Think — Issue 07

Page 1







POLLUTION SUPERHIGHWAY How does it affect us?


Think ahead

Our vision statement: Be the recognized software leader for small to mid-sized businesses. For more information visit:







Shipping’s Black Cloud


Kelma Kelma

Playing with the Maltese language, on Facebook



Cyber Sexuality Can couples really connect over the Internet?


Edward Duca


One third of the world’s ships pass by the Maltese Islands. How do they affect its citizens’ health?

Language comes first ne third of the world’s shipping traffic passes by Malta. A few ships churn out enough pollution to rival our power stations. The predominant wind direction means that this pollution regularly passes over Malta. In this issue we investigated how big a health and environmental problem it could be for the Islands’ citizens. Creativity is central to this issue. The M3P project is trying to save Malta’s music for the next generation. The designer and I popped down to listen to some great local music, Għana Maltija, to capture the heart of the article. By collaborating with Giuliana Fenech, we’ve got two great articles. One on cybersexuality: can the internet really connect two human beings? Two, a feature on the game: The Artist is Present. Facebook has even reached local researchers. Kelma Kelma is Malta’s leading educational page with more than 5% of the population hooked on Dr Michael Spagnol’s Maltese word games. We explore the story behind the word. Malta seems to have a dualistic society. A recent EU-wide survey suggests that Maltese people largely think that science is changing the world too quickly and conflicts with religion. On the other hand, locals seem more satisfied than other Europeans that government is promoting science. I hope that initiatives like NSTF, Malta Café Scientifique, Science in the City, and this magazine have helped change perspectives. And while this is good news, research in Malta needs a lot more government and industrial support. Funds need to be funnelled directly into University, on the scale of millions. We also need simple solutions to encourage research-based startup companies and R&D departments to setup in Malta.


7 2013


An Intelligent Pill Pop a pill, scan your body, identify that disease


CONTRIBUTORS Alexandra Fiott

Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer


Prof. Raymond Ellul

Ing. Francelle Azzopardi

Alexander Smyth

Martin Saliba

Miriam Azzopardi

Dr Gianluca Valentino

Dr Ing. Nicholas Sammut

Dr Ralph Assmann

Dr Michael Spagnol

Cassi Camilleri

Graziella Vella

Giuliana Barbaro-Sant

Maryann Borg Cunen

Dr Toni Sant

Ing. Carl Azzopardi

Prof. Ing. Kenneth Camilleri

Dr Yulia Hicks


Dr André Xuereb

Costantino Oliva

Noel Tanti

It’s All In The Family


Protecting The World’s Largest Experiment

How do you keep the Large Hadron Collidor from destroying itself ? At the touch of a button


Experiencing Stories V.18 comes to campus and a follow up of Story Works


Dr Kenneth Scerri


Alexandra Fiott talks about the importance of family trees to protect family members


Marc Buhagiar


7 2013


Alumni Talk

What can you do after an undergraduate degree at the University of Malta?

Mario Cachia

Are you a student, staff, or researcher at the University of Malta? Would you like to contribute to THINK magazine? If interested, please get in touch to discuss your article on or call +356 2340 3451 58







Students' thinking

Large ships like oil tankers and freighters allow our world to function. They also spew 4 to 5% of the World’s carbon dioxide emissions and a pollution cocktail. Local researchers are finding out how this problem affects the Maltese Islands. Look through our pages to find out more. Illustration by Jean Claude Vancell.

About: Malta’s environment, making choices, augmented reality, nanomolecules, and preventing heart attacks OPINION

To Bank or not to?


Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer shares his thoughts on stem cell banking for your children








Edward Duca EDITOR

Indie Games


What do life, art, frustration, and video games have in common?


Jean Claude Vancell

THINK is a quarterly research magazine published by the Communications & Alumni Relations Office at the University of Malta.



Daphne Pia Deguara, Patricia Ellul-Micallef 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.


Saving Malta’s Music Memory


University of Malta, Msida, Malta Tel: (356) 2340 2340 Fax: (356) 2340 2342 All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of research and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

A safehouse for Malta’s culture

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.



Time to Buy a Smart Watch? This month's tech review. Plus a 100 word idea, book, game and film review, and Fact or Fiction RESEARCH

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.



For a Bright Future From L-Istrina to research competitions at the Research Trust 5


students’ THINKing When studying our shores, helping engineers make the right choices, merging reality with the digital world, and studying new materials

Can jetties replace rocky shores? THE MARINE environment needs to be conserved because all enjoy it in summer for leisure and fishermen depend on it for their livelihood. Our rocky shores also hold a unique ecology and it must be studied as a whole to understand how a seemingly insignificant crab or limpet can affect other species we might consider more important. Our natural environment can be likened to a puzzle having thousands of pieces. If one piece is removed or changed, it will result in a different or incomplete picture. Jetties are artificial structures, in an otherwise natural matrix of rocky shore habitat, which add a new piece to the puzzle. They are built at right angles to the shore and are much smoother than natural rock. These differences are expected to change the environment and species living there. Leanne Bonnici (supervised by Dr Joseph A. Borg and Prof. Patrick J. Schembri) studied these jetties to understand how they would affect the big picture. Bonnici studied three sites on the northeastern coast of the Maltese Is-


lands (Little Armier, White Tower Bay and Għajn Żejtuna). The organisms on jetties in these areas were sampled from the mediolittoral zone — that part of the shore that is regularly submerged and exposed to the air. Sampling showed that the most abundant algae were low-growing green algae (Cladophoropsis sp.), and a red alga (Jania rubens). The algae serve as a source of food and shelter to other species. The most common animals were crustaceans, molluscs, and polychaetes. Polychaetes are worms that possess lots of hair-like structures (chaetae). The most common polychaetes were small voracious predators a few millimetres in length. The diverse crustaceans included small cone shaped barnacles (Chthamalus spp.), which spend most of their life attached to rocks. Other abundant crustaceans included minute shrimp-like swimming animals known as amphipods (Hyale sp. and Ampithoe sp.) that are typically found amidst algae. The molluscs recorded included different species of limpets Patella spp.,

as well as the chiton Acanthochitona sp.; all of these are usually found attached to the substratum, although they do move to graze on algae. Bonnici found that jetties share some species with rocky shores; however, jetties always had a lower diversity and fewer numbers of individuals living on them. Therefore one can conclude that jetties cannot replace natural rocky shores. Keeping to the puzzle analogy, if we know how modifying a ‘piece’ of the environment changes the other pieces, it will help maintain the whole picture. This study will help better manage how jetties affect organisms and make the most out of these artificial structures.

This research is part of an M.Sc. in Biology at the Faculty of Science. It was partly funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta), which 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”.

THINK Student

Choices, Choices, Choices… TAKING THE RIGHT decision can be a very challenging and daunting process. Designing a mobile phone, a makeup case, or even a pipe needs engineering teams to continuously make important choices quickly. Lawrence Farrugia (supervised by Prof. Jonathan C. Borg) developed a framework that helps engineers evaluate concepts and take these decisions practically. In a typical design process, the design team generates a number of different concepts that fulfil what is needed from the product. These design concepts are then evaluated against conflicting evaluation criteria. Criteria are chosen from the life cycle of the product and can include cost, quality, ease of use, and recyclability (pictured). Evaluation determines the concept chosen for further development. Although there are design tools that are intended to support engineering design teams in decision making, the reality check is that these tools are

rarely used. Such tools are typically too impractical to employ in the real world. Due to the ever increasing complexity of products and the importance of early decision making, this research recognised the need to provide engineering design teams with a practical yet reliable support system. Farrugia’s research was carried out at the Concurrent Engineering Research Unit (CERU) within the Faculty of Engineering. The framework he developed aids design teams to analyse and rank multiple design concepts against several conflicting evaluation criteria. The proposed framework was then implemented into a prototype computer aided design (CAD) tool named ACADEMI (pictured). The tool developed by Farrugia allows for design concepts to be mathematically appraised and ranked automatically. The user inputs the various evaluation criteria and the best design is shown in a very short time. This

ranking helps the design team rapidly figure out which design concepts should be developed. After the framework and tool were developed the research work was evaluated in the field by engineers from industry and academia. Most industry personnel said that they would be willing to adopt the computer tool in their daily professional work.

More information about the research work may be accessed through: This research was performed as part of an M.Sc. (Research) in Mechanical Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering. This research 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’.



THINK Student

Valletta’s digital layer DÉRIVE VALLETTA is an initiative by digital art student Matthew Mamo (supervised by Dr Vince Briffa) aimed at increasing the visibility of our capital city’s museums and cultural institutions using augmented reality. Augmented reality has a host of possibilities to allow people to interact with art and through this art the city itself. Inspired by the work of Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, the digital visuals featured in Dérive Valletta require the user to move around the objects being scanned in order to view the content.

Possessing its own cohesive brand and identity, this initiative is ultimately intended to contribute towards the creation of a digital cultural infrastructure within Valletta prior to 2018. Being a digital layer laid over the real world there will be no negative impact on this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s unique built environment. The brand’s aesthetics were kept minimalistic to create an identity that can be incorporated into Valletta in an unobtrusive manner while endowing the initiative with a contemporary

image. Minimalism is reflected in the restrained colour scheme and use of clean sans-serif typefaces.

The research was undertaken as part fulfilment of an MFA in Digital Arts and 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”.



Keeping heart attacks on hold

The Nanomolecular World IN LIFE WE are more capable of observing what we easily see. New technologies make it much easier to peek into the nano world to see molecules and atoms. By looking at the very small systems we can understand much larger ones. Dr Reuben Cauchi (supervised by Prof. Joseph N. Grima, Dept. of Chemistry and Metamaterials Unit) has studied the structural chemistry of particular inorganic crystals (zeolites) through various molecular modelling techniques to learn how nano features result in unusual properties. By using structural chemistry techniques, Cauchi also studied the mechanisms that influenced these unusual properties under different conditions of pressure and temperature. They resulted in some extremely useful properties. Dr Cauchi observed multiple unusual properties in a single zeolite crystal. Such complex combinations gave birth to the idea that other systems apart from zeolites can have more than one property at the same time. Studying zeolites allowed the team Cauchi is part of to develop smart systems. These systems can be controlled by changes to stimu-


li indirectly related to each other, which effect the response to other stimuli. Zeolites are naturally found crystals and beautiful systems to learn from. Studying such structures may help us think of new ideas and ways for technology improvement. For example, some of Cauchi’s findings are now being used by the Metamaterials Unit to develop smart honeycomb-like systems which can improve heart stent designs or make superior skin grafts.

This research was performed as part of Doctoral Studies at the Faculty of Science at the University of Malta and with the help of Gdansk University of Technology. It is partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta). The 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”. The Metamaterials Unit also acknowledges the funds received from the Malta Council for Science and Technology through their R&I scheme.

HEART ATTACKS AND strokes kill millions every year. Most are caused by blockages to blood vessels. Vessels can be pried open by heart stents, tubular devices that are inserted and inflated to prevent vessels from collapsing or blocking. Stents incur many problems ranging from flaring at the edges to fracturing to unexpected shrinking. All lead to complications, further surgery, and even death. Luke Mizzi (supervised by Prof. Joseph N. Grima, Dr Daphne Attard, and Dr Ruben Gatt) has studied existing stent designs to identify their weaknesses and is currently studying novel designs that overcome these problems. He used computer simulations to replicate the stresses current stents experience in the human body. These stents performed well in response to inflation and bending. However, shortening still occurs and they do not expand uniformly leading to flaring at the edges. Mizzi found which current designs fared well but no design had all the features needed by heart stents. Crowns with a zigzagging structure allow for high expandability while S-shaped connections between crowns allow for high flexibility. Mizzi who forms part of the Metamaterials Unit is designing new stent geometries that build on these features incorporating them all and improving stent performance. The next step for these researchers are designs that support part of the throat or oesophagus to continue saving lives.

This research was performed as part of Doctoral Studies at the Faculty of Science at the University of Malta. It is funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology through its R&I programme. This project is in collaboration between the University of Malta, HM RD Ltd, part of the HalMann Vella Group of Companies, and Tek-Moulds Precision Engineering Limited.

THINK Opinion An example of a simple medical family tree Female


Carrier condition 1

Carrier condition 2

Carrier for both conditions

Affected with condition 2


hatever you inherit comes from your biological family. Unfortunately, this includes disease. Talking about inherited conditions can make people anxious, making them unwilling to discuss the issue with their relatives. After speaking to a number of people my impression is that it seems taboo to discuss these things. People seem to feel that they will be stigmatised or treated differently because of a genetic condition. A fear of social stigma hinders beneficial research. Research needs the collaboration of patients, since by investigating their condition researchers can in the long run develop a treatment or therapy. Not only that, but avoiding certain discussions means that relatives who might be at risk of developing the same problem would not be aware of it. If a condition is detected too late there might be very little that can be done. It is very useful to discuss these matters with your family and speak to your doctor together. By building a medical family tree you can easily see who might inherit what. This way, your relatives will learn more about their health and then seek treatment. For example, a cousin might learn that she has an increased risk of breast cancer and would therefore attend screening sessions to catch the cancer before it spreads. Not knowing that something is there does not make it go away but discussing medical matters with your family could save a relative’s life. Scientific studies need family medical information. Scientific studies

using family trees have already shown how useful this information is in identifying families with a high risk for inheritable cancers, like colon and breast cancer. Other research showed that families can benefit from preventative treatments against cardiovascular diseases like diabetes. Local research has recently used this technique to find new genes, knowledge that can be developed for new treatments. The researchers were studying the genetic background of the protein which carries oxygen in our blood, haemoglobin. This protein switches from foetal haemoglobin to adult haemoglobin 3–6 months after birth. People with thalassemia have a problem with the adult version. Therefore, by studying local families that naturally cope well with the disease, they discovered the KLF1 gene that compensates for the malfunctioning adult protein by raising foetal haemoglobin levels. This was only possible with the help of family trees. Speaking to a doctor to prepare a medical family tree (pictured) is done in the strictest confidentiality. You may also create your family medical history on fhh-web/home.action to discuss with your family and doctor. I believe that it is in our best interest, apart from being potentially beneficial to the rest of humankind, to help in the creation of our own family medical trees. If you have any queries when your physician or consultant asks you to prepare a family tree feel free to discuss them rather than avoiding family trees.

It’s all in the family Alexandra Fiott

“It is very useful to discuss these matters with your family and speak to your doctor together” 11


To bank or not to?

Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer

Cord blood can be extracted at birth from babies’ placenta. This blood can be banked privately or publicly for medical uses, mostly in childhood. There is a growing trend of private banking that uses emotional advertising backed with inflated claims to sell their products


ublic cord blood banking is recommendable. Local authorities should consider setting up a national bank once the use increases, making it more cost effective. Hopefully this can happen within a few years. The removal and storage of cord blood is not harmful to mother or child and is something which could be considered by every parent. On the other hand, I would like to dispel the myths and hype surrounding the sale of private cord blood banking services to families. One publication stated that only one in 50,000 children would use privately banked cord blood. The main reason behind this low statistic is that cord blood is used to treat rare genetic and malignant (cancer) conditions. Moreover, not for the children themselves but usually for their siblings. Cord blood may reasonably be banked by families who are much more likely to develop these genetic diseases, but such families are few. Similarly, this may be important for a couple where one or both partners have a non-Euro-


pean origin, such as sub-Saharan African, or far Eastern. For these couples it would be difficult to find a matching unit at the numerous European cord blood banks. So what are the main medical uses of cord blood?

“A blood stem cell transplant can cure several inherited diseases. They sum up around 35% of cord blood uses” A blood stem cell transplant can cure several inherited diseases. They sum up around 35% of cord blood uses. Locally, thalassaemia would be the most common condition. When both parents are carriers for the condition (termed thalassaemia minor), there is a one in four chance that their children will have the disease (termed thalassaemia

major). A stem cell (cord blood) transplantation from a healthy sibling to the sick child would have a good chance of curing the condition. Cord blood is easier to match than other adult sources of stem cells. Usually there is about a 50–60% chance of matches between siblings. This percentage decreases drastically to almost 0% when matching parents and other family members. The second most common treatment is for cancers. Leukaemia is by far the most common malignancy in children yet 70% are cured using chemotherapy. A transplant (of haematopoietic stem cells) is only needed after unsuccessful chemo, but the donor is almost always someone other than the patient. The patient’s own stem cells have already lost the battle against the cancer, so adding more of the same is of limited use. A potential cure is the cord blood of a healthy, preferably matched, sibling not the child’s own cord blood. Transplants from a child’s own stem cells are useful in certain rare childhood tumours, such as neuroblastoma and Ew-

THINK Opinion

Photo by Ricardo Simões

ing’s sarcoma. First, the child would need to respond well to high dose chemotherapy, followed by replacing their bone marrow with the transplanted stem cells. Other procedures do exist if none of the child’s cord blood was banked. Why am I only talking about childhood disease? What about Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease, diabetes, and the other conditions companies mention? Three reasons. First the companies only promise to store cord blood for 25 years. For some extra money you can bank it for longer but no one has ever stored cord blood for such lengths. We don’t know if it would survive and still be useful — theoretically it might. The second reason is that diseases like heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and so on tend to affect us well beyond 25 years of age. Stem cells are only being researched as treatments. There are no cures. These diseases also need mesenchymal stem cells (derived from the cord not the cord blood), which can be banked at extra cost. Once again we do not know how long they can be banked.

The third reason is quantity. The amount of stem cells in a baby’s umbilical cord blood can at most restore the bone marrow of a 50 kg person. Banking is either for children or rather petite people. Lots of research is trying to increase these stem cells but none are close to being used. Only Type I diabetes (which usually affects children) can be treated with cord blood stem cells. The form of diabetes most common in Malta is Type II diabetes that develops in adults not children. It cannot easily be treated with stem cells. A child’s mesenchymal stem cells could possibly be used to suppress autoimmune disease. They might also treat children who are born with cerebral palsy or childhood strokes. Unfortunately, no in-depth studies have been performed to verify this possibility, but a few interesting cases do exist. With future research this could change and more treatments could be developed. Don’t hold your breath though, research takes years or decades to reach patients.

But what about the future? Can further research make stem cells more useful? Here one would be completely right. But by then there might be another even more exciting solution. Scientists have already managed to take any adult’s own cells and reprogramme them through a genetic cocktail so that they become stem cells. Japanese researchers have lead research into this new type of stem cell. These cells are quickly becoming just as good as any other stem cell. Researchers in Japan are also spearheading a project that will see 90% of the Japanese population able to use stem cells from adult cells to treat genetic diseases. Being derived from your own cells, matching will become a problem of the past. But growing and processing such cells will become a clinical necessity. If Europe, including Malta, would spearhead a similar project our health department needs to start investing in cell biology facilities not only for IVF but for clinical cell biology in general — a bank to treat everyone. This article has been edited.




THINK Feature

Over summer The Editor visited the beautiful Island of Gozo, meeting Prof. Ray Ellul and his team based in Xewkija and the Giordan Lighthouse. Gozo is a tourist hotspot because of its beautiful landscapes, churches, and natural beauty. These same reasons attracted Ellul to obtain baseline readings of air pollutants; human effects should be minimal. Their equipment told them a different story

Prof. Ray Ellul, Ing. Francelle Azzopardi Alexander Smyth, Martin Saliba Miriam Azzopardi 15



hey’re very big, anything from 10,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes,’ atmospheric physicist Prof. Ray Ellul is telling me about the 30,000 large ships his team observed passing between Malta and Sicily over a year. This shipping superhighway sees one third of the world’s traffic pass by carrying goods from Asia to Europe and back. The problem could be massive. ‘A typical 50,000 tonner will have an engine equivalent to 85  MW,’ Malta’s two electricity plants churn out nearly 600 MW. You only need a few of these to rival the Islands’ power stations. Ellul continues, ‘this is far far worse. We are right in the middle of it and with winds from the northwest we get the benefit of everything.’ Northwest winds blow 70% of the time over Malta and Gozo, which means that around two thirds of the time the pollutants streaming out of these ships are travelling over Malta. Even in Gozo, where traffic is less


intense, air quality is being affected. Malta is dependent on shipping. Malta’s Flag has the largest registered tonnage of ships in Europe; shipping brings in millions for Malta. We cannot afford to divert 30,000 ships to another sea. Yet Malta is part of the EU and our politicians could ‘go to Brussels with the data and say we need to ensure that shipping switches to cleaner fuels when passing through the Mediterranean.’ Politicians would also need to go to the Arab League to strike a deal with North Africa. Ships currently use heavy fuel oil with 3.5% sulfur; this needs to go down to at least 0.5%. The problem is that it doubles the costs. Malta’s battle at home and abroad won’t be easy, but the Baltic Sea has already taken these measures.

German Dreams The research station in Gozo is a fullfledged Global Atmospheric Watch station with a team of five behind it. Now it

can monitor a whole swathe of pollutants but its beginning was much more humble, built on the efforts of Ellul, who was drawn into studying the atmosphere in the 80s when he shifted his career from chemistry to physics. In the early 90s the late rector, Rev. Prof. Peter Serracino Inglott, wanted the University to start building some form of research projects. ‘At that time, we knew absolutely nothing about what was wrong with Maltese air and Mediterranean pollution,’ explained Ellul. Building a fully fledged monitoring station seemed to be the key, so Ellul sent ‘handwritten letters with postage stamps’ to the Max Planck Institute in Mainz. Nobel prize winner Paul J. Crutzen wrote back inviting him to spend a year’s sabbatical in Germany, but their help didn’t stop there. ‘He helped us set-up the first measuring station, [to analyse the pollutants] ozone, then sulphur dioxide, then carbon monoxide. That’s the system we had in 1996 — […] 2 or 3 instruments.’

THINK Feature

They lived off German generosity until 2008 when Malta started tapping into EU money. After some ERDF money and an Italy-Malta project on Etna called VAMOS SEGURO (see Etna, THINK issue 06, pg. 40), Ellul now manages a team of five. In homage to his early German supporters he has structured the research team around a Max Planck model — ‘one of the best systems in the World for science’.

Paradise Lost? Getting data about ships is not easy. ‘It is very sensitive information and there is a lot of secrecy behind it,’ explains Ing.

Francelle Azzopardi, a Ph.D. student in Ellul’s team. It is also very expensive. Lloyd’s is the World’s ship registry that tracks all ships, knowing their size, location, engine type, fuel used — basically

“Ships currently use heavy fuel oil with 3.5% sulfur; this needs to go down to at least 0.5%. The problem is that it doubles cost”

a researcher’s dream. However, they charge tens of thousands. Ellul took the decision that they gather all the data themselves. After 2004, all international ships above 300 gross tons need to have a tracking device. Automatically, these ships are traced around the world and anyone can have a peek on (just check the traffic around Malta). Every half hour the team’s administrator Miriam Azzopardi saves the data then integrates it into the Gozitan database. This answers the questions: where was this ship? which ship was it? how big is it? Easy. »



If only! The problem is that the researchers also need to know fuel type, engine size, pollution reduction measures, and so on. Then they would know which ship is where, how many pollutants are being emitted, and how many are reaching Malta and Gozo. To get over this hurdle, they contacted Transport Malta (more than once) to ask for the information they needed. ‘About 50% of the ships passing there [by us or Suez are] Malta registered,’ explained Ellul. With this information in hand they could put two and two together. They could create a model for ship emissions close to the Islands and use the model to get the bigger picture. Enter their final problem: how do you model it? Enter the Finns. Ing. Francelle Azzopardi travelled to the Finnish Meteorological Institute. They


had already modelled the Baltic Sea, now they wanted access to the Maltese data, in return the Maltese team wanted access to their model called STEAM. STEAM is a very advanced model. It gathers all the ships’ properties like engine power, fuel type, and ship size. This is combined with its operating environment including speed, friction, wave action, and so on. STEAM then spits out where the team should be seeing the highest pollution indicators. Malta was surrounded. Apart from the model, the team have seen a clear link between ships and pollution. At the Giordan lighthouse they can measure a whole host of pollutants sulphur dioxide, various nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, black and brown carbon levels, ozone, radioactivity levels, heavy metals, Persistent

Organic Pollutants (POPs) and more. When the wind blows from the Northwest, they regularly show peaks of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons which are all indicative of fossil fuel burning either from ships or Sicilian industry. They also picked up relatively high levels of heavy metals especially Vanadium, a heavy metal pollutant. Such metals are more common in heavy fuel oil used by ships. Alexander Smyth is the team’s research officer who spends three months in Paris every year analysing filters that capture pollutants from the atmosphere. Two different filter types are placed in the Giordan Lighthouse. One filter for particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers and another filter for particles around 2 to 10 microns. ‘With the 2.5 filter we

THINK Feature

can see anthropogenic emissions or ship emissions because they tend to be the smaller particles. The filters are exposed for three to four days, and then they need to be stored in the fridge. Afterwards, I take them to Paris and conduct an array of analyses,’ continued Alexander. The most worrying pollutant he saw was Vanadium. Vanadium is a toxic metal. When inhaled, ‘it can penetrate to the alveoli of the lungs and cause cancer, a worst case scenario,’ outlined Alexander. It can also cause respiratory and developmental problems — none are good news. The only good news is that ‘they are in very small amounts’. Quantity is very important for toxicity, and they are seeing nanograms per cubic metre, a couple of orders of magnitude more are needed to cause serious problems. No huge alarm bells need to be raised, although Vanadium does stick around in bones and these effects still need more studies. Vanadium seems to be coming from both Malta and shipping traffic. ‘The highest peaks of vanadium are from the south [of Malta, but the largest number of times I detected came] from the northwest, [from ships],’ said Smyth. ‘There is a larger influence from ships compared to local pollution at the Giordan lighthouse.’ Vanadium is not the only pollutant that could be affecting the health of Maltese citizens. Smyth also saw lots of different Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). At low concentrations these compounds can affect immunity leading to more disease, at higher concentrations they can lead to cancer. The local researchers still need to figure out their effect on Malta’s health. Francelle Azzopardi also saw peaks of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. No surprise here as shipping is thought to cause up to a third of the World’s nitrogen oxides and a tenth of the sulfur dioxide pollution. Inhaling high levels of sulfur dioxide leads to many problems. It is associ-

ated with respiratory disease, preterm births, and at very high levels, death. It can affect plants and other animals. Nitrogen oxides also cause respiratory disease, but can also cause headaches, reduce appetite, and worsen heart disease leading to death. These are pollutants that we want to keep as low as possible. Ship emission expert James Corbett (University of Delaware) calculates that worldwide around 60,000 people die every year due to ship emissions. Most deaths come from the coastlines of Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. Shipping causes around 4% of climate change emissions. This is set to double by 2050. In major ports, shipping can be the main cause of air pollution on land. Another unexpected pollutant was ozone, normally formed when oxygen reacts with light. Yet the Giordan light-

“Ship emission expert James Corbett calculates that worldwide around 60,000 people die every year due to ship emissions”

house was not the first to start measuring this gas. It all started with the Jesuits, scholarly catholic monks.

Monks at work A lot of time is needed to see changes in our atmosphere. Researchers need to gather data over years. To speed up the process, Ellul was hunting around Malta and Gozo for ancient meteorological data about the Islands’ past atmosphere. He was tipped off that there were still some records at a seminary in Gozo. ‘We expected to find just meteorological data and instead we also found ozone data as well. It was a complete surprise and a stroke of very good luck. We were able to find out what happened to ozone levels in the Mediterranean over the last hundred years.’ Jesuit monks meticulously measured ozone levels from 1884 to 1900. They analysed them seeing that the concentration of ozone was a mere 8 to 12 parts per billion by volume, ppbv. Ellul compared these to a 10-year study he conducted from 1997 to 2006. ‘We measure around 50ppb on average throughout the year,’ which is nearly 5 times more over a mere 100 years. The situation is quite bad for Malta. In the past, the minimum was in summer and the maximum in winter and spring. Now, this has reversed with spring and summer having the highest ozone levels because of the reactions between hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. These come from cars, industry, and ships. Over the Eastern Mediterranean ozone levels have gradually decreased. Over Malta, in the Central Mediterranean, they remained the same. Ellul thinks this could be because of an anticyclone over the central Mediterranean bringing pollutants from Europe over Malta and Gozo. The levels of ozone in Malta and Gozo are the highest in Europe, and it could be mostly Europe’s »



fault. Our excessive traffic doesn’t help. Ozone can be quite a mean pollutant. While stratospheric ozone blocks out harmful UV rays, lowlevel ozone can directly damage our health or react with other pollutants to create toxic smog. It’s been known to start harming humans at levels greater than 50 ppbv. It inflames airways causing difficulty breathing, coughing and great discomfort. Some research has linked it to heart attacks — a pollutant not to be taken lightly. Over those 10 years Ellul and his team saw 20 episodes in summer where ozone levels exceeded 90 ppbv. Some were during the night, unlikely to be of local origin but due to transport phenomena in the central Mediterranean and shipping. Ellul does nod towards the possibility of air recirculation from Malta. The atmosphere is a complicated creature. Plants also suffer from ozone. Above 40 ppbv yield from fields decreases. Gozo is definitely being affected; we could be producing more.

The devil is in the details Ellul and his team have found a potentially big contributor to the Islands’ pollution. This would be over and above our obvious traffic problem. Yet Ellul admits that ‘there is no particular trend, it’s too short a time span. What it tells us is that what we think is a clean atmosphere is not really a clean atmosphere at all. The levels are significant.’ Azzopardi honestly says ‘I can [only] give you an idea of what is happening’.


The team needs to study the problem for longer. It needs some statistics. Clearly they see a link between ships passing by Malta and peaks in pollution levels, but the Islands need to know if shipping pollution levels beat industry, traffic, or Saharan dust. What is ships’ contribution to Malta’s health problems? When the team knows the extent of pollution, they can see whether they go above European standards. Ozone already does, and likely to be due to pollution from the European continent. If they can extend it to a whole host of other pollutants that skyrocket above European standards due to ship traffic, then ‘our politicians,’ says Ellul, can go to Brussels to enforce new legislation. That could control Mediterranean shipping traffic to clean up our air. At least it would solve one significant problem that Malta cannot solve on its own. The main problem is economic. A ship can be made greener by reducing its sulfur fuel content. Low sulfur fuels are double the price of the bunker fuel they currently use. New legislation would need enforcement, which is costly. Ships could also be upgraded, again at a price. Passing these laws is not going to be easy. Ships have been a pollution black hole for a while. The fuels ships burn contains 3,000 times more sulfur than cars are allowed to burn. Quite unfair. Going back to Corbett’s figures estimating European deaths at 27,000, the current rise in shipping pollution could end up killing hundreds of thousands if not millions before new legislation is enforced. Now that would be truly unfair.

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Protecting the World’s largest experiment The particle beams circulating in the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have enough energy to melt 500 kg of copper. How can we protect the machine from itself ? Words by Dr Gianluca Valentino 21


Dr Gianluca Valentino Dr Ing. Nicholas Sammut Dr Ralph Assmann


y phone rang, waking me up in the middle of the night. It is 2 a.m., and I (Dr Gianluca Valentino) am driving from the sleepy French village where I live at the foot of the snow-capped Jura mountains to the CERN Control Centre. As groggy as I feel, I am trembling with excitement at finally putting months of my work to the test. The operators on night shift greet me as I come in through the sliding door. These are the men and women who keep the €8 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) running smoothly. The LHC produces 600 million particle collisions per second to allow physicists to examine the fundamentals of the universe. Their most recent discovery is the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle. In 2012, this finding appears to have confirmed the Higgs field theory, which describes how other particles have mass. It helps explain the universe around us. The empty bottles of champagne on the shelves of the CERN Control Centre are a testimony to the work of thousands of physicists, engineers, and computer scientists. The LHC has now busted record after record rising to stratospheric fame.


The LHC is an engineering marvel. A huge circular tunnel 100 m underground and 27 km in circumference. It straddles the Franco-Swiss border and is testimony to the benefit of 50 years of non-military research at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web. The LHC works by colliding particles together. In this way physicists can

peer into the inner workings of atoms. Two counter-rotating hadron (proton or heavy-ion) beams are accelerated to approach the speed of light using a combination of magnetic and electric fields. A hadron is a particle smaller than atoms, and is made up of several types of quarks, which are fundamental particles (there is nothing smaller than them — for now). The beams circulate at an energy of 7 TeV, which is

“The beams circulate at an energy of 7 TeV, which is similar to a French TGV train travelling at 150 km/hour”

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similar to a French TGV train travelling at 150 km per hour. For the magnets to work at maximum strength, they need to operate in super-conducting mode. This mode needs the collider to be cooled to -271°C using liquid helium, making it the coldest place in the universe. It is also the hottest place in the universe. Collisions between lead ions have reached temperatures of over 5 trillion °C. Not even supernovae pack this punch. The two separate beams are brought together and collided at four points where the physics detectors are located. A detector works by gathering all the information generated by the collisions which generate new subatomic particles. The detectors track their speed and measure the energy and charge. ‘Gluon fusion’ — when two gluons combine (a type of boson or particle that carries a force) — is the most likely mechanism for Higgs boson production at the LHC. My role in this huge experiment is to calibrate the LHC’s brakes. Consider a simple analogy. A bike’s brakes need to be positioned at the right distance from the circulating wheel, and are designed to halt a bike in its tracks from a speed of around 70 km/hr. Too far apart, and when the brakes are applied, the

bike won’t stop. Too close together, and the bike won’t even move. In the LHC, the particles travel at nearly 300,000 km/s. Equipment called collimators act as the LHC’s brakes. The LHC is equipped with 86 of them, 43 per beam. They passively intercept particles travelling at the speed of light, which over time drift from the centre outwards. The machine is unprotected if the collimators are placed too far away from the beam. The beam’s energy, equivalent of 80 kg of TNT, would eventually drill a hole needing months or years to repair. If the collimators are too close to the beam they sweep up too many particles, reducing the beam’s particle population and its lifetime. The LHC has four different types of collimators, which clean the particles over multiple stages in the space of a few hundred metres. These collimators also protect the expensive physics detectors from damage if a beam were to hit them directly. If the detectors were hit the LHC would grind to a halt. What does it take to calibrate these brakes? Each brake or collimator is made up of two metre-long blocks of carbon composite or tungsten, known as ‘jaws’. The jaws should be positioned symmetrically on either side of the beam, and opened to gaps as small

as 3 mm to let the beam through. They can be moved in 5 µm increments— that is 20 times less than the width of a typical human hair. The precision is necessary but makes the procedure very tedious. The beam’s position and size at each collimator are initially unknown. They are determined through a process called beam-based alignment. During alignment, each jaw is moved in steps towards the beam, until it just scrapes the edge. Equipment near the collimator registers the amount of particles they are mopping up. Then, the beam position is calculated as the average of the aligned jaw positions on either side, while the beam size is determined from the jaw gap. The problem is that there are 86 collimators. Each one needs to be calibrated making the process painfully slow. To calibrate the jaws manually takes several days, totaling 30 hours of beam time. To top it all, the alignment has to be repeated at various stages of the machine cycle, as the beams shrink with increasing energy, and imperfections in the magnetic fields can lead to changes in the beam’s path. This wasted time costs millions and makes the LHC run slower. Previously, one had to click using a software application for each jaw movement towards the beam. With a »



“The LHC produces 600 million particle collisions per second to allow physicists to examine the fundamentals of the Universe�


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step size of 5 µm and a total potential distance of 10 mm, that is 2000 clicks per collimator jaw! Extreme precision is required when moving the collimator jaws. If the jaw moves too much into the beam, the particle loss rate will exceed a certain threshold, and the beam is automatically extracted from the LHC. A few hours are wasted until the operators get the machine back and the alignment procedure is restarted. Over the course of my Ph.D., I automated the alignment, speeding it up by developing several algorithms — computer programs that carry out a specific task. The LHC now runs on a feedback loop that automatically moves the jaws into the correct place without scraping away too much beam. The feedback loop enables many collimators to be moved simultaneously, instead of one at a time. A pattern recognition algorithm determines whether the characteristic signal observed when a jaw touches the beam is present or not. This automates what was previously a manual, visual check performed by the operator. The sun’s rays begin to filter through the CERN Control Centre, and the Jura mountains are resplendent in their morning glory. The procedure is complete: all collimators are aligned in just under 4 hours, the fastest time ever achieved. In early 2013, the LHC was shut down for a couple of years for important upgrades. Before then my algorithms helped save hundreds of hours; since the LHC costs €150,000 per hour to run, millions of euros were also saved. This software was part of the puzzle to provide more time for the LHC’s physics programme and is now here to stay. The morning shift crew comes in. The change of guard is performed to keep the machine running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while I head home to catch up on lost sleep.


Dr Michael Spagnol



Kelma Kelma Maltese language 2.0

With a massive following of 25,000 people, Kelma Kelma is the Facebook page that has taken Malta by storm. From a simple collection of linguistic curiosities borne from one man’s love of the Maltese language, it has developed to become an unconventional but highly effective teaching tool. This is the journey of Kelma Kelma from the man behind the computer screen, Dr Michael Spagnol. Words by Cassi Camilleri


n 5th January, 2013 Kelma Kelma was launched with the simple yet elegant black profile picture the Maltese online community have come to recognise. By the 6th, the first of countless posts came. This one defined the word ‘Nomofobija’, the fear of being away from one’s mobile phone. Back then, this post received 74 likes. One of the latest posts makes a jab at Malta’s sky high electricity bills with the musing ‘Meta kont żgħir kont nibża’

mid-dlam. Issa li kbirt, nibża’ mid-dawl, l-iktar meta nirċievi l-kont’ (when I was young, I was scared of the dark. Now I’m older, I’m scared of the light, especially when I receive the bill). Till writing, it garnered 250 likes and counting. Second only to Malta Diżastru Totali!, Kelma Kelma’s 25,000 followers are equivalent to roughly 11% of the 220,000-strong Maltese online population. Its rapid growth shows the concept has hit a distinct nerve with people, but for Dr Michael Spagnol, this manipula-

tion of language was always something of a game. After all, Maltese itself was a consistent source of amusement in the Spagnol household. His father’s jokes were always some clever play on words he would make up during the day. Even his grandfather was a treasure trove of expertly structured riddles, witty renditions of the popular Ħaġa Moħġaġa. Being surrounded with such inspiring characters since he was a boy, it was only natural that this linguistic flair would »



seep into his studies. Michael pursued Maltese all the way to the University of Malta. As an undergraduate in 2005, his focus was on literature but linguistics soon took centre stage. ‘As a science, it takes you away from language and its function to look at it from an outsider’s perspective. It forces you to think about what language is and how it is constructed. It analyses the smallest of things, like how a word came to be or how the lips and tongue work together to produce a specific sound. This defamiliarisation of language is now rooted in his approach to the posts on Kelma Kelma. The idea came to him at University. It was just a fun simple exercise to stretch his linguistic abilities. At first, it was a magazine or a booklet filled with facts, stories, and musings about words and sayings he liked or found interesting. But it was years later, after he completed his Ph.D. in Germany, an investigation of the morphology and lexical semantics of the Maltese language (see text box), that the idea truly began growing and taking shape. When he returned to Malta, Facebook had exploded. People were subscribing in droves. And then it happened. ‘People who I knew spoke Maltese all day and posted online in English. Inspirational quotes in particular caught my eye. Even if it was broken English, it didn’t matter, people preferred using a foreign language to their own.’ This observation affected Michael. He recalled his idea from University days. It would be the perfect response, a subtle jab at the status quo of ‘it can’t be done in Maltese’. He didn’t care if no one paid attention. It had to be done. Michael created the Facebook page, Kelma Kelma.


“There is actually a great thirst for knowledge and use of Maltese” The page started out with 11 albums, including il.kelma.tal.lum, a collection of definitions, and logħob.bil.kliem, a clever set of jokes based on puns. The seeds planted by Michael’s father and grandfather had now grown and began to bloom. His memes consist of simple text on colour. No fuss, just clean, bright labels that would stand out on a page. The issue of length came into play, but it was a no brainer, ‘People get bored easily so they tend to ignore long texts. My work was based on the idea that the shorter the message, the more people would read it.’ The concept worked. Likes on the page began trickling in slowly, but after just one week, traffic began pouring in. The massive snowball effect that followed was unprecedented.

The response was astounding. ‘I never imagined that would happen. I thought the page would appeal to students and scholars, but all sorts of people took interest. People even started sending me messages saying the page inspired them to start writing stories and reading poetry in Maltese again. I realised, contrary to what I thought at first, that people were setting their own language aside, there is actually a great thirst for knowledge and use of Maltese.’ The jab provided the answer. Rather than an actual dislike for Maltese, Michael now believes the problem lies with Maltese language disuse and unawareness. In fact, the discrepancy between the use of Maltese and English didn’t stop with Facebook. ‘People write emails, SMSs, wedding invitations... even cards in English. The most popular newspapers in Malta ‒ they’re all in English. People are even speaking to their children only in English now’ (see Experiment Malta issue 04, pg. 35). The Maltese language is disappearing from the lives of Maltese people. This is especially true for the younger generation, children, and adolescents. Films,

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Like Kelma Kelma on Facebook music, and everything else associated with popular culture, everything that is considered ‘cool’, in Malta is in English. Maltese is reserved for either the badly written and produced local television or the high brow, intellectual fodder that the vast majority do not engage with. Kelma Kelma now seeks to take the first step at breaking down those boundaries. Via memes, Spagnol is disseminating compact nuggets of linguistic knowledge, exhibiting how the Maltese language can be moulded and manipulated at will. The focus is on ‘live Maltese language’, not the standard stale schoolbook grammar material. That is why even words that are considered ‘unsavoury’ (kliem baxx) by some, such as ‘mazza’ (either a mallet [n.] or a physically attractive woman [n.]), ‘tiffrejpja’ (to frape — hack into a Facebook account to post a humorous or rude post [v.]), ‘skappatura’, (a short-lived love affair [n.]), and many others are not censored as is the norm in more traditional media. Audiences did not push back; instead they lapped it up liking and commenting on these posts significantly more than others. From then on, all kinds of questions and requests came pouring in. The album count now reaches 27 and shows no sign of slowing down. Surprisingly, Michael has even found interest in grammar among the online community. ‘Although this wasn’t something I had originally intended for Kelma Kelma, I found many people asking specifically for grammar points.’ The Internet’s two-way communication stream is allowing the audience to shape the page into what they need it to be: a teaching tool.

Proof of Kelma Kelma’s popularity came with the variety of copycat pages that have sprung all over Facebook. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The most infamous is Kelma b’Kelma. Now, while Kelma Kelma seeks to propagate helpful facts and tips in a humorous way, Kelma b’Kelma attempts to poke fun and confuse, coming up with their own theories, mostly false, behind the origins of certain phrases — all for a laugh. Early on, because Kelma b’Kelma was not clearly portrayed as a parody, people assumed the page to be a spin off to the original. The influence of Kelma Kelma in the public sphere, as a point of reference of the general public, became particularly clear with the furore surrounding one particular post that announced the impending elimination of the ‘ie’ and ‘għ’ from the Maltese alphabet. Believing that this was a serious announcement by Kelma Kelma, people reacted. The page’s inbox was flooded with questions over this supposed change in Maltese grammar. According to Michael, parents even went to »

“People even started sending me messages saying the page inspired them to start writing stories and reading poetry in Maltese again” 29


their children’s schools to clarify this ‘new development’. The media, including radio station 89.7 Bay, also got caught up in it, posting the picture on their Facebook page. Now, the parody page has lost most of its followers, dwindling down to just over 1,000. The sense of belonging that Kelma Kelma created backfired violently. By and large, the public now either ignores posts from Kelma b’Kelma or

“Kelma Kelma seems to be providing people not only with a sense of pride in their own language, but […] a sense of belonging”

admonishes them and their author. A continuous stream of criticism follows every upload, with people constantly correcting deliberate ‘mistakes’. From a page that started out as a ‘game’, there is a distinct seriousness surrounding Kelma Kelma. According to Michael, ‘it has been an eye opening experience to see just how much people have become attached’. In fact, should he find himself away from his computer for a day, for whatever reason, he can be sure that the next day he logs in on the page his inbox will be full of messages from people asking when the page will resume as normal. ‘Kelma Kelma seems to be providing people not only with a sense of pride in their own language, but also something deeper, like a sense of belonging.’ The impact the page has had is undeniable. It has shown people that language is much like a child: in order for it to grow, it needs nourishment. Maltese will only be ‘antiquated’ if people do not use it. There needs to be a real effort to modernise the language if it is ever to move forward with the times. However,

Michael’s Ph.D. Studying at the University of Konstanz in Germany, Michael’s Ph.D. sought to investigate the morphology and lexical semantics of the Maltese language: Malta’s history imbued the language’s Semitic base, Arabic, with the Romance languages, Sicilian and Italian. This gave Maltese two different word formation strategies. Michael likens the Maltese language to ‘a checkerboard upon which both chess and draughts can be played. For any given lexical item, a word or string of words, a Maltese-language speaker must know whether it is a piece for chess or a piece for draughts, and play the morphosyntactic game accordingly.’ The result of this investigation is the first exhaustive database of roots and verbal patterns in Maltese. They will aid future students and researchers in their quest to understand and further develop the language.


the work of Kelma Kelma is not nearly finished. The page has now begun its journey beyond Facebook. Kelma Kelma is now on YouTube. With the aim of reaching a wider audience, Michael is currently looking for collaborators to produce a fully-fledged web series. They will function as a humorous Maltese tutorial. Thus, what started as small memes on Facebook will continue to develop into an even more substantial teaching tool. ‘YouTube has become a resource for so many young people. Many students turn to YouTube before they even think about opening a book. English language tutorials, among others, are everywhere. It’s time to have a well-produced Maltese tutorial.’ Not only that, but Kelma Kelma might come full circle with the initial idea of a collection of linguistic curiosities in book form currently in the pipeline. Michael has been receiving numerous requests from his followers asking for a volume they can carry with them, ‘however, it is still early days with this one,’ he said. While it may seem to some that the page is changing, at its heart it still holds the same value with which it started. To have fun with language, to bring Maltese to the present day, to promote its use, to make it appreciated and admired for the wonderful versatility it holds. Word by word, kelma kelma, the Maltese language will thrive among the people again.

FURTHER READING • Mifsud, Manwel. 1995. Loan Verbs in Maltese. NY: Brill, pp. 272–295 • Spagnol, Michael. 2011. A Tale of Two Morphologies. Verb structure and argument alternations in Maltese. Germany: University of Konstanz dissertation

THINK Culture

Experiencing Stories


arlier this year, the Valletta 2018 Foundation invited three tutors from the University of California to Malta to teach an intensive twoweek course on screen-writing called Story Works to aspiring writers and producers. Two of the participants of the course, Kenneth Scicluna and Marta Vella fill us in on their experiences.

Marta Vella: Attending Story Works was a golden opportunity, I still have to pinch myself to make sure it was real sometimes. To think I was taught by an Emmy Award winner and successful screenwriters is incredible. This is such a crucial period for our country, going through so many changes and fast developments both culturally and artistically. Such a course really helps take Maltese writers to another level. Thanks to it, I now understand that one’s background or resources have nothing to do with one’s ability to weave great stories. The course not only equipped us with the tools needed to write a great script, but it also opened our eyes to a world

of possibilities. I had looked at our little island as hindering opportunities but I now realise that it’s a little gem of untapped potential.

Kenneth Scicluna: Story Works helped re-align my sights on my approach to film. It encouraged me to see my work from a different perspective. It also offered a sheltered environment of mutual understanding, trust, and cooperation amongst the attendees, which made it easier to give and receive criticism. The mentoring process steered clear of dogma, and marked a few signposts to guide one’s journey — the route to each point was, and still is, up to each writer to take. If anything, the course was also an exercise in building enough confidence to eventually adjust the signposts themselves. My hope is that this initiative will be repeated, not only to provide continuity and help foster the seeds sown, but also to provide a structure which younger writers could look towards as a significant step in their development, channelling time and energy into the writing and the creation of tangible outcomes.

Story Works offered 24 individuals an opportunity to consult and learn from some of the best screenwriters around, namely David Howard, Mary Kate O Flanagan, and Martin Daniel. The programme aims to develop ideas to a professional level and leave with a tangible product in hand — a powerful story with the potential to cross borders. This programme is founded on an approach to screenwriting developed by Frank Daniel, who pioneered ‘The Sequence Approach’.

V.18 ON CAMPUS The V.18 Secretariat has been opened at the University of Malta. Located within the Projects Support Office, it will be the contact point for UoM projects related to V.18. The Secretariat will provide information to interested individuals on campus while networking with academics interested in V.18. (+356) 2340 3474


Indie Games How can a video game ask questions about life, art, and frustration? Giuliana Barbaro-Sant met up with Dr Pippin Barr to tell us about his game adaptation of Marina Abramović’s artwork The Artist is Present 32

Giuliana Barbaro-Sant

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n each creative act, a personal price is paid. When the project you have been working on so hard falls to pieces because of funding, it is hard to accept its demise. The feeling of failure, betrayal, and loneliness is an easy trap to fall into. This is the independent game maker’s industry: a bloodthirsty world rife with competition, sucking pockets dry from the very beginning of the creative process. Maltese game makers face a harsher reality. Not all game makers are lucky enough to make it to the finish line, publish, and make good money. Rather, most of them rarely do. Yet, if and when they get there, it is often thanks to the passion and dedication they put into their creation — together with the continuous support of others. Dr Pippin Barr always had a passion for making things, be it playing with blocks or doodling. His time lecturing at the Center for Computer Game Research at the IT University of Copenhagen, together with his recent team-up with the newly opened Institute of Digital Games at the University of Malta, only served to reincarnate another form of this passion: Pippin makes games. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York he exhibited his most well known work: the game rendition of Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present. He thought of the idea while planning to deliver lectures about how artists invoke emotions through laborious means in their artworks. In The Artist is Present, artist Marina Abramović sits still in front of hundreds of thousands of people and

just stares into their eyes for as long as participants desire. There is more to this performance than meets the eye. Beyond the simplistic façade, Barr saw real depth. Through eye contact, the artist and audience forge a unique connection. All barriers drop, and human emotion flows with a great rawness that games are so ‘awful’ at embodying. Yet, paradoxically, there is a militariness in the preparation behind the performance that games embrace only too well. Not only does the artist have to physically programme herself to withstand over 700 hours’ worth of performing, but the audience also prepares for the experience in their own way, by disciplining themselves as they patiently wait for their turn. ‘Good research is, after all, creative,’ according to Pippin Barr. By combining his academic background with his creative impulse, he made an art game — a marriage between art and video games. These are games about games, which test their values and limits. Barr relishes the very idea of questioning the way things work. His self-reflexive games serve as a platform for him to call into question life’s so-called certainties, in a way that is powerful enough to strike a chord in both himself and the player. He is looking to create a deep emotional resonance, which gives the player a chance to ‘get’ the game through a unique personal experience. Sometimes, players write about his games and capture what Pippin Barr was thinking about, as he put it, ‘better than I could myself ’, or read deeper than his own thoughts. As far as gameplay goes, The Artist is Present is fairly easy to manoeuvre in. »

“It’s a pretty lonely road and it can be tough when you’re just stuck with yourself” – Pippin Barr 33


The look is fully pixellated yet captures the ambience at the Museum. The first screen of the game places the player in front of its doors and you are only allowed in if you are playing the game during the actual exhibition’s opening hours in America. Until then, there is no option but to wait till around 4:30 pm our time (GMT+1). The frustration continues increasing since after entering you will still have to wait behind a long queue of strangers to experience the performance work. This reflects real world participants who had to wait to experience The Artist is Present. If they were lucky, they sat in front of the artist and gazed at her for as long as they wanted. Interestingly, Marina Abramović also played the game. She told Barr about how she was kicked out of the queue when she tried to catch a quick lunch in the real world as she was queuing in the digital one. Very unlucky, but the trick is to keep the game tab open. Other than that, good luck! Despite that little hiccup, Abramović did not give up on the concept of digitalising the experience of her art. After The Artist is Present, Barr and Abramović set forth on a new quest: the making of the Digital Marina Abramović Institute. Released last October, it has proven to be a great challenge for those who cannot help but switch windows to check up on their Facebook notifications – not only are the instructions in a scrolling marquee, but you have to keep pressing the Shift button on your


“His self-reflexive games serve as a platform for him to call into question life’s so-called certainties, in a way that is powerful enough to strike a chord in both himself and the player” keyboard to prove you are awake and aware of what is happening in the game. It is the same kind of awareness that is expected out of the physical experience of the real-life Institute. The quirkiness of Barr’s games reflects their creator. Besides The Artist is Present, in Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment, he adapted a Greek Sisyphus myth to experiment with the frustration of not being rewarded. In Mumble Indie Bungle, he toyed with the cultural background of indie game bundles by creating ‘terrible’ versions with ‘misheard titles’ (and so, ‘misheard’ game concepts) of renowned indie games. One of his 2013 projects involves the creation of an iPhone game, called Snek, an adaptation of the good old Nokia 3310 Snake. In his version, Pippin Barr turned the

effect of the smooth ‘naturally’ perfect touch interface of the device upon its head, by using the gyroscope feature. Instead, the interaction with the Apple device becomes thoroughly awkward, as the player has to move around very unnaturally because of the requirements of the game. This dedicated passion for challenging boundaries ultimately drives creators and artists alike to step out of their comfort zone and make things. These things challenge the way society thinks and its value systems. Game making is no exception, especially for independent developers. An artist yearns for the satisfaction that comes with following a creative impulse and succeeding. In Barr’s case, being ‘part of the movement to expand game boundaries and show players (and ourselves) that the possibilities for what might be “allowed” in games is extremely broad.’ Accomplishing so much, against the culture industry’s odds, is a great triumph for most indie developers. For Pippin Barr, the real moment of success is when the game is finished and is being played. Then he knows that someone sat with the game and actually had an experience — maybe even ‘got it’.

Follow Pippin Barr on Twitter: @pippinbarr or on: www.pippinbarr. com Giuliana Barbaro-Sant is part of the Department of English Master of Arts programme.

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cybersexuality Changing the Nature of Sex through Technology Relationships have changed hand in hand with society. More couples are living far apart from each other. Marc Buhagiar speaks to Mary Ann Borg Cunen to explore how technology can lend a hand. Illustrations by Sonya Hallett



Marc Buhagiar


ush a button to receive instant gratification,’ said the technobot. Picture a world that goes beyond the conventional form of sexual intercourse. In this world natural sexual intercourse will pale in comparison to a newer form of technological sex. It is not hard to imagine companies pushing for these ‘improvements’ to make a profit through new technologies. The porn industry is a well known example where technology and sexuality have merged to bump up income. Other industries have also benefited from this merge, as sex toy manufacturers have established their own market. Recently, Durex has started testing a new product called the Durex ‘Fundawear’. It has been advertised as ‘The Future of Foreplay’. The underwear has inbuilt sensors allowing users (the couple), to ‘touch over the internet’ using an iPhone app which controls sensor vibration. Their markets are couples in long distance relationships. They must use a video call over the Internet to see their partner’s pleasurable reaction. In this way, the sexual act is artificialised. Sex is mediated through a screen where all the senses except the sense of sight are lost. According to Mary Ann Borg Cunen, a University of Malta academic and counselling psychologist specialising in


sexuality and couples therapy, certain senses are fundamental towards the sexual act. For example, the sense of smell is very important in selecting a longterm partner for procreation of healthy offspring. The sense of touch is also crucial to the sexual act, and technology, according to Borg Cunen, can only partly compensate for this. Some technology is even breaking through this barrier. Teledildonics, sex toys that use a computer to transfer the sense of touch achieving climax, can help couples

“in a long distance relationship this genuine love based on true knowledge cannot fully take place” separated by long distances keep the intimacy alive even when proximity is impossible. However, they have alternative uses. Such technology could be used as an extension of pornography to give a more realistic, reciprocated ‘feel’. This technology could provide sexual gratification when none is available in the real world. It could even be used to

‘cheat’ on your partner to the relationship’s detriment. Technology can never fully simulate physical contact. It can only attempt to keep the couple interested in each other sexually while in a long distance relationship. Borg Cunen identifies a form of idealisation that develops at the start of a relationship. This diminishes over time and contact to mature into love shared by the couple. Borg Cunen argues, ‘in a long distance relationship this genuine love based on true knowledge cannot fully take place. We can ‘be’ only the person who we think the other will like’. With long distance relationships there is a constant need to always be your partner’s ideal mate and vice versa. This means that the couple will always be sexually interested in one another and they can easily gain sexual release because the relationship is built on ideals. Sexual technology is trying to satisfy sexual appetite while withholding intimacy. Borg Cunen claims that people appear fearful of intimacy. ‘We seem to be seeking sexual pleasure devoid of commitment and devoid of a relationship which you have to work at. In relationships you have to relate to the other person. This can also be seen in the trend of “hooking up” with strangers in clubs and bars whom you hardly (if at all) know.’ There is a beneficial flipside to sexual technology. It promises sexu-

THINK Feature

“Sex has always sold. And people can always be persuaded that their ‘neighbour’ is having better sex”

al release without the risks accompanying sexual intercourse. With sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy are ugly spectres looming over the act. They are only dampened by contraception — though always needed. Sexual technology can give a sexual outlet without risking any grave repercussions. Another issue behind sexual technology is that it needs a computer that can anonymise the user. This guise of privacy and anonymity contributes to the temptation to use it. Men are the typical avid consumers of such products sating their desire for multiple sexual partners. This desire could even be driving the production of sexual technologies, suggested Borg Cunen. So how do companies sell sex? According to Borg Cunen, ‘Sex has always sold. And people can always be persuaded that their “neighbour” is having better sex. By promising better, more exciting sex we are awakening the innate envy that exists in each one of us, and manipulating it!’ Companies

release products they swear will spice up your love life by improving it and making it more exciting. Regular intercourse seems rather boring when you can develop it further with sex toys and costumes, hence injecting some fantasy. The Internet has changed how many partners a person can have. There are infinite possibilities to choose from thanks to online dating sites and communities but repercussions exist. With this dating pool full of possibilities, the current partner may always seem inferior to an idealised digital image. The Internet has made it easier to buy sex toys. People can be ashamed to buy the latest sex gadget and a computers’ sense of anonymity can provide a great opportunity. The Internet has blown open the doors for sexual experimentation that can help maintain the sexual interest of countless couples — a double-edged sword.

Marc Buhagiar is part of the Department of English Master of Arts programme.


Saving Malta’s Music Memory Maltese music is being lost. Along with it Malta loses its culture, way of life, and memories. Dr Toni Sant is trying to change this trend through the Malta Music Memory Project (M3P)

Dr Toni Sant


altese radio is dominated by American and British popular music from the last 60 years. What happened to music from the Maltese islands? Some local music is played but mostly from recent releases. There does not seem to be a sense of continuity between the music created now and that created in previous years, even by the same musicians. Part of the reason for this is that there is no cohesive multimedia database for Maltese music. I believe that no such thing exists because there is a lack of systematic organisation within


the local cultural sector. To fill this gap, I have gathered together a small group of Maltese music enthusiasts to create the Malta Music Memory Project (M3P), which was launched in September 2010. Our main aim is to preserve memories of Maltese music and associated arts for future generations. The project is not limited to music. It includes a more expansive cultural sphere such as broadcasting, theatre,

“Malta’s cultural memory can soon fade into anecdotal legend. There is a lack of scholarly research and an absence of longterm preservation strategies”

dance, visual arts, traditional rituals, sports, and other forms of expression. The project’s emphasis is music but it also includes other aspects of everyday life. Memory comes into the project since we want to gather personal perspectives, not just hard facts. Those who experience cultural phenomena generate memories that cannot be ignored in this age of new media. Malta’s cultural memory can soon fade into anecdotal legend. There is a lack of scholarly research and an absence of long-term preservation strategies. The problem is evident even without delving back into our distant past. The liberalisation of broadcasting in Malta in 1991 spawned a glut of uncollected documents and data. These have increased dramatically with the recent proliferation of digital technologies and the Internet. Popular music production has skyrocketed since about 30 years ago, when I first started my professional career as a broadcaster. Back then Malta had only one radio station, one television channel, three or four record »

THINK Feature



The Post Grads

There are currently four postgraduate students working on M3P-related project at the University of Hull, UK. Anthony Micallef-Grimaud and Darren Stephens have picked research topics that deal directly with the use of the MediaWiki software at the heart of the M3P, while Steve Borg and Neville Borg are focusing on specific aspects of the database contents, still under development, and ways that M3P can aid in the preservation and dissemination of knowledge about Maltese music and associated arts.

shops, and only a couple of multitrack recording studios. The situation now is noticeably different. It is impossible to preserve everything and countless unique memories might have already vanished. M3P has already started to prevent further loss by capturing detailed information about live performances and recordings from shows, studio sessions, public releases on CD, and the Internet, along with associated photos, posters, and similar materials. The database is also collecting details of technology used to create and document music; from recording equipment and live performances to individual websites and social networking tools. M3P is interested in both artists


and fans. By carefully collecting this data, the plan is to systematically gather the needed information in a short period of time over the coming years. In 2009, I proposed M3P in a journal paper. At that point, I expected collection contributions would come from the same people and venues creating the original artworks. As things turned out, the initial contributions came from a small team of individuals trying to create similar collections in specific genres. They have become the initial collaborators on M3P. Their contributions have become the main holdings in the collection. Yet there is plenty of room for more memories to be added to this database.

An open collaborative methodology The Wikimedia Movement inspires the ideology behind M3P. Like Wikimedia, founders of Wikipedia, M3P depends on volunteer contributions. M3P’s content will remain open and freely available. This can only be achieved through the contribution of networked individuals based around M3P’s wiki website ( All submitted data is analysed for content and connections between subjects. For example details about the musicians a particular singer has collaborated with becomes more evident as information about each of the collaborators enters the database through separate sources. This initial analysis often leads to the acquisition of further related contributions and the eventual expansion of

THINK Feature

the database beyond obviously related entries. We weed out unsolicited or irrelevant material without any overarching authority, just through collaboration among the core contributors. A small group of enthusiasts keep M3P running. I am rather keen to see this group grow over the coming years. The M3P Foundation — a Malta-registered voluntary organisation — coordinates this team and the project. Parallel to this, I also supervise four postgraduate students working on M3P research projects at the University of Hull’s Media and Memory Research Initiative (MaMRI), UK.

Studying Maltese music Researchers working on M3P volunteer tons of their time. This overwhelming support provides a vibrant framework within which research can develop.

“Malta’s national broadcaster, the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Ltd., has a long history of archival mismanagement” One study helped to see what factors influence collaboration. Another developed a framework to streamline interaction between memory repositories like M3P and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. While such projects are rather technical, any large online project needs a solid backbone, but our, other research has a broader appeal.

Steve Borg is devising a workflow model for recovering, preserving, and disseminating Maltese folk music through new media technology. He has recovered 207 reel-to-reel tapes containing about 500 hours of recordings of traditional għana from some of the genre’s best twentieth-century performers. Leli Muscat made the recordings (nicknamed il-Gexilli) over around twenty years, starting in the early 1960s. These unique recordings are one of our best finds, now at Malta’s National Archive, a clear example of material that needs preservation before being lost forever, either through neglect or a lack of professional preservation know-how. Borg is doing more than just preserving these music memories. Through the Internet-based M3P wiki, he is looking into innovative ways to talk about the people, venues and related aspects of these works. By sharing this »



knowledge openly others can be brought in to keep adding new information related to these resources.

Toward a comprehensive catalogue of Maltese music Right now M3P is compiling a comprehensive catalogue of all Maltese music

“What is Maltese about Maltese music other than the use of the Maltese language?”

released on CD. The group working on this niche catalogue comes from Malta, the UK, and Australia. Nothing close exists in Malta. It is beyond the scope of the National Archives of Malta, who do not have the resources to do the work rapidly enough, while the National Library lacks the legal means to enforce depositing non-paper-based works. Malta’s national broadcaster, the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Ltd., has a long history of archival mismanagement. Within this vacuum, private holdings of Maltese music have potentially much more staying power than any publicly funded institution. In 2014 M3P’s Maltese CD catalogue will be available online. In spite of this, the project will still need more

THINK Feature

Holding M3P Up

A number of funders and donors have helped establish and sustain the M3P to date, but current activities benefit greatly from grants by the British Academy and the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector. Software for audio CD preservation is supported by the JISC-funded Sustainable Preservation Using Community Engagement (SPRUCE) project, University of Leeds.

contributions to continue filling in the gaps and keep the catalogue up to date. As this is launched, the core team and public will move on to preserving and cataloging unique tape recordings. In this spirit, both the National Archives and PBS are looking to collaborate with M3P to provide a national infrastructure for audio-visual archiving with plans for long-term preservation. Once this material becomes readily available, it is likely that we can explore further academic research. I would very much like to see us conducting an evaluation of the ways online social media networks reinterpret national memory — especially for contemporary Maltese music. My big question is: what is Maltese about Maltese music other than the use of the Maltese language? Or, how do artists adopt and reconfigure motifs of national memory through music from Malta? With an eye on long-term preservation, we must actively engage in web archiving. No national agency is cur-

rently equipped to do this. In the process we are losing countless culturally significant materials. For all our good intentions, we at M3P cannot do this on our own. National institutions need to get in on the game through active long-lasting commitment. This intangible heritage is ours to preserve. If we don’t do it, who will?

To contribute to



FURTHER READING • Sant, T. (2009), ‘Addressing the need for a collaborative multimedia database of Maltese music,’ Journal of Music, Technology and Education 2: 2+3, pp. 89–96. • Sant, T. (2011), ‘Initial Work on the Malta Music Memory Project - and its connections with Oral History,’ Journal of Maltese History 2: 2, pp. 42–50.

From top: Ira Losco, Kurt Calleja (Photo by Kris Micallef), Beangrowers, Launch of M3P 45

An Intelligent

PILL Ing. Carl Azzopardi Prof. Ing. Kenneth Camilleri Dr Yulia Hicks 46

Doctors regularly need to use endoscopes to take a peek inside patients and see what is wrong. Their current tools are pretty uncomfortable. Biomedical engineer Ing. Carl Azzopardi writes about a new technology that would involve just swallowing a capsule

THINK Feature

made up of a flexible ‘tube’ with a camera at the tip. The tubes are flexible to let them wind through our internal piping, optical fibers shine light inside our bodies, and since the instrument is hollow it allows forceps or other instruments to work during the procedure. Two of the more common types of flexible endoscopes used nowadays are called gastroscopes and colonoscopes. These are used to examine your stomach and colon. As expected, they are inserted through your mouth or rectum. Michael was not comforted by such advancements. He was not enticed by »

Michael is a fictitious character

Being new to this, Michael had immediately gone home to look it up. The search results did not thrill him. The word ‘endoscope’ derives from the Greek words ‘endo’, inside, and ‘scope’, to view. Simply put, looking inside our body using instruments called endoscopes. In 1804, Phillip Bozzini created the first such device. The Lichtleiter, or light conductor, used hollow tubes to reflect light from a candle (or sunlight) onto bodily openings — rudimentary. Modern endoscopes are light years ahead. Constructed out of sleek, black polyurethane elastometers, they are



ichael* lay anxiously in his bed, looking up at his hospital room ceiling. ‘Any minute now’, he thought, as he nervously awaited his parents and doctor to return. Michael had been suffering from abdominal pain and cramps for quite some time. The doctors could not figure it out through simple examinations. He could not take it any more. His parents had taken him to a gut specialist, a gastroenterologist, who after asking a few questions, had simply suggested an ‘endoscopy’ to examine what is wrong.

A modern colonoscope — used nowadays to inspect a patient’s rectum. Inset: the tip of the colonoscope includes a camera, light, air outlet and water pipe. Photos by Edward Duca 47


the idea of having a flexible tube passed through his mouth or colon. The door suddenly opened. Michael jerked his head towards the entrance to see his smiling parents enter. Accompanying them was his doctor holding a small capsule. As he handed it over to Michael, he explained what he was about to give him. Enter capsule endoscopy. Invented in 2000 by an Israeli company, the procedure is simple. The patient just needs to swallow a small capsule. That is it. The patient can go home, the capsule does all the work automatically. The capsule is equipped with a miniature camera, a battery, and some LEDs. It starts to travel through the patient’s gut. While on its journey it snaps around four to thirty-five images every second. Then it transmits these wirelessly to a receiver strapped around the patient’s waist. Eventually the patient passes out the capsule and on his or her next visit to the hospital, the doctor can download all the images saved on the receiver. The capsule sounds like simplicity itself. No black tubes going down patients’ internal organs, no anxiety. Unfortunately, the capsule is not perfect. First of all, capsule endoscopy cannot replace flexible endoscopes. The doctors can only use the capsules to diagnose a patient. They can see the pictures and figure out what is wrong, but the capsule has no forceps that allow samples to be taken for analysis in a lab. Flexible endoscopes can also have cauterising probes passed through their hollow channels, which can use heat to burn off dangerous growths. The capsule has no such means. The above features make gastroscopies and colonoscopies the ‘gold standard’ for examining the gut. One glaring limitation remains: flexible endoscopes can-

not reach the small intestine, which lies squarely in the middle between the stomach and colon. Capsule endoscopy can examine this part of the digestive tract. A second issue with capsules is that they cannot be driven around. Capsules

“The patient just needs to swallow a small capsule. That is it. The patient can go home, the capsule does all the work automatically”

The Lichtleiter by Philip Bozzini – the ‘grandfather’ of today’s modern endoscopes 48

have no motors. They tend to go along for the ride with your own bodily movements. The capsule could be pointing in the wrong direction and miss a cancerous growth. So, the next generation of capsules are equipped with two cameras. This minimises the problem but does not solve it completely. The physical size of the pill makes these limitations hard to overcome. Engineers are finding it tricky to include mechanisms for sampling, treatment, or motion control. On the other hand, solutions to a third problem do exist. This difficulty relates to too much information. The capsule captures around 432,000 images over the 8 hours it snaps away. The doctor then needs to go through nearly all of these images to spot the problematic few. A daunting task that uses up a lot of time, increasing costs, and makes it easier to miss signs of disease. A smart solution lies in looking at image content. Not all images are useful. A large majority are snapshots of the stomach uselessly churning away, or else of the colon, far down from the site of interest. Doctors usually use capsule endoscopy to check out the small intestine. Medical imaging techniques come in handy at this point to distinguish between the different organs. Over the last year, the Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics (University of Malta) has carried out collaborative research with Cardiff University and Saint James Hospital to develop software which gives doctors just what they need. Following some discussions between these clinicians and engineers they quickly realised that images of the stomach and large intestine were mostly useless for capsule endoscopes.

THINK Feature

The simple alternative — a tiny capsule, equipped with a camera, some LEDs, and a resolute determination to travel through your digestive tract. Photo by Edward Duca

Inside the M2A™ Capsule

1. Optical dome 2. Lens holder 3. Lens 4. Illuminating LEDs (Light Emitting Diode) 5. CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) imager 6. Battery 7. ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) transmitter 8. Antenna

Identifying the boundaries of the small intestines and extracting just these images would simplify and speed up screening. The doctor would just look at these images, discarding the rest. Engineers Carl Azzopardi, Kenneth Camilleri, and Yulia Hicks developed a computer algorithm that could first and foremost tell the difference between digestive organs. An algorithm is a bit of code that performs a specific task, like calculating employees’ paychecks. In this case, the custom program developed uses image-processing techniques to examine certain features of each image, such as colour and texture, and then uses these to determine which organ the capsule is in. Take colours for instance. The stomach has a largely pinkish hue, the small intestine leans towards yellowish tones, while the colon (unsurprisingly perhaps) changes into a murky green. Such differences can be used to classify the different organs. Additionally, to quickly sort through thousands of images, the images need to be compacted. A specific histogram is used to amplify differences »



in colour and compress the information. These procedures make it easier and quicker for algorithm image processing. Texture is another unique organ quality. The small intestine is covered with small finger-like projections called villi. The projections increase the surface area of the organ, improving nutrient absorption into the blood stream. These villi give a particular ‘velvet-like’ texture to the images, and this texture can be singled out using a technique called Local Binary Patterns. This works by comparing each pixel’s intensity to its neighbours’, to determine whether these are larger or smaller in value than its own. For each pixel, a final number is then worked out which gauges whether an edge is present or not (see image). Classification is the last and most important step in the whole process. At this point the software needs to decide if an image is part of the stomach, small intestine, or large intestine. To help automatically identify images, the program is trained to link the factors described above with the different organ types by being shown a small subset of images. This data is known as the training set. Once trained, the software can then automatically classify new images from different patients on its own. The software developed by the biomedical engineers was tested first by classification based just on colours or texture, then testing both features together. Factoring both in gave the best results. After the images have been labeled, the algorithm can draw the boundaries between digestive organs. With the boundaries in place, the specialist can focus on the small intestine. At the press of a button countless hours and cash are saved.

The software is still at the research stage. That research needs to eventually be turned into a software package for a hospital’s day-to-day examinations. In the future, the algorithm could possibly be inserted directly onto the capsule. An intelligent capsule would be born creating a recording process capable of adapting to the needs of the doctor. It would show them just what they want to see.

“The software is still at the research stage. That research needs to be turned into a software package for a hospital’s day-to-day examinations”

Ideally the doctor would have it even easier with the software highlighting diseased areas automatically. The researchers at the University of Malta want to start automatically detecting abnormal conditions and pathologies within the digestive tract. For the specialist, it cannot get better than this. The result? A shorter and more efficient screening process that could turn capsule endoscopy into an easily accessible and routine examination. Shorter specialist screening times would bring down costs in the private sector and lessen the burden on public health systems. Michael would not need to worry any longer; he’d just pop a pill.

The author thanks Prof. Thomas Attard and Joe Garzia. The research work is funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta). The 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’

The view within — capsule endoscopy takes a number of snapshots of the digestive tract, revealing important anatomical details or illnesses 50

THINK Alumni


Improve wind tech or fuse engineering and biology after a University degree

Netherlands: a land of bikes, clogs, and research MARTINA CUSCHIERI MY JOURNEY STARTED in 2006, when I started my bachelor in Mechanical Engineering (University of Malta). My passion lay in Materials Engineering, so I focused my undergraduate thesis in this area. I studied ways of improving the corrosion resistance properties of Nitinol, an alloy of Nickel and Titanium. This material is used in many biomedical applications. I built an environment similar to the human body to test the material’s corrosion properties. After graduating in 2010, I took an M.Sc. in biomedical engineering and specialised in biomaterials (Delft University of Technology, Netherlands). Over this two-year programme as part of my technical internship, I worked at the Orthopaedics Research Department of the Erasmus Medical Centre (Rotterdam). I worked with two other Ph.D. students researching titanium scaffolds for bone defects. Following my internship, I moved back to Delft and performed another research project again on the alloy Ni-

tinol. We were using it to improve heart stents, tubes used to prop open blood vessels when they are clogged. I created a layer of a ceramic, porous Titanium dioxide, on the surface of Nitinol and then filled the pores with a novel drug that prevents the blockage of blood vessels. Heart stents sometimes fail by getting clogged, the slow release of the drug, which we monitored, would help prevent blockages hence heart attacks at a later date. But my time in Delft was not yet over. I remained at TU Delft to take up a two-year research position. This time I am researching how natural polymers can be used to make artifical cartilage tissue for patients who need it replaced — a challenging project since I am learning how to set up a new lab for a new subject.

Cuschieri was awarded a STEPS scholarship for her Masters studies, which is part-financed by the EU’s European Social Fund under Operational Programme II — Cohesion Policy 2007–2013.



Power of the Wind DANIEL BALDACCHINO MY PASSION FOR renewable energies was sparked off during my undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Malta. Thanks to ERASMUS, I studied at the University of Strathclyde which had a Renewable Energy course that, at the time, was not offered in Malta. I spent the last year of my bachelor studies designing and testing part of a wind tunnel to simulate atmospheric wind conditions. This test setup allowed for more realistic wind turbine experiments than previous efforts. Although I wanted to further my career in wind energy, I opted first to broaden my knowledge in the field of renewables by enrolling for the Masters in Sustainable Energy Technology at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in August 2010. Over the first year, I worked on several projects. They included designing


a smart grid which was presented at the European Joint Research Centre ( JRC). I also helped develop an innovative thermal energy plant that exploits temperature differences between the ocean surface and deep-water (>1km deep) in tropical waters to generate electricity. Over the second year, I again carried out research in wind energy. At the famed Wind Energy Research Institute of Delft University called DUWIND, I looked into the effect wind turbines can have on each other. When wind turbine blades cut through the wind they can change its direction. This can reduce the efficiency of nearby wind turbines making them produce less energy. My results showed that a turbine’s effect on nearby systems diminishes when the wind distortion it causes is limited either by the wind’s inherent instability or other by properties like its proximity

to the ground. By exploiting these wind qualities, a wind farm’s efficiency can be improved by up to 15%. After my Masters I worked for a year at Eindhoven as a flow and thermal analyst at Segula Technologies Consultancy. I developed new components for a company’s cutting edge lithography machines and for fuel cell system development for BOSAL engineering. Now I have managed to secure a Ph.D. scholarship in wind turbine blade aerodynamics, continuing the work I started in my Masters at DUWIND. This time I am looking into the influence of small flow control devices on the performance of large (10 MW) wind turbines.

Baldacchino was awarded a STEPS scholarship for his Masters studies, which is part-financed by the EU’s European Social Fund under Operational Programme II — Cohesion Policy 2007–2013.


TECH REVIEW by Dr Kenneth Scerri

Time to buy a

JUST A FEW years back, mobile phones could make and receive a call, store a few numbers, and that’s it. That’s all they could do. Over the last few years, phones have grown ‘smarter’; they can surf the web, take photos, keep up-to-date on Facebook and Twitter, play games and music, read books and much much more. Many argue that our watches are next in line for such a transformation. And considering the excitement brought about by the recent announcements of the smartwatch from Samsung, the Galaxy Gear, few will argue against that. Samsung is not the only player vying for the big potential return of smartwatches. Another heavyweight in the technology business, Sony, has been on board for a few years and have just announced their SmartWatch2. Many small start-ups have also joined the furore delivering watches such as the Pebble, the Martian Passport, the Kreyos Meteor, the Wimm One, the Strata Stealth and the rather unimaginatively named: I’m watch. All these smartwatches provide basic features such as instant notifications of incoming calls, smses, facebook updates, and tweets through a bluetooth connection with a paired phone. They often also allow mail reading and music control. With so many players and no clear winner, the technology still needs to mature. Sony and Samsung use colour LED-based displays. Their setbacks are poor visibility in direct sunlight and a weak one-day battery life. Oth-

ers use electronic ink, the same screen as e-readers, with excellent visibly and much improved battery life, sadly in black and white or limited colour. User interaction also varies. While the Pebble and the Meteor favour a button-based interface, all other players utilise touch and voice control. The differences do not stop there. Not all watches are waterproof – and do you really want to be taking off your watch every time you wash your hands? Also, some watches, like the I’m watch, provide a platform for app development, with new apps available for download every day. One big player is still missing. Rumours of Apple’s imminent entry into the smartwatch business have been circling for a couple of years. While guessing Apple’s watch name is easy — the iWatch, the technology has been kept under covers. As with other Apple products, their watch will not be first to market. Are they again waiting for the technology to evolve enough to bring out another game changer like the iPod, the iPhone, and more recently, the iPad? Only time will tell. My biggest problem with any smartwatch available is that none seem truly ‘smart’. Smartwatches seem like little dumb accessories to their smart big brothers — the phones. I am waiting for a watch to become smart enough to replace my phone before jumping on the smartwatch bandwagon.

• Gadget rating: • • • • •

Pebble Watches

Main picture: Galaxy Gear by Samsung

smart watch?

Sony SmartWatch2

Martian Passport

I’m Watch


. 76. 75. 74. 73. 7 . 77 2. 7 78 1 .7 9. 0. 69 . 6 8. 67, 66 65, 64. 63. 6 2. 38. 37 9 . 36 61 . 1. . 25 .6 . 34. 33. 32. 31. 30 .

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BOOK REVIEW by The Editor

20. 19. 1 8. 1 7 . 16

. 1 5. 14. 13

. 11. 10. 9. 12



. 7 . 6. 5. 4

100 WORD 0. 59. 58 .5 2. 1 7. 3.

ideas to change MALTA Make light talk to light

by DR ANDRÉ XUEREB Technology has made the world a very small place. Using light has transformed communication systems and a web of optical fibres span beneath our streets. This technology is no panacea since light cannot talk to another light beam: currently, ‘translators’ are needed. We want to push forward research into technologies that remove this requirement, addressing both commercial considerations and the underlying mechanisms. Our research is using exotic effects of quantum mechanics to help cut out the middleman and make light talk to light. This would increase speed, make security unbreakable, and improve energy efficiency. Malta’s communication technology would be revolutionised.


David K. Randall Quill rating:

DAVID K. RANDALL woke up on his back, his leg bent at an awkward angle, in excruciating pain. To figure out why, he wrote a book about the science of sleep. Clever. Clever doubles as a nice summary of the book. Another book summary: sleep rules your life. Get a good night’s sleep or else everything suffers: your creativity, memory, attitude, ability to think straight, control your emotions, react to emergencies, sex life, and work. Lack of sleep has cost lives; to sleep is to live. An extreme statement but Randall holds a very good argument. Zlatko Glusica, an Air India pilot, woke up just before landing and tried to bring a plane down safely with a sluggish brain whose higher brain functions were down. In this state we might talk to lamps, Glusica instead killed himself and 157 others. Lack of sleep and truck drivers are another bad idea, while battles have been lost because of sleep. Sleep prevents disasters. The book is well researched. Randall fires factoid after research study at the reader in a pleasant easy to read style. You’ll learn about the dangers of the first sleeping pill that is now a 30 billion dollar industry, how one in five sleepwalk, and how one in four middle aged men have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea happens when the airway collapses in either obese people or those with a narrowed throat. A minute can pass before the sufferer briefly wakes up and desperately gulps down some oxy-

gen. Most apnea patients are unaware of their condition. It leads to disrupted sleep and less productivity, memory loss, and heart attacks. Sufferers can use a simple device that gently pushes air into the lungs as an instant cure. The book is filled with great advice like the above. It’s simple, without hocus pocus, and doesn’t need overly expensive equipment. Relax. Don’t try to sleep too hard. Your brain must disassociate itself from the rest of your body. Don’t drink alcohol or coffee. Expose yourself to light, but not late at night, at night dim lights, avoid screens. Don’t sleep too hot or too cold, the body is meant to cool after 10 pm — let it. Exercise. Simple. Randall covers an immense range of research and topics. This is where the book’s problems start. He did a lot of research and wants us to know that. At other times, he rambles. A stricter editor would have helped the book. The author only glosses over hardcore scientific studies. He mentions some science behind daily rhythms in Chapter 9. The book only has 13 chapters. He hardly even mentions the genes or molecular biology related to sleep. The scientist inside me died a little death. There are some amazing stories he missed out on by focusing on the lighter human studies. Don’t take the above too harshly. Dreamland is a great book to learn more about sleep, just avoid late night tablet reading. You have been warned.


GAME REVIEW by Costantino Oliva

Attack of The Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale NOT A 50 HOUR long blockbuster, not a 30 second casual game: Attack of The Friday Monsters is an experiment with a new, middle sized format. The game presents a day in the life of an 8 year old kid. The oneiric, nostalgic storyline is a masterfully paced intense adventure that feels just right. Downloadable from the Nintendo 3DS eShop, the game is set in a ‘70s Japanese town, where our hero Sohta and

Production: LEVEL-5 Platform: Game rating: his family just moved in. Told from the kid’s perspective, the events are open to interpretation: apparently, Godzilla-like monsters attack every Friday. On the same day, a TV show also packed with monsters is produced and aired in town. What is the secret behind these attacks? And is there a connection between fact and fiction? Don’t expect to engage in massive monster fights in Attack of The Friday


Monsters. The game focuses on talking with villagers, meeting new friends, and strolling in a beautiful countryside town. It really makes you feel like a kid again encouraging a relaxed kind of roleplay. At €7.99, Attack of The Friday Monsters proves that digital downloads can be a great way to introduce audiences to new formats and concepts. It introduces a poetical take on games.

Send your questions to and we’ll find out if it’s the truth or just a fib!

Will robots take over the world? «»

Unlikely, for the next 100 years. Academics and sci-fi writers take three rough approaches. We will become one with the bots by integrating computers into our body achieving the next stage of evolution. Or, robots will become so powerful so quickly that we’ll become their slaves, helpless to stop them — think the Matrix. Or, robots have certain technological hurdles that will take ages to overcome. Let’s analyse those hurdles. Computing power: no problem. Manufacturing expense: no problem. Artificial intelligence: could take decades, but we are already mapping and replicating the human brain through computers. Energy: very difficult to power such energy-hungry devices in a

mobile way; battery or portable energy generation has a long way to go. The desire to enslave humanity: would require Asmiov’s trick or a mad computer scientist to programme it into the bot’s code. Conclusion: unlikely, sleep easy tonight.

Is Time Travel possible?


Theory says yes; practicality says no. Thanks to Einstein time travel is possible. The easiest way is travelling very close to the speed of light. Achieve 99.5% close to light speed means that in 5 years you travel 50 years. Goodbye friends and family you left behind. The harder way is creating a wormhole, a device that can bend space and time, looping it on itself to go into the future or past. The energy required would rival the energy of the stars. Sorry Sci-Fi fans.




by Noel Tanti

Cockneys vs Zombies AT A SITE in East London, two construction workers inadvertently unearth the tomb belonging to the late King Charles II. Upon entering the crypt, they are assaulted, bitten and unkilled by former plague victims. Meanwhile, brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway), with their cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), are planning a bank heist. The trio concoct this heinousness with a noble intent: saving their grandad’s (Alan Ford) retirement home from being demolished by heartless property developers. But of course, everything goes pear-shaped when the entire neighbourhood is invaded by hordes of the undead. Cockneys and zombies: that’s what the title promises and that’s exactly what it delivers. Given the self-consciously schlocky title, you would expect a crudely-made, amateurish production,


the likes of which litter the internet. The truth is, thankfully, very different. Cockneys has quite a high production value. It’s not World War Z but footage of London enfolded in chaos and mayhem is rendered in good quality CG, as are the close-up shots of carnage. Still, one problem with comedy zombie flicks is that they will forever be in the shadow of Edgar Wright’s masterful Shaun of the Dead (2004). Shaun was a perfect storm of comedy, horror, excellent production, inspired casting, and fortuitous timing. Just as everybody was trying to get his/her head around the seemingly dubious merits and immense popularity of torture porn horror films (Saw and The Passion of the Christ were both released in 2004), in waltzed Messrs. Wright, (Simon) Pegg and (Nick) Frost who made everybody’s sides split with laughter.

Film: Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)


Director: Matthias Hoene Certification: PG-13 Gore rating: SSSSS

Luckily, even though Cockneys vs Zombies is nowhere near as brilliant as Shaun, it still can hold its head high. Director Matthias Hoene and writers James Moran (Severance, 2005) and Lucas Roche touch upon, but don’t expand much, on the zombie-as-metaphor angle. They just want to play it for laughs and get more hits than misses. The scene in which poor old Hamish (Richard Briers) is being chased by the notoriously slow-moving zombies is pure gold and West Ham United supporters can put their mind at rest that, even after death, the feud with Millwall still rages on. In an inspired scene, we are at last shown that even infants are not immune to a zombie infestation. Cockneys is no (early) George A. Romero and does not aspire to be. It just wants you to relax, pop some corn, sip on soda, and enjoy a zombie-tour around the streets of East London.

THINK Research

The future is bright The future is research


oday’s world is unforgiving; we cannot slack. Be it students in academic pursuits, or executives in professional ones, the need to create new things and innovate is essential to keep up with ever-changing times. The RIDT believes that University and its students are the cradle of all needed change. Our aim is to continue promoting and stimulating research within our Campus community. We believe that our students carry this important message best. For this reason, the RIDT has embarked on campaigns and initiatives to gather more interest and feedback from University students and alumni. The RIDT participated in the annual KSU Freshers’ Week. Here we met and greeted thousands of students just starting out their degrees. At the same time, we launched our Facebook page to regularly update and engage with students. We succeeded in attracting nearly 1,000 followers in less than two months from launch. We felt that this was not enough, and in order to further engage our online audience, we enticed them to become closer to University research. With this in mind, we launched a fresh online competition, the UoM Research Challenge, where participants had to answer questions about research happening at University. The competition was sponsored by GO, who donated an iPad Mini for the fastest person to complete the

challenge. We have plenty of fresh, innovative concepts lined up for the New Year. Throughout December, the RIDT is collaborating with KSU and l-Istrina to promote research within the University and the local community. We want to reach out to raise awareness that research is a tool that can make everyone’s lives better. Many people throughout the world suffer from various socio-economic problems, ranging from deadly diseases and famine to poverty and unemployment. Through research we can truly make a difference

Mario Cachia RIDT Campaign Officer

to all of these people and we want to start here, from home. By fostering a sense of awareness and belonging within our students and alumni, we can look forward to a bright future. In this future, we would be proud of a University making a difference in Malta and the rest of the world.

RIDT is the University’s Research Trust aimed towards fostering awareness and fundraising for high-calibre local research. For more information, visit or find RIDT on Facebook

Christopher Curmi, winner of the UoM Research Challenge, awarded an iPad Mini by the RIDT CEO Wilfred Kenely. Photo by Edward Duca 57

Research MEME


culture genes


Work Placement Scheme Interested in offering a work placement with your firm? Contact DegreePlus to get involved. +356 2340 2092 DegreePlus is an initiative of the University of Malta sponsored by Bank of Valletta

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