms.


THINK FEATURE

The role of teachers The use of video games for learning enhances student autonomy. The role of the teacher changes from an instructor to facilitator or guide. Learning moments are created when the teacher makes links between game play and learning concepts. In such situations, students become focused on learning, as they are aware that it may help them in their current game tasks. Use of guided practice and regular debriefing supports learning. Furthermore, teachers take on the role of interpreter, focus on getting the class to think, and make links between what is happening in the game and the main learning aims of the class. Teachers who have a firm grasp of the subject curriculum are able to utilise

the games appropriately to achieve their educational objectives, rather than to just increase game familiarity. While in the role of facilitator, teachers need to strike a balance between encouraging open-ended exploration and giving students a certain degree of autonomy. They need to be able to provide specific instructions at teaching intervals, which will direct the students and keep them on the track of exploration, of learning on their own, from their teacher and also from their peers. Although fun is an important element of video games, teachers need to move beyond this and show the students the advantages of using video games to learn. The Centre for Literacy (University of Malta) has been researching the benefits of video games in learning. Their experimental

studies show that when using video games in the classroom, secondary students obtained significant gains in language and literacy when compared to other students who followed their regular programme. These research studies make a claim for teachers to be supported in their endeavours to harness video games as a teaching and learning tool. The role of teachers in this process requires redefinition. The concerns of teachers need to be addressed to help them adopt video games for classroom learning. The Centre is looking into the attitudes of people towards educational video games. The studies show increased support for video games from students, teachers, and parents. Most students feel that video games can provide them with an opportunity to Âť

Video games can

improve early literacy

>

in 4 and 5 year olds, especially letter recognition and story comprehension More than

100

Fortune 500 companies, like IBM, Cisco and Coldstone Creamery, use some form of gaming for training purposes 15


FEATURE

learn many skills. The majority of teachers believe that students can learn through video games, yet only some of the teachers actually use video games in the class. Most parents believe that educational video games are good tools for classroom learning.

Kids who played Tetris for

30 minutes

Areas of concern Violence and gender are two areas of concern in video gaming. There does not seem to be a link between games and aggression. None of the current research even remotely suggests video games lead to real-life violence in any predictable way. Some researchers have even argued that video games have beneficial effects, for example some teenagers use violent games as a way to manage anger or as an outlet for lack of control. Many video games do not involve violence. Like other pop culture forms, video games can depict women in stereotypical ways, but the situation is changing. Many role-playing games now allow players to design their own character with an expanding range of choices. There are more and stronger female characters. After all games reflect our culture, a culture which can be changed. Girls and women are quickly catching up in gaming, though they usually prefer different games.

Screen grab from ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures by Moby Games

A Learning Vision Good video games build learning principles into their design. When young people interact with video games they are learning, and learning in deep ways. In education, a video games appeal can be advantageous. Educators may need to investigate the game features to identify what captivates the player’s concentration and commitment. These techniques can be

“By adopting game-like learning principles we can redesign our educational system for the modern world” James Paul Gee Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University

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a day for three months had a thicker cortex than those who did not play. The cortex is believed to process coordination and visual information.

adapted to produce learning programmes with a high level of motivation. Parents and teachers can support what children and teenagers are learning by having conversations about games they are interested in.

FURTHER READING • Gee, J. P. (2007). What Video Games have to teach us about Learning and Literacy, Palgrave Macmillan, USA • Granić, A., Mifsud, C.L., and Ćukušić, M., (2009). Design, implementation and validation of a pedagogical framework for e-Learning in Computers and Education, Elsevier, US. • Mifsud, C.L., Vella, R., and Camilleri, L. (2013). Attitudes towards and effects of the use of video games in classroom learning with specific reference to literacy attainment. Research in Education, Vol. 90, Manchester University Press, UK. • Prensky, Marc (2006). 'Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning!' How computer and video games are preparing your kids for 21st century success. Paragon House, USA.


alumni

University of Malta Thank you to all those Alumni of the University of Malta who have activated their Alumni Community Online account. We warmly encourage those who have not yet done so to fill in the online form available at www.um.edu.mt/alumni so that we can send you a letter to activate this account. If you have any queries concerning your registration or activation, please contact: Ms Angela Xuereb, Communications & Alumni Relations Office University of Malta, Msida MSD 2080 Tel: +356 2340 2163 Email: alumni@um.edu.mt

Have you received this letter from us? Activate your account and join the Alumni Community to keep up to date with the latest news from your Alma Mater.


Healthier fitter happier through economics People do not always act rationally. They overeat, overspend, and find it difficult to plan for the future. THINK met Prof. Liam Delaney to talk about how a new branch of economics might solve the pension crises, the obesity epidemic, the financial situation, help science, and make us feel better. Words by The Editor

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THINK FEATURE

Prof. Liam Delaney

I

n an alternate dimension, Homo economicus always make the best choices for themselves, are completely rational, and can all exercise absolute willpower. Back to today’s reality, Malta ranked 9th on a BBC global fat scale that I recently took, the world is still stumbling to its feet after the biggest recession in living memory, and every Saturday night in Paceville people regularly exhibit irrational behaviour. The scenarios cusp the disconnect between traditional economic theory and how human beings behave. “I think the notion of individual rationality doesn’t even make sense anymore”, said behavioural economist Prof. Delany (University of Stirling) when talking about how consumers make choices. Behavioural economics is a cross-disciplinary field that has made huge inroads into bridging the above gap. It considers a number of fields including evolution and psychology. In 1979, the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky published Prospect Theory that started to explain how people make choices, judge and value. These are all at the root of human decision-making. Evolution can really shape irrational choices. Even when considering something like paranoia, when humans roamed forests it made sense to be overly alert to the slightest movement — a tiger could be waiting to pounce on you. But in today’s world, it has become a potentially serious and debilitating condition — most worries are in your head (step in psychology). This comes out

in economics. “If you’re too distrusting then you can lose a lot of trade. In economics this is called betrayal aversion, it says that people often pass up opportunities because of the fear of betrayal. For example, losing €100 from your wallet feels bad, but losing €100 because of your friends feels a lot worse”, explained Prof. Delany. Loss aversion means

“People prefer situations where they can simply say: I’m leaving for the weekend can you keep an eye on the house”

Societies that lack social capital will under perform, since they “have to spend big percentages of their GDP on security and legal contracts against each other”, continued Prof. Delany. There is an economic benefit when groups cooperate. It also promotes wellbeing.

The economics of happiness An unfashionable topic years ago, but now there is a huge body of literature exploring happiness and economics. Prof. Delaney thinks “we should be designing institutions that make us happier”. The field has also been described as the "economics of walking around and asking people what they »

that financial institutions cannot be run on incentives alone but need trust. “Where trust is higher, financial institutions do better. It is mutually reinforcing." Psychology has had a huge influence on economics. Kahneman won the Nobel prize in Economics in 2002. Take trust as an example, lack of trust has a cost and is related to social capital.

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FEATURE

think and taking it seriously. […] In general, people do tell you and know if they are unhappy about a situation. There was a big connection between behavioural economics and well being”. Prof. Delaney thinks that countries underinvest in pain-reduction and early childhood intervention. Both would improve people’s lives tremendously. Social capital promotes wellbeing. “People prefer situations where they can simply say: ‘I’m leaving for the weekend. Can you keep an eye on the house?’ rather than ringing somebody and paying them to come over with a security van. Even if it’s the same service there is evidence that sug-

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gests people prefer asking your neighbour — people feel happier”, continued Prof Delaney. This reasoning is not how people might normally view economists. “The issue is to stop thinking about it as economic incentives being made by disembodied individuals and start thinking about how people interpret who is doing it and why they are doing it”, said Prof. Delaney when we were talking about policies to change behaviour. By talking to its citizens, policy makers need to start analysing why some policies fail and others succeed. “This is something that comes out in Marie’s research, [Marie Briguglio lectures at the University of Malta and conducts research

on behavioural economics]. Changing default options can be particularly effective. [Governments need to] change incentives and label them very clearly. People got a plastic bag tax very quickly”, remarked Prof. Delaney. This worked in Ireland, not so well in Malta; in Greece it increased plastic bag use. Policy makers need to look at traditional instruments (like local culture) and make them fit better to how people make decisions.

Economics helping science The next EU funding round called Horizon 2020 will see science adsorbing tens of


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billions of euros. “Enormous amounts of money are rightly going into science and the public is feeling that this is not in their interest”, stated Prof. Delaney. The importance of science and public opinion seem disconnected. “We need to stop the scenario where all this money is going into developing technologies with pretty much no resources going into finding out what the public finds acceptable. How can you make these technologies acceptable and align them into how the public behaves?” This means investing in public consultations and people who can engage the public with science creatively. "Science communicators are incredibly important; designers are incredibly important”, emphasised off Prof. Delaney.

Behavioural economics for government “David Cameron has just set up a behavioural insights team in the Cabinet — this is a group of physiologists, social marketers and economists […] it’s a very innovative thing”, said Prof. Delaney. But why should a Conservative government introduce more regulations? “Since budgets are limited, some countries are [accepting]

that we have to come up with better ways of spending it, which could be very good.” In the UK, this team has already helped reframe how energy bills should be provided to people. There are currently tens of thousands of tariffs, now they are being regulated to provide people with the cheapest tariff. If the UK has adopted this approach, should Malta? An open question. This new approach tip toes between mandatory and non-mandatory. It could just make

“Science communicators are incredibly important; designers are incredibly important”

the market work better, damping future financial crises. “It makes people feel more secure”, stated Prof. Delaney.

A good frame of mind “It’s not that people are irrational in terms of being stupid, just that it’s not the way that people make decisions”, stated Prof. Delaney. Decision makers need to consider how options are framed to consumers. Nowadays everything is framed for us, online shopping is rife with recommended listings, mobile tariffs, pension schemes, loans, absolutely everything has options, upgrades, and other categories are all seeking our attention. The consumer has little hope of rational choice. So, what can be done to help consumers make better choices? The first option has already been mentioned: “actively shape consumer choices and make the default options better”, stated Prof. Delaney. In pensions, some economists are suggesting “opt out instead of opt in”, while “fast food outlets shouldn’t be asking you whether you want to upsize but framing [it] so that you take the lighter option”. This technique is called behavioural intervention and can help shape consumer choice. Prof. Delaney suggested another two options: educating people to make the better »

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choice and forcing mandatory changes. Simply put, do not allow people to buy products that are bad for them or the world around them. Prof. Delaney suggested that regulation might be the best approach for the very big issues (obesity, pensions, the environment, financial crisis and so on).

The devil is in the details Companies already give consumers all the information they need. The problem is that most people cannot, or do not have the time, to understand hundreds of options. According to Prof. Delaney, “they should be explained to you in a way as if you’re explaining it to a 12-year old”. He is not being derogatory, he is emphasising communication. It is key, not only in marketing and advertising, but for people to make the right health and financial choices. Prof. Delaney thinks that apps will be one key part of this change in consumer-to-buisness relationship. He continued describing how apps could be developed to recommend certain foods, or which shop on your street sells the cheapest towels. “The app would give the customer the bigger deal." It would need to be automatic using efficient sensor technology to suggest the best outcome for the consumer. “In the short term this might lower profits, but if customers start to trust companies more, this could help increase the market size and have a more innovative market.”

Why should behavioural economics butt in? Obesity is a huge problem. In the U.S., in 2011 it cost individuals $6,518–$8,365 more per year for obesity-related expenses. For the U.K., obesity’s impact on the economy could reach £27 billion by 2015 according to a Foresight report. “Both Malta or Ireland have public health systems, so if someone is getting more obese, more heart disease and diabetes, that affects everyone. So, it’s not a matter of personal choice”, said Prof. Delaney. Personal choice clearly isn’t working. As I stated above,

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Malta ranked number nine on a global fat scale. Though these rankings change, Eurostat revealed in 2011 that Maltese women are the second most obese and men top the EU rankings. The Maltese are making some very irrational food choices.

“The problem with obesity is evolution” Even Harvard is recommending prevention to stop excessive economic strain on countries. “The food industry is starting to realise that this is something that could rebound on them if the public and politicians start to think that it is popular for the food industry to be seen as the bad guys.” In the long run, companies could suffer excessive regulation. Most people already know what they should do: cut down on the pastizzi, fast food and meat, eat more vegetables and fruit, and exercise and so on, but less are doing it. The problem with obesity is evolution. We’re designed to love high-calorie, sweet, savoury, fatty food to beef when times are good and burn it off when crops fail. We have a lot of baggage from our evolutionary history. Fast food chains, have only been around for the last few decades and it’s harder to make healthy food as good to eat. Against millions of years of evolution, what hope do consumers have?

“This is where behavioural economics fits in, which traditionally has not been on that side. It’s traditionally been thought, that people in public health should think about these problems not economists. If you think about it, it’s resource allocation and organisation of public spending. These are fundamental questions of economics”, explained Liam. Governments and companies need behavioural economics because it will help shape the most effective regulations for all, and the stakes are very high. “It’s not the apples and oranges tradeoffs we teach students, but [decisions that] will shape the pattern of society in the next 10–20 years.” Essentially behavioural economics argues for pilot studies. When introducing policies or regulations, governments (or other bodies) should be running small level trials, analysing the results and building on them. Prof. Delaney explained, “there isn’t a perfect equation and still a lot of experimentation, some things work well and some things don’t work. […] We need to redesign our institutions to work towards the future. […] We just need to find political leaders who can look beyond a five-year cycle. I don’t think it’s that utopian a vision, but common sense".


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INSECTS OF

MALTA Insects are vital. Insects also cover the planet, with local research showing that there might be over 6,000 species â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a wonderful world awaits

Dr David Mifsud The Asian bark beetle which is killing fig trees. Image: Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta

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B

iodiversity is the study of all living organisms on earth. For hundreds of years it has captivated many people and scientists. Studying biodiversity is crucial to understand how ecosystems work and protect them. We cannot live without the products and services of our environment. The natural world also provides security and health. Biodiversity is extremely complex, dynamic, and varied with plants, animals and microbes all living in one system that supports millions of species, including people. In 1758, the Swedish scientist Carl von Linné proposed a binomial system to classify every living organism using just two names. Since then, around 1.8 million species of living or extant organisms have been formally named and described. This number is just a small part of the total number of species which could rise to 30 to 50 million. More than half of these species are insects. They have colonised nearly every habitat. Insects are found everywhere but are often poorly understood. They also dominate the Maltese environment. By understanding insects we will understand more about Mal-

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tese ecosystems. For this reason, the Entomological Society of Malta (where currently I hold the chair of President) is studying all of Malta’s insect biodiversity. It has tried to involve scientists from all over the world to study its rich insect biodiversity. To promote such collaborations, this NGO started a scientific journal, which I currently edit, called the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta that focuses on Mediterranean insect studies, especially those of the Maltese Islands. Since 2008, more than 60 scientists contributed and filled its covers with detailed information on more than 1,200 insects — a quarter of which were not known to occur in Malta. Over 300 different insects lived in Malta for centuries without anyone knowing about them. Recently, two society members discovered and described two new moths. Both species are endemic and only occur in the Maltese Islands. One named Stichobasis postmeridianus, a bagworm moth, and the other, Eudarcia melitensis, belonging to a different group commonly known as fungus moths. These Islands still hold many secrets. The insect species we have recently discovered are probably the tip of the iceberg. The society estimates that around 6,000 to

“Some 15 years ago a longhorn beetle was accidentally introduced from Central Africa through timber industry wood”


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8,000 species exist in Malta. Like other living organisms, insects are subdivided into various groups according to how they are related to each other. Some 30 different orders are currently recognised, depending on which scientist you agree with. The beetles (Order Coleoptera) have the largest number of species and locally there may be more than 1,700 species. Alien species are organisms that establish themselves in a new territory. Cataloguing of insects is essential to figure out if an insect is natural to Malta or an alien. Once established in a new territory such organisms may cause several problems. The lack of natural enemies in the new territory often means that their population explodes. These pests can

also compete with native species, which has happened in Malta time and again. Damages done by the Red Palm Weevil amount to thousands of euros and the species is still killing many palm trees. The Red Palm Weevilâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s introduction probably could not have been avoided, but the authorities could have prevented others. Some 15 years ago a longhorn beetle (Phryneta leprosa) was accidentally introduced from Central Africa through timber industry wood. This beetle destroyed hundreds of black mulberry trees all over the Maltese Islands. Right now, because of a bark beetle (Hypocryphalus scabricollis), fig trees are dying all over Malta. This Asian beetle most likely ended up in Malta through imported Chinese Banyan or Curtain fig (Ficus mi-

crocarpa), a tree used for street and square gardens. Malta has some 10 different species of fig trees. Butterfly and moths (Order Lepidoptera) are another important group of insects. In Malta, there are some two dozen butterflies and some 600 species of moths. Some butterflies could soon be wiped out. A typical example is the Meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina), which used to breed in abundance and was widely distributed around the Maltese Islands. For some unknown reason, its population has plummeted in these last 15 to 20 years and this beautiful butterfly is now hardly ever seen. In Malta, bees, ants, and wasps (Order Hymenoptera) have largely been ignored. Âť

The Longhorn beetle which has been killing mulberry trees since 2000. Image: Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta

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“OVER THREE HUNDRED

300

DIFFERENT INSECTS LIVED IN MALTA FOR CENTURIES WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING ABOUT THEM”

Asian tiger mosquito. Image: Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta 26


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The Meadow Brown butterfly which is almost extinct from Malta. Image: Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta

There might be over 2,000 species. Another group, true flies (Order Diptera) are well studied with 600 species identified, but I am sure that 1,000 species could be found in Malta. The dreaded Asian Tiger Mosquito is part of this group. It is a highly invasive species that originated in Asia and has spread throughout the world. In 2009, it was first reported in Malta. By breeding in any still water, including abandoned tyres, it thrives around humans — its most important food source. Over the last 20 years, extensive research has been carried out on another group of insects called Hemiptera, which includes whiteflies, psyllids, scale insects, bugs, and cicadas. Some 600 species have been found. In 1996, I described the whitefly Aleurolobus teucrii which my wife collected during some field work in Gozo. This whitefly was then found in Southern Italy. Insect studies involve a lot of tedious cataloguing, so why bother? Why should we need to identify so many tiny creatures and learn about their lives? Insects tend to dominate the ecosystem around us, which would collapse without them. The more we

learn about them, the more we can understand their relationships and their possible common ancestors through studies known as “phylogenetic relationships”. Insects pollinate flowers, a vital process for most plants and their products; honeybees produce honey, a delicacy in Malta and Gozo. Flowers are also essential for the survival of other organisms that feed on them. Other insect species are not as kind, some pose problems to human health, others infect domesticated animals and can destroy agricultural livelihoods.

“This Asian bark beetle most likely ended up in Malta by importing Chinese Banyan or Curtain fig […] used for street and square gardens”

The more we can learn about these species, the better our chances of controlling them, saving millions, and coexisting happily. Certain species called ‘ecological indicators’ can give insight into the state of our environment. Other species recycle nutrients, help plants grow and spread, maintain all the different species of plants or provide food for other animals such as birds or bats. Studying insects can go a whole lot further than a catalogue.

FURTHER READING • www.entomologicalsocietymalta. org — Website full of images and information on arthropods in Malta, plus scientific literature. • Mifsud, D. (2008–2012) [ed.]. Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta, volumes 1–5. The society’s annual volumes that catalogue insects found in Malta. • Mifsud, D. (2000). Present knowledge of the Entomofauna of the Maltese Islands. Entomologica Basiliensia, 22: 75–86. A scientific paper that summarises insect studies in Malta till 2000.

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FEATURE

FUTURE-SAFE

MALTA Dr Saviour Formosa

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THINK FEATURE

The above cutout could become reality if a Category 3 storm lashes Malta with 178 to 208 km per hour winds. The chances are minimal but too probable to ignore, since in 1995 a similar storm formed close to the Maltese Islands followed by others in 1996, 2006, and 2011. Below are two scenarios that compare Malta as it currently stands against an island with a solid disaster management plan.

[

SCENARIO 1

AN UNPREPARED ISLAND

]

The emergency forces have been inundated with calls for help and have few plans to operate a workable rescue effort. Key personnel were lost at home or while rushing to the scene, since the infrastructure has been knocked out, paralysing the island. Power surges or power cuts have caused fires all over the Islands creating an apocalyptic scenario. With the storm still raging, the lack of a back-end ICT network has rendered communication near impossible.

[

SCENARIO 2

THE IDEAL SCENARIO

]

A fleet of small aerial drones is monitoring the disaster. The authorities are using them to identify the hardest hit areas and map out corridors that allow access on the ground. Emergency vehicles are being deployed safely. Services will be redeployed after safety assessments and clearing of the main infrastructure. Paramedics, NGO rescue teams, and armed forces help move people to safer grounds and carry out rescue operations. Community buildings on higher ground are converted into temporary shelters. In turn, decision-makers are kept informed using an Emergency Room for effective relief.

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B

ack to 2013, extreme weather events are gradually gaining ground around the world linked to a changing climate. Building scenarios of possible disasters is an essential way to prepare a nation. Malta currently lacks a comprehensive risk assessment and the infrastructure to cope with the storm I described above. Since 2006, I have been co-ordinating a â&#x201A;Ź4.4 million ERDF project to introduce a unique map of the Maltese Islands. This tool will provide a solid foundation to build relief efforts. It goes far beyond a digital map and integrates height data, underwater depths, building heights, geographical features, environmental protection legislation, development planning studies, and population studies. The project started off from a number of directives studying air, water, noise, radiation, and soil has matured into a full-blown tool that can be used for relief efforts, but also to protect the environment and aid societal change. The layers of information serve civil protection, architects,

town planners, geographers and geologists, archeologists, social scientists and criminologists to name a few. This tool will allow 3D simulations based on new data to build new scenarios for any problem the Maltese Islands might face. We will be launching the free tool this June.

Riding the Wave Having this tool up and running will allow an exciting new wave of analysis. It will empower University Faculties and Institutes to contribute to an integrated research base through the generation of digital terrain 3D models. They can be used for urban and transport planning, environmental impact assessments, development infringement analysis, security review, modeling of runoff water, and enforcement of land use activities. Experts can also study, monitor, analyse, and protect those areas that are vulnerable. Spin-offs from the results include updated nautical charts, landscape assessment, direct line of sight studies to

determine unobstructed views of historical buildings, and viewshed analysis that allows landscapes to be seen from every angle. The results will also allow for cross-thematic studies in the physical, social, and environmental domains. Having been structured around a number of international directives, the project will ensure the free delivery of all data to the general public. This is the result of an integrated exercise to adhere to EU requirements. All data from this project will be made viewable and disseminated through a web portal known as a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS). Within the SEIS the whole of the Maltese Islands will be uploaded followed by more well-known platforms like, OSGrid, OpenSimand, ScienceSim, Second Life, and Google Earth. This prospect opens entire venues for online commerce, gaming, tourism, virtual development testing, and social interactions in a virtual reality that mimics or enhances reality. It could take Facebook and Minecraft to a whole new level in Malta. Testing of Âť

Ancient Maltese landscapes: 12,000 year old coastlines showing the Maltese landmass lost to sea-level rise

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[]

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[the map serves] civil protection, architects, town planners, geographers and geologists, archeologists, social scientists and criminologists

Very high resolution image of the Malta Freeportâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s individual containers and their environmental effects showing shifting sea-bottom sands

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[ ] We could also test the first underwater hotel within an entirely accurate environment

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Watch more on our

channel Images enabling structural studies of Maltaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s capital after 550 years of urban development

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THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND THE PROJECT The project took data from 3D aerial surveys, vessel-based surveys, and other inputs to generate a multi-layered map freely available to the Maltese public. The following technology was used.

LAND

LAND â&#x20AC;&#x201D; LIDAR Scan: Terrestrial (Topographic Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)) Digital Surface Model (DSM) and Digital Terrain Model (DTM) (316km2). LIDAR is a laser system used to collect topographical data. With this information, a 3D model of the terrain can be created. This dataset identifies the actual height of every point on the island and offers a rich output in terms of slope and aspect analysis. This can be used to re-construct historical features or develop future scenarios.

SOUND

SEA

Bathymetric LIDAR aerial survey - depths of 0m to 15m within 1 nautical mile from the Maltese coastline (38km2) Another first for Malta, an aerial LIDAR survey measures the bathymetry (water depths) of coastal waters. The laser pinpointed the exact coastal boundary. Ship-based scans cannot come close enough to the shore because of the shallow depths. Because of the Islandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s clear seas a global first was achieved. The technology pierced through 50 metres of sea water, 30 metres more than anywhere else in the world.

3D

High resolution oblique aerial imagery, derived orthophoto mosaic and tiled imagery of the Maltese Islands (316km2) Bathymetric Scan: Acoustic (side scan sonar) Digital Surface Model and an acoustic information map of sea bed (361km2). Sonar equipment mounted on a vessel was used to scan the seabed for unique physical and biological characteristics. Coastal waters were surveyed between 15 to 200 m water depths and within 1 nautical mile from the Maltese baseline coast.

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By taking aerial photography from a sharp angle (oblique) of the same area, a precise 3D image was created. The high resolution images can be seen from multiple views enabling better analysis of buildings, which can be critical when assembling post-disaster scenarios. By comparing a beforeand-after image, rescue teams can pin down exactly how badly affected was an area. Town planners can assess the potential impact of new developments.


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environmental management plans, town planning, and a million other scenarios can be taken up across entire academic domains. Imagine testing a new paragliding suit over the Dingli Cliffs and including precise wind pattern fluctuations. We could also test the first underwater hotel within an entirely accurate environment, or an array of wave powered electricity generators that can be assaulted with all kinds of weather conditions. The islands could also be bridged with a new tunnel or single span bridge employing new materials and tested using this technology. The possibilities are endless. In terms of project outputs, from here, the sky is the limit. Reruns of the bathymetric and terrestrial LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scans would enable change analysis, which is when the laser light reflected by surfaces is used to measure changes in the physical structure of historical buildings or cliff sides. Future technology developments are needed for an aerial ground-penetrating radar scan of the Maltese Islands to explore and protect our underground heritage. By investing in more research and technologies, this map could be upgraded and made more powerful.

Revisiting the Scenarios The simulation of extreme weather events is now within reach. The infrastructural data is now available, while we could glean information about the population from census

and common database data. Other ERDF projects also have huge readily available datasets. If Malta adopts scenario two, a storm would kick off a fleet of drones to scan buildings and infrastructure for damage. In turn, this information would raise the alarm for critical areas that need instant intervention. Other sensors will measure radioactivity or pollutant emissions, whilst others would measure heat signatures of trapped persons. Our rescue teams could be efficient, effective, and save the largest number of people. Flash flooding can be predicted based on the rate of precipitation and slope analysis, allowing the authorities to work on the most at-risk localities. By combining this strategy with immediate generation of risk maps and disaster simulations, the loss of life would be minimised and an alarm system set in place. Malta needs to be prepared and its authorities must help develop response strategies. In the next few years, scenarios need to be tested, followed up by solid strategies to help brace the Island. Only then will Malta prevent that horrific newspaper cutout.

This €4.4 million project is being implemented by the Environment and Planning Agency, the University of Malta, the Malta Resources Authority, the National Statistics Office, and the Environmental Health. It is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. The project will be freely avail-

FURTHER READING • Formosa S., V., Magri, J., Neuschmid, & M., Schrenk, (2011). Sharing integrated spatial and thematic data: the CRISOLA case for Malta and the European project Plan4all process, Future Internet 2011, 3(4), 344-361; doi:10.3390/fi3040344, ISSN 1999-5903 • Formosa S., Sciberras, E., and Formosa Pace J., (2012). Taking the Leap: From Disparate Data to a Fully Interactive SEIS for the Maltese Islands in Murgante B., Gervasi O., Misra S., Nedjah N., Rocha A.M., Taniar D., and Apduhan B.O., (Eds.), Computational Science and its Applications – ICCSA 2012, LNCS 7334, Springer, Heidelberg, ISBN 978-3-642-31074-4 • Formosa S., (2013). Maltese Building Blocks for Geographical and Crime Sciences, Journal of Geography and Geology, Vol. 5, No. 1, ISSN 1916-9779 (Print) ISSN 1916-9787 (Online) • Formosa S., and Sciberras, E., (2013). Mapping the Micro State: Connecting LIDAR, SEIS, Aarhus and INSPIRE, GEOconnexion International, Vol 12(1), 32-33, ISSN1476-8941

able to the public as outlined by the Commission’s Communication COM (2008) 46 Final “Towards a Shared Environmental Information System”, the INSPIRE Directive (Directive 2007/2/EC), and the Aarhus Convention.

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XPERIMENT MALT

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Stick to one language! Was the old maxim. Otherwise, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll risk confusing your kids and they will never learn to speak properly. Research by Prof. Helen Grech and her team shows that this is not true: bilinguals usually do better. Teaching your child two languages at a go might delay them initially but helps them in the long run. Words by The Editor

Prof. Helen Grech

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T

he world has globalised. Over one billion people speak English; for most English is not a first language. They are multilingual. Before Independence, Malta was a British colony for nearly 200 years. Its legacy? Most Maltese locals are bilingual speaking both English and Maltese to various extents, even when stoically denied. Post-colonial Malta is a unique melting pot. In the 1980s, speech language therapy started being professionalised. Their situation? All assessment tools were based on British or American language models, standardised on children from these countries. They were trying to assess Maltese children without having the right tools. It was like trying to build a house with sand.

Building a solid foundation “We didn’t have anything”, said speech-language pathologist Prof. Helen Grech (De-

partment of Communication Therapy, University of Malta). They had to start from scratch so they ran some pilot studies to find the best model to identify speech defects in Maltese children. A speech language pathologist “wants to know if the child [s/he is treating] is developing typically or has a disorder”, said Prof. Grech, and they want to identify it quickly. Otherwise, they would be wasting the clients’ and parents’ time. To build the right tools, Prof. Helen Grech and her team (University of Malta), in collaboration with Prof. Barbara Dodd (City University, London) and Prof. Sue Franklin (University of Limerick, Ireland) adapted British speech assessment models. Not an easy task considering that Maltese is derived from Semitic languages (from the Arab region) and has very different structures to English. For example when compared to English, Maltese words are written as they sound as long as you learn

a few rules. The language also has more consonants and the word structure is more complicated. Maltese has many sounds (phonemes) that are not part of English. Many other differences exist. After a pilot study, they came up with a much shorter test that only took 45 minutes. It was successfully used on a large number of Maltese children from two to six years of age. The children can be assessed in either language, which makes the therapist’s life much easier, the child happier, and identifies if the children have problems in their speech or language. Malta proves to be the perfect experiment. “By three years of age [most Maltese children] are exposed to both languages […] there are children who from day one are exposed to both languages”, said Prof. Grech. Uniquely, this applies to over 80% of the population. “We conducted research which could enlighten or encourage research for other language pairs and culture."

A Maltese text book used in state schools. Used with permission from the authors and MidSea Books

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Bilingualism: good or bad? When I was born in the 1980s, my mother was told to stick to one language at home. The fear was that if I heard two languages at the same time I would mix the two and speak neither properly. Speaking two or three languages at home confuses your child; they might end up with a problematic pidgin language. In Maltese children, Prof. Grech found the opposite in studies she lead. “We have enough data to claim that if you bring up your child in a bilingual [environment] this will eventually be beneficial. […] For speech sound development (the sounds children make when vocalising specific letters) there appears to be an apparent [developmental] delay, but by three and a half years, bilingual children […] not only catch up but do better." For other aspects of language development, speaking one or more languages does not seem to make a difference. Children should be encouraged to learn more than one language. At the end of the day, speaking several languages can enrich an individual’s life and bump up their job opportunities.

A specific model for bilinguals needed to be developed and studied since they develop differently to monolinguals. “The children follow different routes […] it’s very unfair to compare bilingual children to monolingual children using tools standardised on monolingual children. The bilingual children process language differently and we found this also [happened] in [Maltese] children." Bilingual and monolingual children make different errors.

“Before these models were developed, a speech language pathologist may have thought that a child needs treatment when instead they were just bilingual”

Before these models were developed, a speech language pathologist may have thought that a child needed treatment when instead they were just bilingual. All children substitute sounds up to certain ages. A bilingual child would be processing sounds in a different way, they would be “processing two different languages with two different structures”, which leads to different error patterns, explained Prof. Grech. For example, “[a monolingual child] might say tat instead of cat, a bilingual child might say it differently”. A bilingual child can also transfer words from one language to another, or switch between languages. No need to worry, “they are just processing. Children are very flexible and often, very early on, […] they will address the speaker depending on their language and the context”. The picture is more complicated than it seems. British, Maltese, and bilingual children all have different error patterns. The glides is an error pattern where “r and w are substituted by a j — ruler becomes juje, rubber become wubber. Instead Maltese children may lateralise it — they say liga instead of riga, […] or label instead of ragel. […] Bilingual children have different error patterns »

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tkellem Malti tajjeb because of the influence of the two languages”, explained Prof. Grech. So Maltese children can have errors unique to the Maltese language and other errors because they are bilingual. Which is why speech therapists need these models and why they have taken over six years of research to develop. Speech therapists need to identify the different errors of children depending on language. “If an English speaking child is saying wubber instead of rubber, up to seven years of age, [then it] is a developmental [problem] so doesn’t need treatment. If an English child says lubber then that would be unusual and treated, for a Maltese [child] it is not unusual”, clarified Prof. Grech. Maltese and English children develop at different rates. “In Maltese children the r stabilises earlier than in English children, […] by four years our children have mastered full adult phonology”, or the structure of sounds behind spoken words. If a Maltese child is not treated by this age it could become a big problem. “There are a

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lot of clinical implications” for these studies and for Malta, emphasised Prof. Grech. Maltese and English monolinguals, and bilinguals need to be assessed with models standardised to their abilities — anything else is misleading. The big question: is teaching your child more than one language good or bad? Mounting evidence nods towards good. Twelve-month old bilingual infants have shown a greater flexibility when learning the structure of speech. The infants learnt information more efficiently. Bilingual children are more flexibile in higher levels of thought and divergent thinking. Later in life bilinguals also have the edge. A study on bilingual seniors aged 60 to 68 showed that their brains were more flexible than monolinguals. “Bilingual seniors use their brains more efficiently than monolingual seniors”, said Dr Brian Gold (University of Kentucky). Bilinguals also suffer from less dementia. Bilingualism is good. Good news for Malta.

What is going on? By hearing and speaking more than one language the brain must be developing differently. But why? Theories abound and this is where it gets hazy. Studies have shown a higher neural density in certain parts of the brain. Other studies show that different neural activity and brain areas are used in monolinguals and bilinguals speaking the same language. These studies all suggest a different brain structure. According to Prof. Grech, “Exposure to more than one language is making their [bilingual] brain work harder. […] Once they sort it out, they actually get better, making their brain work really fast — it’s very beneficial.” For Maltese bilingual children, by three and a half they surpass monolinguals in speech development. Her team’s research suggests that the majority of Maltese children could start life a step ahead of other children. Not only can they speak more than one language but could


THINK FEATURE

have improved brain development for the rest of their lives. Obviously, these conclusions are extrapolations and need proper studies to figure out. Prof Grech thinks that, “it’s all to do with how we process language. A child who is exposed to two different systems will have to eventually sort it out. Our brain has the capacity, [normally] we were not using its full capacity. We are not doing a favour to our brain by exposing it to only one language. Initially, the brain might be overwhelmed, […] but the children will eventually sort out the different structures”.

quests for this model from Middle Eastern therapists. The models Prof. Grech, her team, and collaborators have made are nearing maturation. They are looking for ways to spread their tools to any speech language therapist. They want to make a manual available for all.

Breaking from the past

“We are not doing a favour to our brain by exposing it to only one language”

The beauty of this tool is that other countries can adapt it. Prof. Grech and her team regularly collaborate or present at EU conferences. European practitioners are using locally developed tools and templates and adapting them to their own country. The Maltese studies show that our children share error patterns with Arabic speaking children. Traditionally, “we used to compare our children with British children but our children have different error patterns” in language development, explains Prof. Grech. She also receives re-

These studies have wider social implications. Bilingualism and multilingualism are being seen as good for the brain — a case for teaching minority languages. For many years, these languages have been suppressed in the world’s colonial past, China, Burma, and many other countries. These studies call for a change. More than half of the world is multilingual: perhaps this is a great reason to uncork the champagne and celebrate Malta’s unique cultural melting pot, while embracing other cultures. Peace and Love.

FURTHER READING • Agius, R. (2012). The Development of a Literacy Assessment Battery for Maltese Children. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. University of Malta. • Gatt, D. (2010). Early Expressive Lexical Development: Evidence from children brought up in Maltesespeaking families. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. University of Malta. • Grech, H., & Dodd, B. (2008). Phonological acquisition in Malta: A bilingual language learning context. International Journal of Bilingualism, 12, (3): 155-171 (3), 155–177. • Viorica Marian, Y. F.-S., Margarita Kaushanskaya, Henrike K. Blumenfeld & Li Sheng (2009). Bilingualism: Consequences for Language, Cognition, Development, and the Brain, http://bit.ly/Xvz2jR. • Xuereb, R., Grech, H. & Dodd, B. (2011). The development of a literacy diagnostic tool for Maltese children. Clin Linguist Phon 25, 379–398.

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DISCOVER UNIVERSITY

F

S PE C I A L F E AT U R E 42

or a week, thousands of people came to University to take part in over 200 events. The open week took place between the 5â&#x20AC;&#x201C;10 November 2012, with school children and adults all taking part in tours, exhibitions, talks, potterymaking workshops, and a lot more. At THINK we have selected some of the best events for you to leaf through in the following pages. The University of Malta (UoM) is mostly financed by the public purse. Yet, its inner workings can appear obscure to the general public. Universities throughout the world are central to the economic, scientific, and cultural lifeblood of a country. UoM is no exception, and Discover University is an opportunity for students and the public to peer under the Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bonnet and watch it at work and play. Under the colourful Discover University tent, the International and EU Office, Communications and Alumni Relations Office, Engineering, Science, ICT, Researchers, and Student Advisory Services presented activities, as well as workshops with dancers from the School of the Performing Arts. Open Week 2012 was enjoyed by over 3,000 secondary and sixth form students, and the general public.

Photos by Elisa Von Brockdorff


DISCOVER

THINK UNIVERSITY

Festa italiana Songs, activities, and short plays all presented by Secondary school children. The items were based on Italian regions and their own Italian experience. The staff and students of the Department of Arts & Languages (Italian, Faculty of Education) wanted to show, in action, the richness and diversity of Italian Culture, while helping the children to express themselves and communicate effectively in Italian.

Botanical Walks The campus of the University of Malta is home to several species of plants. Some plants grow wild, but others have been introduced for study or embellishment. The walks went around the Mediterranean Garden introducing walkers to a number of plants, plant adaptations, and survival strategies.

From the movies to ICT

Talks, career guidance, and interactive sessions were held by the Faculty of ICT. Movie secrets were revealed in the talk entitled ‘Multimedia, Special Effects, and more…’, which showed how special effects are created in movies.  In the Signal Processing Laboratory students could experience a virtual flight over the Maltese islands or a virtual chat with famous people! These work using real-time signal processing algorithms. These algorithms can convert Maltese text to speech and correct Digital TV picture errors. Multimedia signal processing is used in just about every aspect of our daily life — for work and play!

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DISCOVER UNIVERSITY

Making Literacy Come Alive “Literacy is enjoyable, fun and bursting with life”, said the Centre for Literacy. Reading is one of the most important skills in life which helps to improve creativity and build up self-esteem. This 45-minute fantasy interactive show engages the imagination of the audience with fictional characters. Boys and girls from Form 1, 2, 3, and 4 all enjoyed the show.

Words by Victoria Muscat

From China to Kuwait

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Australian, Chinese, Japanese, Kuwaiti, Omani, and American students brought their diverse cultures to University. Chinese and Japanese students with University of Malta staff performed traditional Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, traditional Chinese fan dance, and Tai Chi performances. A replica of the Royal Fort of Oman was set up at University by Kuwaiti and Omani students who also helped visitors wear traditional dress and served Arab coffee, food, and sweets prepared by the students themselves. The American students ran a ‘USA Fun Fact Sheet’, while Australian students hosted an ‘Aussie Slang Session and Quiz’. Both student groups offered homemade apple pie and sandwiches with Marmite. The International & EU Office organised the event. It manages the University’s International Relations and the welfare of its international students. Foreign students account for 10% of students.

Your daily dose of Engineering Day-to-day activities such as washing with clean water, turning on a lamp, using transport, a computer or TV — almost every man-made object — are shaped by engineering. The Faculty of Engineering opened its labs to the public giving presentations and tours showing their interesting research that is using the latest technology to solve Malta’s problems.


DISCOVER

THINK UNIVERSITY

For Discover University rather than a performance, Mavin Khoo (School of Performing Arts) presented a dance coaching session: “I thought that it was really important that we [...] revealed the kind of process that goes into the creation of a work. [...] We sometimes fail to consider dance as a genre or a study that demands a lot of time, [...] thinking, and physical and emotional investment because we are not aware of the process that leads up to that one [performance] night”. Foreign choreographers are brought in. Choreographies developed. Then the whole performance is constructed. At the same time the academic work continues. Then the tour. Every student (total: eight) had to renegotiate themselves as members of a company — eight different personalities being consistently made to attempt different ways of moving their bodies, living the life of a professional dancer, reshifting mindsets, and their “philosophy of living”. As Mavin puts it, “you are imparting, you are giving them your life. Everything that you in your life have experienced, you’re giving it to someone else [...] to use

and develop for themselves”. And therefore, the coach or choreographer becomes THE research. But also, “YOU are your point of research. It is practice as research. YOU are the subject of your research. You, literally, not just your body, but you and the understanding that the construction of this is layered” with history, politics, semiotics, academia, lineage. Practice, coaching, observing, all form part of dance research. The third year students were preparing for a tour in Malta and in the UK, which went very well.

Sports: Malta-style

Ancestral Voices: Writings from the past Artefacts were littered all around the Faculty of Art’s farmhouse. Phoenician/Punic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Maltese experts gave presentations on how the ancients wrote and what they wrote. Visitors discovered how these different writing systems work and about the history of these languages in the Maltese Islands. The displayed artefacts were a window into the past, they showed how archaeologists and historians use them to piece together the daily lives of the ancients. Learning and researching ancient languages can still enlighten today’s world. This activity was organised by the Departments of Classics and Archaeology, of Oriental Studies, and of Maltese, in collaboration with the Departments of History, History of Art, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, Heritage Malta, and the Archaeological Society Malta.

Children’s laughter was heard across the Msida campus and Three Cities as they took part in some traditional Maltese games. The games on offer included boċċi, kantunieri, passju, il-borża, bum bum il-bieb, iż-żunżana ddur iddur, lastku, amongst others. These games were chosen since they build social skills, require the participants to cooperate, and help train the brain. Students from the Institute of Physical Education and Sport organised the event. With the support of their supervisor Ivan Riolo, they chose the games to be played. To research these activities, they performed some online searches and consulted a local publication about Maltese Folklore. This study helped place the traditions into the school and community context. The event was held during Skopri l-Università fit-Tlett Ibliet and Discover University.

Words & photo by Daphne Pia Kelleher

Words by Daphne Pia Kelleher

Dance: physical, emotional, thoughtful

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DISCOVER UNIVERSITY

Medieval Meal The Senior Common Room at University House was transformed into a medieval banqueting room. Candles, a beautiful centre-piece, and a medieval backdrop provided the right atmosphere. The guests first devoured Zanzarella soup and a Green Broth of Eggs and Cheese, with a very tasty Pork Pie. The second serving consisted of minced veal with prosciutto and currants, lamb casserole, stuffed sardines, broad beans in the Mediterranean style, and chickpeas with herbs. Dessert was the most unusual: ham and herb fritters, marzipan pastries, Angel’s Food and spiced wine. Professor Carmel Cassar, Dr George Cassar and Mr Noel Buttigieg researched the meal to deliver an authentic medieval experience true to the period’s ethnographic roots. The ingredients and cooking process of the dishes were very similar to contemporary methods, and seasonal fruits and vegetables were used. With waiting staff in costume, madrigals, delicious authentic food and wine, the atmosphere was complete! The meal was provided by JMOperations.

SKOPRI L-UNIVERSITÀ FIT-TLETT IBLIET

T

he Inner Harbour area (l-Isla, Bormla, il-Birgu) has a low number of students at the University of Malta. Skopri is part of a strategy to lift the area towards the national average. It evolved from the University Structures Committee coordinated by Prof. Carmel Cefai and chaired by the University Rector. When averaged, every citizen should have the same potential whether they come from the Three Villages

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or the Three Cities. Many young people are missing out on realising their possible achievements. If they do not achieve their full intellectual strength, the community looses. Finally, it is a waste of resources for the whole country. In an island whose best asset is its people and therefore its workforce, it is inconceivable that we should be allowing these potential wealth providers to slip through the tertiary education net.


DISCOVER

THINK UNIVERSITY

Writers, Art, and sculptures fill the Library

Words by Patricia Camilleri

The Library was transformed for a week. Library Tours were given a twist. Visitors were able to visit restricted areas to learn how a book is processed from the moment it arrives by post to the moment it is available on the shelves. The Library was full of exhibitions. The Treasures of the Library exhibition showcased its best archives, which go through the works behind Malta’s alma mater and other rare exhibits. The Children and the Sea exhibition had thought provoking artworks inspired by our oceans and coastal environments. Children from all over the world painted the art, which was on loan from the International Ocean Institute, Malta. The exhibition How Biology Can Save the World exhibition features photos that show the importance of biology in everyday life. It was organised by the Science Students’ Society (S-Cubed) in collaboration with the Society of Biology (UK). At Meet the Author!, students could meet celebrated Maltese authors Charles Casha and Kenneth Caruana for a chat about being a writer. Across the terrace, ceramist Paul Scerri (Faculty of Education) created beautiful sculptures live with his students.

The Skopri experiment aimed to bring the University closer to the Three Cities. By disseminating information and engaging the local population, we want to create a continuous dialogue with University. The event was a wonderful opportunity to introduce the new Cottonera Resource Centre to those who will benefit from it and to find out what the people from the Inner Harbour Area really want from the Centre. By extending the Discover University! Open Week, 2012 to include a ‘prequel’, University came to the Three Cities. The activities were housed in a large tent. The local councils and Student Advisory staff helped disseminate information and bring the public to the open discussions. Public engagement happened through various events: games for young people organised by students from the University’s Institute for Physical Education and Sport, an exhibition that listed famous local personalities and big achievers, as well as presentations on subjects relevant to the Three Cities by University academics. Professor Carmel Pulé created a small exhibition of engineering materials, closely connected to the sea, while Junior College students played and sang every evening. The highlight of the event was three debates organised through youth and drama groups, which discussed issues chosen by them and moderated by University academics.

The debates were organized through local youth workers, drama, and youth groups. Many common issues came up during all the debates and included the perceived stigma of coming from Cottonera and the area’s negative image as it appears in the media. People from Cottonera showed an obvious pride. Clearly, although they might be rivals they would put up a united front if they felt threatened. The young people complained that new gardens are barred to bikes and footballs, while other areas have been given to private companies. They also asked for support for those who found it difficult to study at home. This revealed a need for better links between the home and the school from primary education onwards, and the importance of information about their options. All three groups spoke about the economic situation of families and the strain it put on the young peoples’ desire to study. They discussed the vicious circle of reliance on the state. Other issues were truancy, the importance of the historical areas of Cottonera, and the value given to local skills such as boat building.

Special thanks are in order for all three Local Councils without whose help and enthusiasm this event would not have been possible and Ms Maria McNamara, Principal of St Margaret College for her invaluable assistance.

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ALUMNI

ALUMNI talk Life after University can lead you to Bahrain or other worlds

The law covers the globe DR JEAN SCERRI talks to us about his journey from Malta to Bahrain THE LAW IS AN ASS — as the cliché goes — and yet it is ubiquitous, since everything we decide to do or not do has legal implications. Thankfully, we do not bother to think about the legal consequences of everyday routine activities. For example, this magazine is covered by copyright law which in a nutshell means that no part of it can be copied without the author’s permission. To yours truly, it has a more financial bearing — it gives me a job. I currently work in Bahrain as a senior legal advisor in competition and telecoms to the Kingdom’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Why Bahrain I hear you ask? Bahrain is an island state with causeways linking it to Saudi Arabia and by plane it is only an hour away from Dubai. Bahrain is seen as the most liberal of the Gulf States and its communications regulatory framework is probably the most advanced. It benefits from the most competitive market within the Middle East, and has multiple mobile and fixed operators. My challenge is to transform the regulatory landscape into a more competitive system — an exciting challenge. My family and I moved to Bahrain in late December and I have immediately been immersed in some very important projects. They include the post 3G auction for frequencies which enable superfast broadband

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on mobile devices. In Bahrain, subscribers to communications services can already watch their favourite TV programmes (including live sports) on their tablets and mobile phones in nearly all parts of the country — the auction should take quality and coverage a step further. My journey to Bahrain commenced in September 1991, when I entered the University of Malta to read law at the ripe old age of 17. At the time, the law course lasted six years and culminated in an LL.D. (Doctor of Law) degree. The course covered the more traditional subjects (civil law, criminal law, commercial law). European law had just been introduced and competition law was a mere subset of it. Telecommunications law

was, if I remember well, not covered at all. Prior to Malta joining the European Union the focus was understandably on these core subjects. After completing my LL.D. degree, I decided to study European Law. Consequently, I enrolled into the Mag. Jur. (Master of Law) course at the University of Malta where I focused on competition and telecommunications law, partly since I was working at Maltacom plc (the predecessor to GO). When I moved to Melita Cable plc in 2001, I set up its legal department and eventually took on the role of Company Secretary. At Melita I took up further studies, this time at Queen Mary College, University of London and graduated with an LL.M. in Computer and Communications Law. At Melita, I was heavily involved in competition and regulatory issues at both national and European levels which exposed me to many invaluable experiences. After seven highly enjoyable and eventful years I was appointed as Head of Regulatory Affairs for Southern Europe and Ireland at Cable and Wireless plc, which is a FTSE100 company based in Bracknell, UK Eventually I also took care of the company’s regulatory issues for Africa and Middle East. Following a two year stint as Chief Officer (Legal, Risk & Compliance at MITA), my yearning for a new challenge has now taken me to the Middle East.


THINK ALUMNI

Simulating the real world DR KURT DEBATTISTA shares his passion for computer graphics IN 2003, I left Malta for the UK to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science and am now an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick. I specialise in the area of computer graphics â&#x20AC;&#x201D; simply put: the generation, manipulation, and display of images using computational resources. During my bachelor studies in Mathematics and Computer Science (University of Malta), I experimented with computer graphics for my undergraduate project. After graduating and working at IT Services (then Computer Services Centre) for a couple of years, I took up a post as Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Computer Science and AI; during this period I taught computer graphics and completed an M.Sc. in parallel computing (supervised by Dr Kevin Vella), which gave me the first glimpse into conducting research and publishing. These skills served me well throughout the rest of my career. My Ph.D. at the University of Bristol was supervised by Prof. Alan Chalmers, who was vice-president of ACMâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s SIGGRAPH, the largest special interest group of computer graphics professionals. My research focused on physically-based rendering, which is the process of generating realistic images by simulating the lighting in a virtual environment; such simulations can take a sub-

stantial amount of time to compute. I worked on how limitations in the human visual system can be exploited to speed up the computation of physically-based images. My approach was to reduce the rendering accuracy of simulations in unimportant parts of an image. While I thoroughly enjoyed my Ph.D., the most beneficial part of it was working with other students and researchers on all aspects of computer graphics. It gave me a broader understanding of the subject. I spent another year in Bristol as a Research Fellow. During this time, my research focused on accurate and efficient renderings of buildings for architects in collaboration with the University of Manchester. In 2007, I joined the University of Warwick as an Assistant Professor to form part of the newly established International Digital Laboratory that brought together a large number of disciplines including engineers, computer scientists, psychologists, mathematicians, and healthcare specialists, all to promote research in applied computing. In 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially opened the laboratory. My main focus is research, which is grounded in helping solve real world prob-

lems with academic rigour. This has given me the opportunity to explore different aspects of computer graphics and its applications. The varied research projects include designing new fundamental algorithms to simulate lighting and applications of computer graphics methods for use in industry and society; for example the technology has been implemented in serious games, and used by civil engineers and manufacturing companies to improve design and simulation. I have also filed a number of patents and co-founded a spin-out for the university, focused on enabling the capture, storage and display of high dynamic range content. As an Associate Professor, I help prepare the next generation of researchers. I currently supervise nine Ph.D. students and have supervised three others who now work for academia and industry. The future for computer graphics is bright, we are still a long way off from simulating the real world accurately. It should keep me busy enough until I retire.

â&#x20AC;˘

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FUN

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A Short History of Nearly Everything

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53. 2

BOOK REVIEW by The Editor

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100 WORD

ideas to change MALTA A think-tank for humour

by DR ĠORĠ MALLIA Maltese society tends to take itself much too seriously. This is not unique to the Maltese nation, but still becomes problematic when even the slightest hint of humour comes into politics, football, local feasts, and a large number of other social functions. Humour becomes an affront to staunch, deep-rooted beliefs and reacted to vehemently. A think-tank is proposed that will discuss, educate and suggest scientific ways in which humour can be installed in every aspect of society, from the old stalwart of seriousness, the school, all the way to the echelons of administration, replacing excessive pompousness with smiles and laughter.

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Bill Bryson BILL BRYSON was a ‘bad science student’, dropped out of University, and wrote one of the best popular science books. After five years of gruelling research, which mostly involved asking: ‘I’m sorry, but can you explain that again’ to dozens of scientists, out popped a near masterpiece: A Short History of Nearly Everything. The book was published in 2003 and desperately needs an update. It also mentions controversies that have now been settled and it has at least 28 errors. In an over 600– page book (paperback), that’s not so bad. Now to the good points, it’s easy to read, a great laugh and jam-packed with quirky errata about your favourite scientists. After reading this book you might become the life of many a dinner table. It talks about evolution, astronomy, quantum physics, and everything in between. An achievement that deserves every award Bryson has received, including becoming a bestseller — not an easy feat for a popular science book. First he goes through the history of science picking some great stories. About Carolus Linnaeus, who penned “long and flattering portraits of himself, declaring that there had never ‘been a greater botanist or zoologist', [who had] a feverish— preoccupation with sex”. On “Adonis” a.k.a. Edwin Hubble, “he was a strong and gifted athlete, charming, smart and immensely good-looking, […] a large mass of ego [and] an inveterate liar” who built

his best work on others without acknowledging them. He found out “how old is [the universe] and how big?” by using the work of two computers, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Annie Jump Cannon. Back then, computers spent their lives studying photographic plates of stars and making computations. The number of scientists he talks about is startling. There is activist scientist Clair Patterson (male) who figured out the age of the Earth, the grenade swinging J.B.S. Haldane, one of the best evolutionary biologists, other greats: Einstein, Marie Curie (unfairly ostracised from the scientific community for her long-term affair), Newton, and countless others. Bill Bryson has found a scientist for everyone. He also explains science simply and elegantly. Everyone can understand how he talks about Newton’s three laws of motion and universal law of gravitation, the uncertainty principle, the peculiar world of the atom, and how chemistry was saved by the Periodic Table. If only I’d read this book when I was younger. After these wonderful pieces, he starts picking rather random topics: dinosaurs (great chapter), volcanoes, water and talks about each topic’s history always from the point of view of its greatest researchers. This is the magic of Bill Bryson and his book, a must read for anyone—you won’t look at the world (and its scientists) in the same way again.


THINK FUN

GAME REVIEW by Costantino Oliva

Proteus

Production: Ed Key & David Kanaga Platform: Windows, Mac

“THERE’S NOTHING to do here!” This might be your reaction right after downloading Proteus. It is making headlines in the indie community after receiving awards at Indiecade and Independent Games Festival. Or you might actually find yourself staring at the stars, surrounded by the peaceful digital sounds of a multi-coloured island. Isn’t this “something to do”, after all? Proteus is an uncompromising “game”, with no clear goals, enemies, or point systems; rather, it’s pure exploration of different small islands.

Stripped of every narrative aspect, Proteus focuses on graphical style and a detailed, responsive sound design. Its designers apparently paired irrelevant elements with swooshes of synths and crackling of beeps. This responsiveness shows the game’s best side, which has to be matched an aseptic control scheme. Perhaps the control system is too close to standard first person games for such a peculiar experience.

www.visitproteus.com

FACT or FICTION?

Are we still growing taller? «»

For the last 150 years, the human species has been getting taller. In Western nations, people are around 10 cms taller (nearly 4 inches). Better public health and diets during childhood have fuelled the rise. Women preferring taller men who then have taller offspring could also have pushed the increase. Unfortunately, this won’t last forever. There are physical limits. People above 188cm (6ft 2in) are more likely to suffer back problems. Above 203cm (6ft 8in), the heart finds it difficult to pump blood and heart problems increase.

The left brain is

logical

the right side is

creative «»

In the 1960s, psychologists Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga performed experiments on patients who had the connections between the left and right side of the brain cut as an extreme treatment for epilepsy. They stimulated each side of the brain separately and asked patients to draw, arrange blocks, talk about their emotions, and so on. These simple experiments proved insightful but misguided. From their experiments they concluded that the left hemisphere was logical, rational, and good with numbers (the sci-

entist), the right hemisphere was creative, imaginative, and took in the big picture (the artist). This overly simplistic reasoning is drowning out the real beauty of our brain. The real deal is a lot more complex. Take speech. Classically, the left side of the brain is meant to handle it all. Right-handed people do mostly use the left side, but left-handed people tend to use the right side. Imaging studies of brains show that the brain lights up like a firefly using multiple areas for speech. Most complex actions need multiple brain areas.

Send in your questions to think@um.edu.mt

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FUN

FILM REVIEW by Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Inbred MIKE McCAHILL for The Guardian is perfectly right to comment that Alex Chandon’s Inbred offers nothing we haven’t seen before. Inbred follows in the League of Gentlemen-line of UK answers to US backwoods horror, which includes Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and my personal favourite Motel Hell. Like so many horror subgenres, it is ‘inbred’ in itself, including the superb parody Tucker and Dale vs Evil, and recent remakes like 2001 Maniacs, a revisiting of H.G. Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs!, a ‘blood feast’ of outrageousness which fuses violence and gore with slapstick. Its song ‘The South is Gonna Rise Again’ made the ‘singing/dancing yokels’ something of a stock piece for backwoodshorror (with a nudge from The Wicker Man), recently picked up by the Belgian horror Calvaire, and now — Inbred. ‘Weaknesses in Pacing, Plot and Characterisation’ (Sloan Freer, The Radio Times). All well-noted. This kind of film doesn’t need a plot — it needs a scenario, a setting (in this case, a small northern town), and characters (we’ll come to that later) — any semblance of ‘plot’ in Inbred is paper-thin, and blown away in a hail of scattered limbs and viscera. Yes, I did wonder about the occasional mysterious locked door, curious to see if some hidden depths to the plot would

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be revealed — but those concerns are soon forgotten. The film makes no pretence to excuse or justify the gore, nor does it parcel it out in tidy and measured little doses — but unapologetically launches it like an ill-mannered series of land-mines, with little sense of propriety or measure.

“The film makes no pretence to excuse or justify the gore” The first moment our ‘heroes’ are made aware of the danger they’re in marks a sudden and abrupt shift, with barely any sense of transition. There’s no crescendo, nor much suspense — one simply waits for the next thing on the menu at the local inn. The pacing appears less ‘weak’ when one considers the genre. The ‘problem’ is that too much happens, in relentless fashion and none of it has much ‘significance’. The plot takes second stage while the gore is pointedly gratuitous, stylistically and thematically — the first murder occurs because of a misunderstanding, and the rest simply as ‘entertainment’ for the yokels. Again, this (‘weak?’)

Jim (Seamus O’Neill) introduces the show

Film: Inbred

«««««

Director: Alex Chandon Certification: 18 Release: 21 September 2012 (UK) Gore rating: SSSSS

pacing is consistent with the genre’s gorier strand, where plot — not gore — tends to get in the way. Characterisation of the main actors is handled the shorthand way — this is a gorecomedy, and both genres tend to prioritise a single trait in each character. Subtle, the inbred locals aren’t. I would be disappointed if they were; indeed perhaps even offended, by a more ‘realist’ approach to something which comes uncomfortably close to being un-PC. Seamus O’Neill (Jim) hams it up with glee, calling to mind the tradition of ‘villainous innkeepers’, and lingering shadows of Tod Slaughter characters from the 30s. So, let’s judge the film by its own criteria — what are its shortcomings? It lacks the dark satirical edge of The League of Gentlemen, which leaves it open to accusations of being un-PC. In a subgenre already so ‘inbred’, it is just a notable entry — it doesn’t have the potential to become a ‘cult classic’. Inbred doesn’t modify or add anything to the formula, but pays tribute in allusions, while it parodies the genre it works within. Then what about the criteria it does court? Does it make good on its promise of comedy, gore, and — perhaps most importantly — FUN? On all three counts, it delivers — just don’t expect subtlety.


THINK CULTURE

Europe, Culture and the Southern Mediterranean Dr Karsten Xuereb tells us about the role of culture in the Arab world

E

uropean cultural institutes are spread throughout the Southern Mediterranean. Each institute takes on a different political, social, and economic role depending on the country’s culture. Local communities have expectations from cultural projects that influence the challenges within each country and their European partner. Projects may aim at developing partnerships, yet the starting points may vary and colonial elements are still highly influential. To learn more about the influence of European cultural institutes in the Southern Mediterranean, I carried out interviews with artists and cultural operators in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Malta. Through them I gained insight into the realities experienced by people active in their own territory, while using these experiences to reflect on the wider Mediterranean.

The people contacted are engaged on both local and international levels, which allowed for a fruitful exchange of ideas and experiences. I contacted colleagues and friends from the Association BJCEM (Biennial of Young Artists of Europe and the Mediterranean), established in 1985 in Barcelona and one of the veteran artistic initiatives in the region, represented locally by the literary association Inizjamed. BJCEM opened up contacts who are active cultural participants in each location, as well as in Europe and the Mediterranean. Different Mediterranean territories offer their own blend of cultural expression and cooperation. Their particular characteristics need to be respected. However, my research aims at extracting indicators of common challenges and opportunities faced by people within these different territories. The goal is to provide reflections and recommendations which cater for local realities within

the Mediterranean. As a result, the outcome is to propose a set of common actions. As argued by the UCLG (United Cities and Local Government) in Agenda 21, working together with a greater understanding of each other would benefit the different Mediterranean communities. This is preferable to maintaining today’s situation where each city or local authority operates separately or with limited coopreration. The interviews also show that the term ‘the Arab world’ is a gross oversimplification of the complex existing realities. Nevertheless, common trends do exist and are used as reference points in the accompanying analysis. In writing about common cultural challenges faced by the Arab world in the Mediterranean context, the reflections offered by Ahmed Moatassime are of particular assistance. He notes that identity is mainly related to language, self-perception »

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CULTURE

and representation. These are important focal points for any research dealing with cultural relations in the Mediterranean. Moatassime’s aspects strongly featured in the interviews, together with the interaction between contemporary and traditional interpretations of identity. In ways which recall observations by Toynbee as well as Franco Cassano on power struggles in cultural relations, Moatassime notes there are many geopolitical and geosocial elements at play. He identifies two opposing lines that are of critical importance in this analysis. The first is the ‘cultural resistance’ that favours the ‘specific’, in the expression and study of personal plus collective identity, in other words, what individuals and communities express and experience in an area. The second is the wider, more encompassing perspective which is


THINK CULTURE

Protesters attend a rally in Tahrir Square, Egypt, to call on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to transfer power to a civilian administration and to honour the revolution’s martyrs. Photo by Iokha, Flickr

connected to the overarching geopolitical realities. For this research, the framework of geopolitical realities are provided by cultural relations within the Mediterranean. Moatassime highlights two other important elements which shape Arab cultural expression in relation to Europe and the Mediterranean, namely:

al, artistic, and political expression. At the moment of protest, these fused into powerful tools for change. As Lynch notes with good foresight, the emergence of a transnational public sphere was driven by domestic repression and political entrepreneurs. They took advantage of new media opportunities to invoke a shared identity.

i. the Mediterranean North–South divide is represented by who dominates whom; and ii. the influence of globalisation, European influence, and culture. He notes that Francophony, Europeanism, and globalisation (coupled to the US, China, and Brazil) can be described as ‘extra-Mediterranean’, but over time, they have enmeshed themselves within the Mediterranean fabric.

“the term ‘the Arab world’ is a gross oversimplification of the complex existing realities”

Moatassime’s analysis is also useful in my research by distinguishing between different groups of Arab people from the Southern Mediterranean by identifying them as: i. Europhiles (or those who put foreign cultures before their own); ii. local culture supporters; and iii. those at ease with both cultures. The social and political upheaval in the Southern Mediterranean has changed the context of culture in these states. As pointed out by Marc Lynch, these recent developments have gone hand-in-hand with cultur-

The study of cultural policy allows engagement with various elements of human expression. It encourages the interested individual to structure diverse outcomes in ways which may lead to recommendations and action. All across the Southern Mediterranean there are concerns with language and ethnic belonging to identify groups, the flow of migrants and the mix of cultures, the struggle to make projects happen in spite of limited resources, and establishing structures for communities, like schools and centres. In each territory the wants are different but urgent. For change to take place, a

thorough analysis of the situation can drive a plan for sustainable action based on solid political will, vision and a concern with the human dimension.

Karsten Xuereb was recently awarded a Ph.D cum laude in cultural policy (Universitat Rovira i Virgili Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain). Dr Xuereb was tutored by Professor Enric Olivé Serret (UNESCO Chair on intercultural dialogue in the Mediterranean) and assessed by Professor Franco Cassano, University of Bari. Dr Xuereb is Project Coordinator for the Valletta 2018 Foundation. The research document may be accessed here: http://hdl.handle.net/10803/97209

FURTHER READING • BOUQUEREL, Fanny; EL HUSSEINY, Basma (2009). Towards A Strategy for Culture in the Mediterranean Region, EC Preparatory document: Needs and opportunities assessment report in the field of cultural policy and dialogue in the Mediterranean Region, http://bit.ly/ThinkV18a. • MOATASSIME, Ahmed (2006). Langages du Maghreb face aux enjeux culturels euroméditerranéens, L’Harmattan, Paris. • LYNCH, Marc (2012). The Arab Uprising, Public Affairs, New York.

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RESEARCH

A new business model for University

U

niversities are places from where leaders and entrepreneurs emerge. From here, new knowledge originates and students are forged to face the real world. While retaining these traditional roles, modern universities must embrace new ones by pushing the social and economic progress of a country. Stronger relations with industry to create and transfer new knowledge and new technologies are the primary drivers of this change. This new business model requires new funding streams. Investment needs to come from the corporate sector and philanthropic organisations. The Research, Innovation and Development Trust (RIDT) of the University of Malta has, since 2011 when it was set up, attracted an encouraging number of donors — companies, public institutions, foundations, individuals, alumni, and students — who have generously donated funds or equipment. On the knowledge creation front, the University Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO) recently won a European Social Fund (ESF) project entitled ‘Creating a Knowledge Transfer Framework and Technol-

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ogy Entrepreneurship Training Programme’. KTO expects to use the project to perform a giant leap and propel the University of Malta towards becoming an Entrepreneurial University. University will become more entrepreneurial by inducing a more buisness orientated culture in its alumni, faculties, students, and staff by collaborating with private companies, government entities, and business networks. The approach will promote entrepreneurship at a national level for Malta’s socio-economic benefit.

“University can support business by providing research, innovation and skills” All big words and noble goals, but the approach must be practical and down to earth. The first step has involved an audit of the current situation. Based on this information, the KTO hammered out a realistic future

goal for Malta and the framework needed to achieve it. The result is a roadmap to structure the office around four activities. First, to encourage collaboration between business and University. University can support business by providing research, innovation, and skills. Second, to provide consultancy services that link academics and University departments with buisnesses. Third, to support academics by protecting and commercialising intellectual property, and use this, through licensing and start-up activities, to promote innovation and stimulate economic activity. Fourth, to setup a business incubator on campus to support graduates and academics to launch then grow start-ups. One immediate target which will be launched shortly, is the University’s new Centre for Entrepreneurship and Business Incubation (CEBI). This academic centre will be responsible for entrepreneurship training at the University. The Centre will launch a new Intensive Training Programme (ITP) in Entrepreneurship for graduates in Engineering, ICT, Sciences, Media, and Creatives. The goal is to equip graduates with the necessary tools to convert their ideas into successful start-ups.


THINK RESEARCH

Cosmetic Research?

C Photo by Jean Claude Vancell

Dr Anton Bartolo, Director of the KTO, outlined some exciting development for the University of Malta and its future role. “Through the ESF project we are creating a network of all stakeholders involved in the Knowledge Transfer and Entrepreneurship ecosystem: entrepreneurs, businesses, academics, investors, students, lawyers, accountants, and members of related entities including the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, Malta Enterprise, MCST, and MITA. By the end of the year we hope that all Knowledge Transfer and Entrepreneurship activities will be housed in the newly built Faculty of ICT building. This will include the offices of the KTO and CEBI staff and a brand new Business Incubator for University spin-outs and other start-ups, including, we hope, those seeded through the ITP course." Without the proper support for research, none of these developments that can improve Malta’s future would be needed. Research generates new knowledge and innovations, and this is the only fuel that can keep times bubbling.

arnival revellers (male and female) recently plastered their faces with lipstick, mascara, facepaint, nail polish, and dozens of other cosmetic products. Few of these wondered about the extensive research needed to overcome the packaging challenges behind these beautyenhancing devices. Challenges are numerous and diverse: how can a make-up cosmetic case minimize the chances of the customer opening a dry and flaked product? How can a lipstick container be designed in an elegant and smooth way that opens silently? What functions can make a cosmetic case more useful, secure, and light in a handbag? How can a cosmetic case’s button be improved to prevent broken nails? A company like Toly Ltd (based in Malta) needs these questions answered to provide a world-class product. To remain competitive and innovative, research and development need support. Chairman and CEO, Andy Gatesy strove to meet these challenges head on by working with the University of Malta (UoM). Toly has forged a long-term joint research collaboration with UoM,

in particular the Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering (DIME). Through this collaboration, many undergraduate students had the possibility of applying their theoretical background to real world problems, which results in win-win-win scenarios, for Toly, the student, and DIME. Toly also partnered with DIME and other University Departments in nationally funded research initiatives such as the MCST R&I Automate project. This concerned industrial automation and two ERDF projects — one of them intended to amplify innovation in the manufacturing industry and another one on improving energy efficiency in manufacturing. Toly’s belief in the research potential of the UoM is reflected in regularly sponsored projects. It recruits UoM graduates to help it remain innovative and competitive. It also allows an Associate Professor to spend time from his sabbatical period to follow product development. “We cannot predict the future but we can create it”, said Mr Gatesy. Experience has shown that joint research with UoM is essential for Toly to develop its future growth towards a global market.

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MEME

culture genes

MEME THINK

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Engaging seminar series on Intellectual Property and Knowledge Transfer www.um.edu.mt/knowledgetransfer

Operational Programme II – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013 Empowering People for more Jobs and a Better Quality of Life Event part-financed by the European Union European Social Fund (ESF) Co-financing rate: 85% EU Funds; 15% National Funds Investing in your future


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Think — Issue 04  

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