Issuu on Google+

OCTOBER 2016 • ISSUE 17

ISSN 2306-0735

I D E A S

M A LTA

R E S E A RC H

P E O P L E

U N I V E R S I TY

DIGITAL EDITION


SOCIAL POLICY ksu.org.mt

SILENCE IS ONE OF THE HARDEST ARGUMENTS TO REFUTE

DEBATE

society league. EMA IL SOCI A L PO L I CY@KS U.ORG. M T FOR MO RE IN F O.


FIND US ONLINE

To read all our articles featuring some extra content www.um.edu.mt/think

EDITORIAL

To follow our daily musings and a look behind the scenes www.facebook.com/ThinkUoM

WHEN THE WORLD WORKS TOGETHER

To communicate with us and follow the latest in research news www.twitter.com/think

S

ometimes humanity does things greater than itself. Unfortunately, such success led to the atomic bomb. On better days, these achievements benefit everyone. CERN

is the prime example. It gave rise to the Internet, new medical treatments, and has helped us understand what all matter in the Universe is made up of; in turn it helps us understand ourselves. Last year Malta became an Associate Member of the ALICE Collaboration,

To see our best photos and illustrations www.instagram.com/thinkuni

one of CERNs major experiments. The UoM (University of Malta) unlocked networks that will help solidify a long-standing collaboration. Our focus celebrates this achievement (pgs. to 15-31). THINK does not shy away from controversial topics. This issue has student research on attitudes towards pornography amongst UoM students

To view some great videos www.youtube.com/user/ThinkUni

(pg. 12) and a feature on how to ethically care for the terminally ill to reduce suffering (pg. 39). Other research coming out of Mater Dei Hospital (in collaboration with UoM biomedical engineers) has developed an automatic technique to easily and quickly take heat maps of hands and feet to see if a

To read all our printed magazines online

patient has diabetes (see pg. 44).

www.issuu.com/thinkuni

Risk is central to all our lives. Humans are pretty bad at figuring out what’s risky business, Professor Noellie Brockdorff explains why (pg. 35). Other features show the diversity of research at UoM, which ranges from how PV panels can be used more cleverly (pg. 50) to research showing how the history of maps reflects changes in society (pg. 56). We have even managed to fit a short featurette about how game developer Rami Ismail believes

For our archive from the University of Malta Library www.um.edu.mt/library/oar

Malta is ripe for a blossoming indie gaming scene (pg. 32). This issue is packed with digital art exhibitions, migrant issues, satellite dishes, student and alumni articles, and a ready-to-burst fun section full of reviews and comics.

Edward Duca

EDITOR

edward.duca@um.edu.mt @DwardD

CONTRIBUTE

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

1


COVER STORY

CONTENTS ISSUE 17 � OCTOBER 2016 TOOLKIT

Radio Telescope

4 WITHOUT BORDERS

6

From immigrants to theology

DESIGN

8

L-għ 10

Push the button

OPINION

Counting pennies for creativity

Malta is now an Associate Member of the ALICE Experiment that forms part of CERN—the largest experiment in the world. Our focus celebrates this achievement. The design by Roberta Scerri adopts a 1960s comic book style from the pop art movement.

13

STUDENTS

ALICE FOCUS

Galactic rotation dynamics in modified gravity

11

Initiating ALICE

15

PORN: How do we feel about it?

12

Curious matters

20

Thin coatings for better hips

13

Further down the rabbit hole

24

Using muscle activity to control machines

14

Analysing ALICE: finding order in chaos

28

15

CONTRIBUTORS TOOLKIT Author: Abigail Galea Scientist: Dr Jackson Levi Said

STUDENT ARTICLES Nicola Falzon Andrew Finch Christian Grech Antonino Mazzonello

WITHOUT BORDERS Rev. Dr Stefan Attard Dr Pauline Dimech

RESEARCH ARTICLE Wilfred Kenely

DESIGN ARTICLE Malcolm Bonello

CULTURE ARTICLE Valletta 2018 Foundation

OPINION Matthew Caruana

ALICE FOCUS Dr Johann A. Briffa, Dr Keith Bugeja Cassi Camilleri

Dr Ing. Owen Casha Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt Yasmine Gatt Prof. Paolo Giubellino David Reuben Grech Lars Lorenz Dr Gianluca Valentino Dr Kevin Vella FEATURE ARTICLES Joseph Aldape Dr Ing. Maurice Apap Dr Claude Bajada Ing. Jurgen Bonavia Prof. Noellie Brockdorff Prof. Ing. Kenneth Camilleri

Prof. Kevin Cassar Prof. Nachiappan Chockalingham Christian Ellul Dr Owen Falzon Dr Cynthia Formosa Dr Alfred Gatt Yasmine Gatt Jean Gauci Ritienne Gauci Rami Ismail Prof. Pierre Mallia Tuovi Mäkipere Anabelle Mizzi Stephen Mizzi Cassandra Sturgeon

Dr William Zammit ALUMNI ARTICLE Veronica Stivala Ian Zammit FUN ARTICLES David Chircop Andrea Marie Cini Alexander Hili Dr Ġorġ Mallia Charlo Pisani Dr Jackson Levi Said ILLUSTRATIONS Roberta Scerri

THINK is a quarterly research magazine published by the Marketing, Communications & Alumni Office at the University of Malta To subscribe to our blog log into www.um.edu.mt/think/subscribe and fill in your details. � For advertising opportunities, please call 2340 3475 or get in touch by email on think@um.edu.mt Advertising rates are available on www.um.edu.mt/think/advertise

2


FEATURE

What do you need to setup an indie gaming community?

Rami Ismail shares his thoughts about how Malta can become an indie gaming hub

FEATURE

32

Politics, policy & risky business

35

Make policy using evidence; how scientists can help

FEATURE

Care till death do us part

RESEARCH

39

Giving back to the research community

43

Does death need to be painful? Not everyone thinks so

FEATURE

Attacking the silent epidemic of diabetes

FEATURE

44

Let it shine Using Malta’s greatest resource: sunshine

A new automated way to detect the disease early and stop it

50 56

FEATURE

CULTURE

Cultural regeneration through urban spaces and places

Charting space and time Maps show the way

62 71 66 FUN

ALUMNI

Reviews (Books, Film, Game)

Curiosity saved the cat Ian Zammit talks about water recycling around Europe

THINK I D E A S

M A LTA

R E S E A RC H

P E O P L E

U N I V E R S I TY

OCTOBER 2016 - ISSUE 17

EDITORIAL

Edward Duca EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Cassi Camilleri ASSISTANT EDITOR DESIGN

Jean Claude Vancell DESIGNER Roberta Scerri ASSISTANT DESIGNER COPYEDITING

69–71

100 word idea: Think critically, think Malta

72

What is more addictive: cannabis or coffee?

72

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

Veronica Stivala PROOF READING

Daphne Pia Deguara, Patricia Camilleri, Pierre Cassar PRINTING

Gutenberg Press, Malta

3


Toolkit

TOOLKIT

4


Radio Telescope

M

alta now has a radio telescope. This is

to voltage readings in the feed. The converted

a great step forward for the University

signal is then transmitted to a digitiser that

of Malta as it helps speed up research. The Department of Physics, Faculty of Science and

converts these signals into bits and bytes. The digitised signals are then processed and broken

the Institute of Space Sciences & Astronomy (ISSA;

down into the different frequency counterparts

both at the University of Malta) have just acquired

(similar to what a car radio does with the radio

a 5.3m dual-reflector parabolic dish, as part of a

waves it receives from its antenna), which allows

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) project

for continuum observation of the skies above.

to extend postgraduate research lab facilities. The radio

The telescope provides a test-bed for several

telescope will now allow students and researchers to

research initiatives being undertaken at ISSA.

study celestial objects such as the sun or the centre

Some of its specialisations include improving the

of the galaxy through the radio waves they emit.

hardware and software processing back-ends

When pointed to a radio-loud celestial object

for radio telescopes. The on-site telescope can

(an object which emits large amounts of radio

speed up this sort of research immensely. ISSA is

waves, such as the sun), the telescope will receive

part of the largest radio telescope project in the

radio waves from these sources and convert them

world: the SKA (Square Kilometre Array).

QUICK SPECS • Dish diameter: 5.3m

• Total weight (including pedestal): 1900 kg

• Feed horns: L-Band and K-band

• Surface accuracy: 0.5mm

• Gain: 44 dBi @ 4GHz

• PC-based automated control unit

Toolkit

• Observing modes: Continuum and line observation

5


WITHOUT

BORDERS From immigrants to theology O

ver 1.82 million migrants entered the

and Health. At the third stage, a symposium

EU in 2015 and this has triggered much

on ‘Mercy and the Immigrant’ was held on 6

dialogue across member states. In May 2015,

June 2016. The symposium brought together

the Archbishop of Malta, H.G. Mons Charles

interested parties and agency representatives

J. Scicluna, after the Vatican announcement

to reflect on the issue. This provided a platform

of the Year of Mercy, reached out to the

for a dialogue between theologians and society.

academic community to reflect on the immigrant

Rev. Dr René Micallef S.J. (Gregorian University in

phenomenon. This call set in motion The Mercy

Rome) spoke about the mercy, justice, and policies

Project, which aims to create a set of reflections

needed to be considered by Malta and the rest of

and recommendations around immigration.

the EU.

The project has four stages. It first reflected

The final forth step is underway. A publication

on the issues of mercy and immigration within

of the project’s position papers is being prepared.

the Maltese context. During this stage, staff

This will make available to various sectors of the

members from various University of Malta (UoM)

public some of the philosophical, social, legal,

faculties explored the local situation, reflecting

educational, and theological ideas which surfaced

on the terminology used, prevailing concepts and

during the project’s dialogues and consultations.

current practices. This was followed by a second

It will provide concrete recommendations for the

stage. Academics held meetings to discuss various

University of Malta, State, and the Church.

Without Borders

viewpoints and realities around migration. Those

6

involved included members from the Faculties of

Dr Pauline Dimech and Rev. Dr Stefan Attard are

Theology, Arts, Social Wellbeing, Laws, Education,

the project co-ordinators.


LESVOS, GREECE October 12, 2015: Refugees arriving in Greece in a dinghy boat from Turkey. These Syrian, Afghanistan and African refugees land their boat at the North coast of Lesvos. Photo: Anjo Kan / Shutterstock.com

Without Borders

Photos above: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com

7


DESIGN L-g침 L-

g침 is a thoughtful, innovative, and interactive exhibition. The reaction it provokes is from the very base of the

senses and is the first final year project exhibition from BFA in Digital Arts degree students organised by the Department of Digital Arts, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences. The exhibitors chose an intriguing moniker: the most enigmatic and iconic rune in the Maltese alphabet (L-g침). Together they used it as a starting point and explored the thematic elements it connotes. The students tapped into six themes and developed twelve projects. Despite majoring in animation or graphic design, each artist worked with a subject they discovered and developed over several months. Creativity and variety are abundant, with projects ranging from audio-visual experiments and curatorial work to interactive documentaries and highly thematic visual material. The body of research and thought behind each project sheds recognition on conceptual and creative transformations currently occurring in the practice of art and design. They shift the boundaries of art, design, and media and how they can be used together.

Design

L-g침, the Degree Exhibition of the BFA in Digital Arts (Department of Digital Arts, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta). Artists: Ramon Azzopardi, Matthew Calleja, Caroline Curmi, Darryl Farrugia, Danika Muscat, Angele Pollacco, Lucrezia Rapa, Pascale Spiteri, Michelle Trapani, Siobhan Vassallo, Matthew Vella and Ryan Zammit Pawley.

8


9

Design


Counting pennies for creativity Matthew Caruana

C

rowdfunding has proven to be a

recipients benefit from local context and

revolutionary business-financing

backing, backers need not be based in Malta at

phenomenon. From an A to Z list

all. By giving local creators the space to attract

of every indie game, record or

funding in the most efficient way, Zaar aims

publication imaginable, to rebuilding

not only to fuel dreams, but to fulfil them.

homes, rehoming puppies and sending people

That being said, Zaar is not just about financing,

to the Olympics, crowdfunding platforms have

and one of the company’s core values is about

shown they can be just the right kind of push

getting good ideas out in the open. In operation

to get hatchlings to fly the nest. Having a local

for seven months, the platform has managed to

crowdfunding platform gives entrepreneurs

fund everything from album launches to charity

and communities in Malta a unique edge.

events. Some of the most successful offspring to

Crowdfunding is a place where local

date include: a soon-to-be launched Pet Cabin at

ideas, concepts and projects meet and can

Mater Dei; eeMod—a modular and multi-functional

receive public support. But, in a world of

platform for makers, engineers, and students;

large crowdfunding opportunities across the

funding for the UoM student racing team to build

globe, what does Malta actually stand to gain

a new formula style car; and a project to bring

by having a platform with a local focus?

graphic novels to Malta’s Public Library. Without

Financing options on the Maltese Islands are notoriously limited. Over 70 per cent of small-tomedium enterprises (SMEs) resort to traditional

a little push from Zaar to get public interest going, none of these projects may have made it. Local crowdfunding also opens up new avenues

lending services like bank loans and overdrafts.

for researchers and their projects. Governmental

Getting a new business off the ground is a

and EU funds are becoming harder to come by,

daunting task, and 30% of local entrepreneurs

but Zaar ensures that every researcher who has

admit to finding difficulty in securing investments.

ever been told that their field lacks the appeal

Enter Zaar, the donation and reward-based

for funds, at least has the opportunity to try.

crowdfunding platform set up by the Malta

For the first time, people have the chance to

Business Bureau and the University of Malta

fund studies that they want to see done, and

[UoM]. The idea initially was to help bridge gaps

the thought of that is genuinely exciting.

in the market when it comes to financing for

Crowdfunding is going to be a game

start-ups, innovation, and research projects.

changer for innovation, and Zaar has the

A local crowdfunding platform helps local

first pin down on the local map.

Opinion

companies by bypassing the legal and bureaucratic

10

obstacles that come with using international

 matthew@zaar.com.mt

platforms. While projects targeting Maltese

zaar.com.mt


STUDENTS

Galactic rotation dynamics in modified gravity Andrew Finch

I

n the last 100 years, Einstein’s theory of general relativity has proven invaluable to explain the

Andrew Finch (supervised by Dr Jackson Levi Said) is looking into the new concept of treating

nature of the universe. That being said, Einstein’s

gravity as a torsional dominated system instead of

model of gravity does at times fail to comply with

a curvature dominated one, which is the concept

what we actually observe when looking up at the

explained by general relativity. The new models

night sky.

are being developed with the intention of agreeing

Galaxies offer one of the most impressive

with galactic rotation curves while managing to

laboratories where general relativity just does

explain everything that general relativity already

not work. Stellar objects in galaxies tend to orbit

does. It is only possible to vigorously test such

the galactic centre of mass. General relativity

models because of the large amount of freely

predicts that as one goes further from the centre

available data which has been gathered on

of the galaxy, these orbital speeds drop off.

galaxies. As models are obtained, the cluster in the

Observational data shows that these velocities

ISSA (Institute of Space Science and Astronomy)

tend to stay constant along the radius of a galaxy.

laboratory is being used in order to determine

However, dark matter can be artificially introduced

model parameters. Using this data, Finch aims to

to account for this. The other argument is that such

compare Einstein’s theory with the new model

failures indicate the inability of general relativity

being developed. Will it improve on Einstein’s

to fully explain how the universe works. If this is

ideas? Only Finch will tell…

alternative or modified theories of gravity. Such

This research is being performed as part of a

theories would have to be capable of correctly

Masters Degree in Astrophysics being read at

explaining all observed phenomena including those

the Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy,

that general relativity fails to produce.

University of Malta.

Students

so, it seems necessary to construct what are called

11


PORN: How do we feel about it? Nicola Falzon

A

round 13% of all internet

Raw data was collected through

searches can be linked to

online surveys, of which 261 UoM

research in the first place? Primarily,

keywords related to erotic material,

students participated. The data was

further studies into pornography

while by 2017 it is estimated that

analysed using SPSS and data sets

can contribute towards the field of

about a quarter of a billion people

were compared between males and

psychology, first by deepening the

will be accessing pornography on

females, older and younger adults,

understanding of the phenomena, and

mobile devices. While by far not a

and then compared to previous local

secondly because it directly effects

recent phenomenon, the widespread

and international research. Similar

how treatment can be improved

use and growth of the internet has

to information obtained through

when porn causes a negative effect.

made pornography common and

literature reviews, the results showed

Also, new methods of therapy and

easy to access. So why pornography?

significant differences in the attitude

counselling could be developed to

What more do we really need to

towards pornography between men

help with addiction that can cause

know? And what is the point of

and women. Males were shown to

relationship issues. Other problems

such research anyway? From a

watch pornography more frequently

include excessive masturbation that

psychological point of view, the visible

and had a more positive attitude,

can lead to isolation from real life

increase of use needs to be studied,

while females considered pornography

relationships and sexual practice.

particularly in Malta, since very little

to be harmful. However, both males

Research can also help influence

research has been conducted.

and females answered similarly on

changes in social policy, for example

the majority of survey statements.

by including ‘Porn Literacy’ in sex

Students

Nicola Falzon (supervised by

12

So, what is the point of such

education—currently absent. In

Dr Nicholas Briffa) focused her

Attitudes towards porn might

undergraduate research on the

be more similar than previously

Malta, 41% of 16- to 18-year-olds

attitudes towards pornography; she

assumed. There were no significant

are sexually active; many learnt about

looked into the literature regarding

age differences in the frequency

sexual practices and pleasure from

the effects of addiction, among other

of use or views of porn as harmful.

the internet, films, and video. It is no

psychological implications. Despite

Younger adults displayed a more

longer convenient to remain naïve

the grave implications the field may

positive attitude to porn than their

at the expense of public health.

imply, this study showed that not all

older counterparts. Finally, while

effects are necessarily detrimental.

most female respondents agreed

This research was carried out as

University of Malta (UoM) students

that access to pornography should

part of a Bachelor in Psychology at

were found to have a fairly relaxed

be restricted, a strong majority did

the Faculty for Social Wellbeing,

and liberal attitude towards it.

not agree it should be illegal.

University of Malta.


Thin coatings for better hips Antonino Mazzonello This new dual-coated material

y the year 2030, due to the

hostile environment. The problem with

rise in age-expectancy and

stainless steels is that despite this

promises to be an ideal candidate for

accompanying increase in frequency

natural coat, tribocorrosion processes

hip joint implants. Apart from being

in bone-weakening conditions,

at the joints still form debris leading

harder and more resistant, its low

total hip replacement surgeries will

to problems for the patient and

friction means that less effort would

increase by 174%. One of the most

implant failure. Such failure can cause

be required to move the joint. The

important facets of implant surgery

severe pain and expense when the hip

encouraging results mean that in the

is biocompatibility. Durable implants

implant needs to be replaced.

near future this technology could be

that are biocompatible with human

Antonino Mazzonello (supervised

implemented in clinics. Mallia points

tissue are needed to prevent rejection

by Dr Ing. Bertram Mallia and Dr Ing.

out that ‘such multi-layered coatings

and failure. And with this logarithmic

Joseph Buhagiar), is investigating a

may offer a giant step in increased

expected rise, the need for longer

new type of coating on hip implants.

durability for a relatively small

lasting implants will be needed more

He is analysing the corrosion-wear

additional expense.’

than ever before.

performance of a dual-layer coating made up of a Chrome-Nitride (Cr-N)

This research is being performed

implants are the most common

layer followed by a Cobalt-Chrome-

as part of a Master’s degree in

type. These, however, have a limited

Molybdenum-Carbide (Co-Cr-Mo-C)

Mechanical Engineering,

durability, often requiring surgery

layer deposited on top of low-

which Antonino Mazzonello

to be replaced after a decade.

temperature carburised stainless

is reading at the Faculty of

The combined action of wear and

steel (the coatings are made by Prof.

Engineering, University of Malta.

corrosion (termed tribocorrosion),

Peter Dearnely [Boride Services Ltd.].

The research is supported by

brought about by friction during joint

This treatment is owned and carried

an Endeavour Scholarship. This

movements and the body’s aggressive

out by Bodycote Plc. The top layer

scholarship is part-financed by the

environment, causes implant failure. A

reduces friction while the bottom

European Union; European Social

material called biomedical grade 316

layer toughens the coating, reducing

Fund under Operational Programme

LVM stainless steel is commonly used

its removal. When the dual-layered

II (ESF) 2014-2020, “Investigating

in hip-joint implants. It naturally forms

stainless steel is compared to the

in human capital to create more

a thin oxide film on its surface that

untreated steel, the treated material is

opportunities and promote the

protects the material from the body’s

more resistant to wear and corrosion.

wellbeing of society”.

Currently, metallic biomedical

Students

B

13


Using muscle activity to control machines Christian Grech

I

ndependent living is important to

The problem is that most of these

muscle activity of a person. This consists

devices make use of sequential

of an HMI which continuously provides

fact that there are many cases where

control, where only one function can

the shoulder and elbow joint positions

physical problems prevent people

be articulated at a time— meaning

using surface muscle movements.

from living without care. To help

fluid, life-like motions are impossible.

Grech tested the model to develop

people regain some independence in

Now, most daily activities need

more freedom, which would lead to

their lives there are systems such as

simultaneous movement with multiple

fluid movements. He investigated

Human to Machine Interfaces (HMI).

degrees of freedom. And it is this

three types of system identification

Systems such as these work by using

need that is pushing the creators of

methods (state space models, linear

biosignals like Electromyographic (EMG)

these devices to create simultaneous

regression models, and neural networks)

signals that can be used to control

control to mimic real life movements.

to develop this relationship between

everyone. However, it is a known

assistive devices. However, some have

Christian Grech (supervised by Dr

muscle activity and corresponding joint

their drawbacks: prosthetic arms, for

Tracey Camilleri and co-supervised by

angles. Additionally, seven different

instance, are one commonly used

Dr Ing. Marvin Bugeja) has developed a

movements were tested in real-time

device that are at times abandoned due

system which allows the control of the

using a robotic arm. Grech managed to

to a lack of dexterity and precision.

position of a robotic arm by using the

develop a model that allows prosthetic arms to be used more naturally. Of course, more research is needed to perfect this device. Ideally it would operate without delay and with minimal user discomfort. The Department of Systems & Control Engineering is carrying out more research to continue to improve the accuracy and robustness of such myoelectric (EMG) controlled devices. This research was carried out as part of a Bachelor of Engineering

Students

degree at the Faculty of

14

Real time wrist position control.

Engineering, University of Malta.


I

n a 27 km circular tunnel beneath the French and Swiss borders lies the largest experiment on Earth – CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Capable

of spinning particles at close to the speed of light, it smashes them together in the bid to better understand the fundamental makeup of matter and ultimately answer the age old question. A magnificent feat of engineering, the LHC goes where no other machine has gone before. The magnets it uses to guide the particles’ trajectory are cooled to temperatures below those found in space. On the other hand, the collisions are over 100,000 times hotter than the sun’s core. These collisions generate enough data per year to fill millions of hard drives. The cables needed to transfer that data could be wrapped everything.

SPECIAL

FEAT URE

BANG!

Alice Focus

around the Earth nearly seven times. CERN has changed

15


it produces from the LHC collisions. The ALICE Experiment. Photo by Anna Pantelia for CERN

Being part of a giant global computing network called the World Wide LHC Computer Grid, CERN needs to filter

which will see the experiments and the

and sort this data as quickly as possible

120 nationalities collaborating

injector complex upgraded. It will then

[see Lars Lorenz’s article on pg. 24].

within its structures and countless

be restarted some years later to run at

achievements to its name, this

the design parameters only to be shut

involves removing unnecessary noise,

prestigious research centre has been

down yet again a couple years later for

also known as background events,

granted a seat at the United Nations.

its final planned retrofit. The relaunch

from the detectors [see David Grech’s

will take place in 2025 with the

article on pg. 28]. This will help in

of the Higgs Boson in 2012. The initial

LHC being reintroduced as the High

compressing the data and allow the

financial investment of €7.5 billion

Luminosity LHC with even brighter

detector to focus on more interesting

paid off in a big way. After decades

beams and more particle collisions.

events. Other researchers are looking

of design and the construction of

Malta steps in at each upgrade.

into optimising the electronic circuits

With over 12,000 scientists from

CERN’s crown jewel is its discovery

The University of Malta (UoM) has

and control boards in order to improve

this elusive particle, unlocking the

been collaborating with CERN for over

how data is handled. Implementing new

explanation of how other particles

a decade. In July 2015, the partnership

technologies and engineering solutions

have mass. It was one of the last

was taken a step further with Malta

has led them to improve the rate of

pieces of the puzzle in the Standard

becoming an Associate Member of the

data being gathered from collisions by

Model of Physics that explains how

ALICE Collaboration, one of the big

over tenfold. All this should be online

the world of the very small works.

four LHC experiments at CERN. As a

for the next LHC run in 2020.

Yet there are still many unanswered

result, the UoM gained much needed

questions. What is dark matter?

access to scientific data and resources.

The University of Malta Team Leaders

Does supersymmetry exist? What

To celebrate, THINK has dedicated

are Dr Gianluca Valentino and Dr

was the start of the Universe like?

this issue to the Maltese researchers

Kevin Vella. Other researchers

working within this collaboration.

include Dr Johann A. Briffa, Dr

the LHC, scientists managed to find

BANG!

To answer them, one needs better equipment. CERN has already planned

Alice Focus

One of CERN's foremost particle

Keith Bugeja, Prof. Ing. Edward

for this need years in advance.

physicists, Prof. Paolo Giubellino,

Gatt and Dr Ing. Owen Casha

Already, a very distinct step-by-step

kicks things off with insight into

as well as the students Jordan

structure has been set up to effect the

the humble beginnings of the

Lee Gauci, Stefano Calleja, Josef

necessary changes and circumvent the

ALICE experiment (pg. 18).

Magri, Clive Seguna, Kevin Napoli

engineering problems that come with

16

Another aspect of their work

UoM researchers come into play

and Julia Vella. These come from

working with machines like the LHC.

as they attempt to solve CERN's

various departments within the

A shutdown is scheduled for 2019

problem with the vast amount of data

Faculties of ICT and Physics.


The team involved in the ALICE Experiment at the University of Malta. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell

Alice Focus

BANG!

17


Alice Focus

BANG!

18


Alice Focus

BANG!

19


Curious matters Society is built on curiosity; the drive to find answers to life’s abounding questions. This curiosity continues to fuel our brightest minds today. Cassi Camilleri talks to ALICE experiment leader Prof. Paolo Giubellino about his work at CERN and how it impacts our daily lives.

A

round 13.82 billion

Giubellino, world famous experimental

years ago, everything

particle physicist and leader of the

changed. The Big Bang

ALICE experiment at CERN.

happened and the universe as we know it

BANG!

Alice Focus

‘we are studying the properties

came to life. Now scientists at CERN

of matter as it was in the first

want to recreate the conditions a few

few millionths of a second of the

moments after this phenomenon to

universe. Understanding this is the

understand what we are all made up

key to understanding some of the

of. With the aid of the Large Hadron

fundamental aspects of the evolution

Collider (LHC), an extraordinary

of our universe.’ He explains that,

machine that has made the facility a

while it may be known that protons

household name worldwide, they have

are made of three quarks (subatomic

succeeded in creating what is believed

particles), we have yet to determine

to be the first form of matter in the

why protons weigh 100 times more

universe—the quark-gluon plasma.

than their quark building blocks.

CERN’s quest to understand matter

20

With ALICE, Giubellino says,

Where does this mass come from?

has brought to light major discoveries

There is a huge gap between

that have changed our understanding

‘the soup of quarks’, as Giubellino

of the world. However, there is so

describes it, and the formation of ‘all

much that remains a mystery. Trying

the particles that form our life and

to unlock those secrets is Prof. Paolo

universe.’ This gap is what we need


Integration of the ALICE experiment's inner tracker. Photo by Maximilien Brice for CERN

to break down and this is what the

in Germany, support for this new

ALICE experiment is all about.

experiment with heavy ions began to rally. ‘After this, people started meeting

27 km tunnel that would eventually

up regularly to build the proposal.’ All

house the LHC had just been dug

the work culminated in the expression

out. Inspired by the LHC’s potential a

of interest submitted in 1992. This

group of scientists, Giubellino included,

was just the beginning. Going through

discussed the possibility of accelerating

the various committees involved was

heavy ions. Up until then, acceleration

the ‘toughest part of the process,’

was planned to be carried out with

Giubellino says. He and his colleagues

protons. ‘The heavy ions,’ he said, ‘would create bigger, hotter droplets of matter in the collisions that would potentially reveal the properties of matter in the primordial universe.’ On their own steam, the group began working on preliminary studies and conceptual work, fleshing out their ideas and legitimising their potential. In October 1990, things took a turn. At the Large Hadron Collider workshop

Scientific discoveries may take decades to develop into something useful but they get there eventually.

had a tall order to fill before making any step forward in their project: scientific approval, confirmation from CERN, attracting enough funding...

BANG!

‘It took about ten years to establish everything and start construction of the experiments. This was 2002.’ ALICE has been in operation since 2010, achieving spectacular results. Thanks to the massive acceleration generated by the LHC, the number

Alice Focus

It all began in 1989. At the time, the

21


of particles produced in the collisions

like PET scans (Positron Emission

known as the ALICE Upgrade, to be

with heavy ions is much higher. The

Tomography), for example. ‘Scientific

among his proudest moments. The

system created at the LHC has a much

discoveries may take decades to

upgrade involves major technological

higher energy density compared to

develop into something useful but they

developments which will allow the

other systems. The collisions it creates

get there eventually,’ says Giubellino.

team to ‘film’ the collisions occurring within the LHC. The moving image

are hotter, last longer, and expand

This sense of perspective was

to a larger size than other particle

difficult to communicate at times.

is expected to bring to light data

accelerators. The LHC more accurately

Giubellino quotes the successful

which would have been missed when

represents the moments after the

extension of the ALICE experiment,

recording the collisions through static

Big Bang—a massive achievement. Now, while there are many more theoretical breakthroughs to speak about, some question the relevance of all this to everyday life. Giubellino’s answer is as honest as they come, ‘it doesn’t change people’s lives. Not directly.’ However, when asked why the work is being done, his personal and professional philosophies are clear. ‘[Our work] is an unavoidable part of human nature. Humans are curious and that is what has driven us to build

[Our work] is an unavoidable part of human nature. Humans are curious and that is what has driven us to build a civilization. When we see something that we don’t know, we don’t ask ourselves if it is useful or not. We just want to see what it is about.

a civilisation. When we see something that we don’t know, we don’t ask ourselves if it is useful or not. We just want to see what it is about.’ CERN has led to many benefits for humanity. ‘New technologies are constantly being developed for various experiments,’ says Giubellino, ‘many of which have very direct application in day-to-day life, particularly in

BANG!

medicine. Most new technologies, from X-rays to new therapies with particle beams, were developed from advancements we made to improve experiments. These were immediately translated into imaging

Alice Focus

devices for medical diagnostics,’ he

22

states. Antimatter is used daily in every hospital all over the world for things

Photo by the ALICE team


Installation of the ALICE pixel detector (2007). Photo by Maximilien Brice for CERN

MEET THE TEAM

images. At first, hefty objections were raised against the proposal. ‘Many [saw] our field of work as an intruder at CERN.’ However, the ALICE scientists managed to convince them of the project’s value, and the experiment is now being implemented as a top priority. The journey has been long and

PROF. ING. EDWARD GATT & DR ING. OWEN CASHA FACULTY OF ICT

arduous for Giubellino and the ALICE has grown over 26 years to now encompass over 1,500. With no legal structure holding them together, everyone continues to collaborate, all the while bringing in their own resources, trusting that they will be respected and valued. And they clearly are. Propelled by the keen curiosity that brought them together all the way back in 1989, they continue to venture into uncharted territory, changing the world as they go. ‘What we have achieved here is unique,’ says Giubellino, and we at THINK could not agree more.

Physicist Dr Giacinto De Cataldo (Head of the HMPID detector) got in touch with Gatt and Casha to work on two microelectronics projects for CERN. Their first project was the O2 Project—a series of upgrades for the ALICE experiment. One of upgrades focuses on improving the RingImaging Cherenkov detector (RICH), found in the HMPID detector, a device that identifies the type of electrically charged particles being emitted by the detector. The second project is the implementation of a Remotely Configurable L0 Trigger Fan-out Module for the ALICE Detector. It involves the clocking management of the ALICE detector with high precision. This research could also be used in consumer telecommunication systems, improving radio frequency circuits’ performance.

BANG!

Finally, Gatt is researching how to improve chip designs used to detect physical phenomena from particle collisions with the aim of making them more intelligent and power-efficient. Alice Focus

team. From 20 scientists, ALICE

23


Further down the rabbit hole The European Organisation for Nuclear Research—CERN—is synonymous with the world’s brightest minds, cutting-edge research and groundbreaking discoveries. Lars Lorenz interviews Dr Kevin Vella (Faculty of ICT) about the University of Malta’s involvement at CERN and its game-changing tech contribution to the ALICE experiment.

T BANG!

he largest particle physics

particles then collide at a specific

performance components, which

laboratory in the world

location in the tunnel, momentarily

were hard to develop and expensive

is in Geneva. CERN

generating a quark-gluon plasma,

to maintain. Rapid advances in

operates the Large Hadron

which is thought to be the state of

personal computing technology

Collider (LHC), a huge

matter immediately following the

rendered this practice ineffective,

particle collider located in a circular,

big bang. ALICE’s carefully located

and new supercomputers were

27km long tunnel deep beneath the

detectors pick up data about these

designed around standard hardware

Franco-Swiss border. Over the years,

events, which needs to be stored

components instead. Back in 1999

the University of Malta (UoM) has

for eventual analysis by physicists

the UoM, through Dr Vella’s work,

contributed to the development of

worldwide. Such large high energy

contributed to the case for the

software technology for experiments

physics experiments tend to produce

adoption of industry-standard ethernet

at CERN, most recently ALICE (A

data at immense rates approaching a

to connect hundreds of rack-mounted

Large Ion Collider Experiment).

terabyte per second. It is a tall order

PCs in the data acquisition system

Humanity has been questioning its

to compress and store data at such

for CERN’s nascent ATLAS (A Toroidal

origins for centuries, but we have never

speed, which is why CERN draws on

LHC ApparatuS) experiment. Today,

been as close to answers as we are

some of the most powerful computers

many of the components that power

now. To understand what happened

and storage facilities available.

the world’s supercomputers can be

Until the turn of the 21st century,

bought at a high street computer

uses the LHC to accelerate lead ions

CERN, like most other supercomputer

store. The loss in performance is

to extremely high speeds. These

users, relied on specialised high

tolerable when compared to the

Alice Focus

about 13.8 billion years ago, ALICE

24


savings, and the use of readily-

information and compressing the

to the Mediterranean region owing to

available commodity components not

remaining events for long-term storage

EUMEDGRID, an initiative funded by

only facilitates maintenance, but also

and analysis, all while keeping up

the EU under the 6th and 7th Framework

simplifies upgrade planning. The parts

with the flood of data that continues

Programmes which saw the UoM lead

are combined into a supercomputing

to emanate from ALICE’s detectors.

technical requirements analysis across

cluster, which uses software to harness

This system needs to sustain a data

thirteen Mediterranean countries.

thousands of PCs working together as

reduction factor of ten on a total of

a single, extremely powerful computer.

fourteen data sources which deliver a

state, the UoM was recently granted its

combined input that will exceed one

first formal associate membership of

out of ALICE’s fourteen detectors,

terabyte (the size of an average hard

one of CERN’s principal experiments:

there is no way all of it could be

disk) per second by 2020. Its continued

ALICE. As part of this collaboration,

stored permanently. Hence the

development involves the combined

Dr Kevin Vella, Dr Keith Bugeja,

supercomputing facility is responsible

effort of hundreds of software

and Kevin Napoli (Department of

for reconstructing events from the raw

developers, engineers and physicists.

Computer Science, Faculty of ICT) are

data streams, filtering out uninteresting

The reduced data stream, arriving

developing scheduling software for

at a leisurely pace of tens or hundreds

the cluster that will be employed in

of gigabytes per second, is stored in

ALICE’s third run, slated for 2020.

With terabyte after terabyte pouring

CERN and its member states have created a giant distributed computing and storage infrastructure, or grid, that spans the globe

While Malta is not a CERN member

CERN’s data centre for eventual event

A fresh computing infrastructure,

reconstruction and analysis. Luckily, the

dubbed O2 for Online-Offline

advent of the Internet has provided an

computing, is being designed and

innovative solution for the long-term

developed at CERN to handle Run

storage and analysis of experimental

3 input data rates of 1.1 terabytes

data. CERN and its member states

per second. It aims for improved

have created a giant distributed

operating efficiency by dynamically

computing and storage infrastructure,

scheduling ‘online’ data reduction jobs

or grid, that spans the globe. The

and ‘offline’ long-term data analysis

grid enables geographically dispersed

jobs simultaneously on the same

researchers to access and analyse

cluster. This is an ambitious target for

experimental data remotely and at their

what is ultimately a data acquisition

convenience, while located at their

system with tight deadlines to meet,

home institution. This facility extends

but if successful it could influence

Left: Dr Keith Bugeja. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell Right: One of the supermodules of the Time of Flight under assembly at CERN. Photo by Saba, A. for CERN

Alice Focus

BANG!

25


The ALICE Control Centre. Photo by Arora, H. for CERN

the design of future data acquisition systems at a massive scale. The Apache open source software foundation’s Mesos cluster scheduler meets several O2 requirements, and is being evaluated for adoption as the ‘operating system’ for the new ALICE cluster. During a recent visit to CERN supported by OpenLab, Kevin Napoli, who is completing an M.Sc. in Computer Science at the UoM, delivered the new job submission and control system for the Mesos-powered O2 candidate. Latency, the amount of time needed to travel from one location on a network to another, is the bane of our lives even while computing. The transfer of data is necessary when two or more computers in a cluster are working on the same problem simultaneously. Latency increases with network distance and traffic load, and at a supercomputer’s scale it can become a hindrance to

ALICE event display of a Pb-Pb collision at 2.76A TeV. Photo by Weber, Steffen Georg; Andronic, Anton for CERN

efficient operation. To mitigate this

Alice Focus

BANG!

26

problem, the UoM team is developing

best-kept secrets is a fascinating task,

Gordon Moore’s foresight were to keep

algorithms and tools that automatically

but when it comes to computing, time

true for another decade, the power of

and unobtrusively characterise the

is of the essence. Indeed, technology

CERN’s present-day supercomputers

topology, or shape, of a cluster,

advances at an incredible pace.

could be had for the price of an

and estimate the traffic load across

Moore’s law, an observation which

average smartphone then, just as

the network. This information is

has successfully predicted the rate of

today’s smartphone outperforms

fed to an enhanced Mesos, which

technological development for the last

NASA’s 1969 Moon landing computer

uses it to determine where to

fifty years, sees the density at minimum

by orders of magnitude. In this broad

locate new jobs on the cluster.

cost per transistor in an integrated

sense, supercomputers can provide us

circuit double every two years. If

with a glimpse of the future, today.

Helping to unravel the Universe’s


MEET THE TEAM

Stacks of CDs containing ALICE data (~20 km or 20 million CDs)

A Concorde flies at 15km

Mont Blanc peaks at 4.8 km

COMPUTING CERN OPENLAB STUDENT

“My summer experience at CERN was remarkable. The sharing of knowledge among students and researchers was the highlight of the trip. During the openlab programme we attended lectures about security, machine learning, computer hardware, software optimisation and lots more, many of which are topics not covered at our home university. We also played a role in the ALICE experiment and I worked on my project alongside top notch computer scientists. Another positive aspect of the programme were the various trips to companies and universities in Switzerland. Being able to say that I have worked at CERN is something I will value throughout my career.”

BANG!

Alice Focus

How big is Big Data?

KEVIN NAPOLI

27


Analysing Alice Finding order in chaos Dr Gianluca Valentino. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell

With every particle collision in the ALICE experiment, a terabyte of data per second is generated for analysis. But not all of it is essential information. David Reuben Grech speaks to Dr Gianluca Valentino and Dr Johann A. Briffa about their work in separating the wheat from the chaff and removing noise from two of ALICE’s 18 subdetectors.

BANG!

D

r Gianluca Valentino

to experience this world-class centre

and CERN have a

of research and innovation. The result

history. It started in

has been numerous collaborations

2010 during Valentino’s

between CERN and the UoM. His most

Ph.D. years at the

notable link? The ALICE experiment.

University of Malta. At the time, his research focused on collimators within

experiments in the LHC, ALICE creates

the Large Hadron Collider (LHC),

collisions between lead ions that

devices that work in unison to narrow

momentarily generate quark-gluon

a beam of particles prior to collision.

plasma, thought to be the state of

Valentino developed a technique

matter a fraction of a second after

that automatically aligned the 100

the Big Bang. The data generated

collimators to the LHC beam with

by these collisions is picked up

impressive accuracy, so much so that it

by 18 different subdetectors.

shaved off hundreds of hours in beam

Alice Focus

Valentino is currently working with

time in the experiments conducted.

Dr Johann A. Briffa (Department

In fact, the software Valentino

of Communications & Computer

developed continues to be used

Engineering) on two of those

regularly at the CERN control centre.

subdetectors—the Time Projection

Valentino followed his Ph.D. up

Chamber (TPC) and the High

with a Marie Curie postdoctoral

Momentum Particle Identification

fellowship. Later, he also started

(HMPID)—to detect, track and identify

lecturing at the University of Malta

the particles generated by the collision.

(UoM). However, his ties with CERN

28

One of the largest of seven

The TPC is a barrel-shaped three-

remain strong. Valentino is still a

dimensional detector. When particles

Visiting Scientist and, together with

collide in the middle of this barrel,

other academics, has worked to give

new ones form, spiralling out from

many more students the opportunity

this point. These spirals hit the


MEET THE TEAM

The Time Projection Chamber (TPC) at ALICE. Photo by Aurelien Muller for CERN

JULIA VELLA team aims to achieve a compression

registered. The problem is that not

factor of five, meaning that data would

all the particles produced from the

be compressed five times over, making

collision are important. The TPC

it considerably easier to process

scientists at CERN are interested in

and store. ‘Instead of taking months

high-momentum events, consisting

to analyse data we want it to take

of large three dimensional spirals

weeks or even days,’ says Valentino.

or helices composed of electrons.

The other detector under Valentino

Low momentum events, also called

and Briffa’s care is the HMPID.

‘background events’, are characterised

Separate to the TPC, this machine’s

by smaller spirals which obscure

purpose is to identify the type of the

what is important. These events need

particle produced by the collision

to be filtered out to leave behind

based on its momentum. Its structure

the Higgs Bosons of the world.

consists of seven plates shaped in the

Valentino and Briffa have developed a density-based scan algorithm that can identify clusters close to each

form of chambers. When a particle hits a plate, it passes through a liquid (C6F14 or tetradecafluorohexane). This

other and tag them, thus creating a

triggers an incident called a Cherenkov

better way to clean up data before

Effect where the particle moves

it has been processed, speeding up

through the layer of liquid, producing

calculations for the TPC. For the Helix

Cherenkov electrons. These electrons

identification, Briffa also developed

form a pattern which can be detected

a three-dimensional algorithm based

by another plate at the bottom. If this

on the Circular Hough Transform, a

pattern is an ellipse, that would indicate

technique used to identify circles.

that the electron shower came in at an

Following the clean-up, the next step

angle, called the Cherenkov Angle that

in Valentino and Briffa’s process would

can be used to determine the particle

be to compress the data given. The

that produced it.

PHYSICS CERN SUMMER STUDENT

ʻThe months spent at CERN for the summer student internship programme were not only an invaluable experience, but also an insight to future potential careers for my colleagues and I. Based within the HMPID detector of the ALICE experiment, we had a six-week lecture program focused on the fundamental properties of nature. The bulk of the work we were involved in centred on implementing programming languages to process raw data from collisions into useful knowledge. Geneva provided a change of pace for us that was conducive to both hard work and extra curricular activities. Travelling across borders, visiting main projects and control centres at CERN, while also socialising with students from all over the globe, made it an all-encompassing experience not easily matched.ʼ

BANG!

Alice Focus

detector’s plates and information is

29


Left: Dr Johann A. Briffa. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell | Right: The HMPID detector before installation inside the ALICE magnet. Photo by Saba, A.

Briffa and Valentino are currently

Alice Focus

BANG!

30

Valentino and Briffa have developed a density-based scan algorithm that can identify clusters close to each other and tag them, thus creating a better way to clean data up before it has been processed, speeding up calculations for the TPC.

Besides the research related

working on a variant of the

to optimisation of particle event

Circular Hough Transform which

reconstruction, Valentino is also

is less susceptible to the large

involved in the ALICE-LHC Interface

amount of noise which appears

Project, which handles the complex

in lead ion particle collisions.

interaction between the detector

To clarify the differences between

and the Large Hadron Collider. It

the two detectors, the TPC gives

is responsible for processing beam

three-dimensional data in the form

instrumentation data coming from

of helices. In the case of the HMPID,

the LHC, and also removing the

the result is simply an ellipse and the

beam from the machine in case

angle extracted once the ellipse is

serious conditions are encountered.

fitted to the data. An important point

Together with scientists from the

to note is that the TPC is not really

Istituto Nazionale di Fisca Nucleare

a particle identification detector as

in Bari, Italy, he has developed an

is the HMPID. So the collision which

automatic algorithm to achieve the

happens inside the TPC sends the

desired rate of particle collisions in

particles outwards and the tracking

ALICE through a procedure called

information and the three-dimensional

luminosity levelling. The procedure

x-y-z coordinates can be detected

involves moving the two colliding

as the particles are coming out of

beams in steps of a few micrometers

the TPC. ‘This three-dimensional

(less than the width of a human hair)

information can then be transported

every few seconds. The automatic

to another detector like HMPID to

procedure has been used in the daily

match a particle coming out from the

operation of the LHC since July 2016.

TPC to the same particle entering

Currently, an upgrade program is

the HMPID,’ says Dr Valentino.

being designed for ALICE’s computer

So, using the Cherenkov Angle to

system which will be installed from

determine its momentum and the

2019 to 2021, meaning that the LHC

3D tracking data from the TPC, the

will start providing more data at a

type of particle can be determined.

higher luminosity, or rate of collisions


MEET THE TEAM JOSEF MAGRI M.Sc. STUDENT

The HMPID takes snapshots of the faint patterns generated by the high-energy collisions, passing this information through the RICH electronics module which cleans and transforms it for analysis. Magri is working to optimise the electronic circuits and control boards to improve how data is handled. So far, he has manipulated computer processes to create parallelism, allowing for processes that previously happened one after the other to occur simultaneously. He also used high-throughput interconnects, which, when coupled with parallelism, are expected to increase data collection tenfold. Magri’s work will be combined with that of other researchers and integrated by 2020 in order to improve the detector’s accuracy, potentially revealing building blocks of matter that might have yet to be seen. in the collider. Additionally, the ALICE experiment has launched the OnlineOffline (O2) Computing Project. This is where Malta is involved as more manpower, computation, and technical skills are needed. When Valentino started to set up this collaboration, his application was embraced by both camps: the UoM’s Rector and the ALICE collaboration. Valentino states that the people at CERN definitely saw

CLIVE SEGUNA Ph.D. STUDENT

Working in close collaboration with Magri, Seguna is developing novel electronic circuitry for the CPV and HMPID detectors, that will boost the speed at which collisions are read, going from 4 kHz to 50 kHz, the speed at which the beams interact: true real time. Seguna’s research will be taken on at CERN between 2020–2023.

potential in the expertise provided by the people in Malta. The solid communication links among researchers and the remote nature of the work on this large scale project makes the UoM the perfect partner. When asked what inspires him, Valentino said that his drive was to improve the UoM’s profile. Maintaining his strong links with CERN is the perfect way to do this. ‘It’s a very scientifically

BANG!

rich environment and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, so I wanted to take some of this back with me to Malta.’ He also hopes that through these and future collaborations, Malta all the exciting and varied research and development challenges at CERN. Checking the readout electronics of the ALICE Time Projection Chamber (TPC). Photo by Saba, A.

Alice Focus

will continue to be at the forefront of

31


What do you need to setup an indie gaming community? Joseph Aldape met indie game developer Rami Ismail to chat about indie gaming communities.

G

ames are a multi-billion-

though one which is growing in size. A

dollar industry. The

method of instigating development is

rising stars are from

to have determined individuals set on

the new indie game

pushing the indie community forward.

developer communities,

between academics and designers in

creative ideas of a few individuals.

the gaming industry. The two areas

Rami Ismail is one of the co-founders

have a long-standing tradition of poor

of Vlambeer, a Dutch indie gaming

communication; the job descriptions

studio. He spoke to THINK magazine

are also very different. According to

about how Malta can develop a

Ismail, an example of the division

thriving indie gaming community.

is when a developer makes a game

Feature

Ismail thinks that there is a division

32

Ismail focuses on the division

with each company built on the

about a topic that an academic

between game developers and

previously wrote about and it does not

academics. Both large and small game

match with the academic’s vision. A

studios could benefit from a greater

greater connection between the two

amount of discussion between them

could see academics writing about

that could help launch and support

some novel trends observed by the

indie studios. Another gap exists

designers. As a result, the academic’s

between the large AAA, or Triple-A,

work could inspire the designers for

and small indie game developer

some new, original game ideas. Now,

communities. Figuring out how to link

how can such a target be reached?

the two exchanging ideas and their

Ismail explains that the academics

expertise could benefit everyone.

are lagging behind industry. While

Malta has a young gaming community,

the distance allows them to see


the larger context of the industry,

work together. All that is needed

game design. A similar mindset could

there needs to be a faster form of

is a determined individual with an

really help Malta’s indie community,

feedback. The academic’s work needs

idea and a small start-up fund.

whose members are bursting with original ideas and are willing to

When Ismail visited Malta, he noticed the beginnings of what

step out of their comfort zone. By

large game studios and smaller indie

could potentially be a success story.

building a strong network between

ones, Ismail sees employability as

However, for there to be commercial

academics and developers, a bridge

an issue. Large studios have the

success, more connections need to

between large game studios and

upper hand, managing to attract

be built between Malta’s community

up-and-coming designers, and with

the people they want, while smaller

and the rest of the international

enthusiastic individuals to help start

communities are struggling to build

gaming scene. In that way, there could

up an indie studio, a Malta-grown

up the right knowledge and skillset.

be a flow of money and contacts

success story could be in the making.

An investment towards building

to get the community going. Once

Malta’s size helps in overcoming

networks of small communities

some people start going to more

barriers with the right support going

would help developers get together

industry events (conferences or

a long way; the chances of the

and pool the right resources. This

conventions for developers), they can

Maltese indie gaming community

would need financial support but,

start bringing back that knowledge

growing are pretty bright.

most importantly, someone to do it.

and experience necessary to help

Starting a community takes up a lot

this young community grow.

of time and is unchartered territory.

Ismail did not enter game

Speaking about the gap between

Rami Ismail gave the Keynote speech at the Mediterranean Game Jam

However, on the plus side, with

development by becoming a gamer.

organised by the Institute of Digital

Malta’s little indie community, only

Instead of playing games, Ismail

Games (University of Malta). Joseph

a small group of people with a small

started by tinkering with them and

Aldape is a Michigan Tech (USA)

investment would be needed to start

figuring out how to change them. Only

student who, this summer, undertook

a studio for developers to meet and

after this did he obtain a degree in

the Pavlis programme in Malta.

Photos from the Mediterranean Game Jam by William Cachia

Feature

to reach industry more efficiently.

33


Your prospects in education T

he learning experiences of students are

Student mobility provides various benefits.

evolving continuously. New learning

It can change a student’s life enhancing their

methods are being introduced leading

personal and intellectual maturity, communication

to a change in the student profile and

skills, ability to adapt to new circumstances, and

increased student mobility across countries.

explore different perspectives. Studying abroad

But what is making this mobility possible?

helps students to expand their knowledge of

The Malta Qualifications Framework (MQF)

other societies, languages, cultures, and business

assists in making the Maltese qualifications

methods, which enhances their job prospects. All

system easier to understand and review,

EU Member States have a designated centre to

and more transparent at a national and

promote student, teacher, and researcher mobility.

international level. It is a referencing tool

They provide advice, and information concerning

that helps to describe and compare both

the academic recognition of diplomas and study

national and foreign qualifications to

periods in other states. In Malta, this is done

promote quality, transparency, and mobility

through the Malta Qualifications Recognition

of qualifications in all types of education.

Information Centre (MQRIC), within the National

Qualifications on the MQF are automatically recognised by the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) since the Maltese system is

Commission for Further and Higher Education. Students interested in furthering their studies should visit the MQRIC section on www.ncfhe.gov.mt to check whether the national or international

qualifications is essential for lifelong learning as

qualification is recognised by the MQF or EQF. They

well as for international worker mobility. It further

can also call on 2381 0000 during office hours for

helps a person through the easier recognition

more information. This will ensure the qualification’s

of their knowledge, skills, and competences.

mobility and transparency throughout the EU.

Feature

referenced to the EQF. This mutual recognition of

34

This is a paid advertorial.


Politics, policy & risky business As a child, Prof. Noellie Brockdorff was fascinated by the robots that inhabited the world of Isaac Asimov’s novels. She wanted to know why humans are different to robots. So why are human beings not perfectly rational creatures like robots? Dr Claude Bajada finds out more.

A

deadly disease has just broken out in Malta. The World Health Organisation declares an epidemic. Malta is in a state of emergency. Six hundred people will die if nothing is done. The health minister has two options. The

first intervention has a one third chance that all 600 will be saved and a two thirds chance that everyone will die. Option two will definitely save 200 people. Prof. Noellie Brockdorff outlined this scenario when I sat down to

Feature

interview her. What should the health minister do?

35


novels would probably not make

Brockdorff is a cognitive scientist and dean of the Faculty of Media

different decisons in the two scenarios;

and Knowledge Sciences (University

neither would a modern day computer.

of Malta). She tells me that two

Why do humans behave so seemingly

psychologists, Amos Tversky

irrational? More importantly, when are

and Daniel Kahnemann gave a

humans prone to irrational behaviour? ‘People have the impression that

similar scenario to participants in

humans [...] make perfectly rational

a famous 1980s experiment.

decisions. Indeed, other disciplines

‘Most people are risk averse,’ says Brockdorff, ‘they want to save 200

base whole theories on this [...] but

people. Tversky and Kahnemann

it is not true!’ exclaims Brockdorff.

then presented a similar scenario to another group of individuals. The logic of this scenario was identical but the presentation was different. This time, option one had a one third probability that nobody would die and a two thirds probability that all 600 people would die. Option two would kill 400 people. ‘In this case,’ comments Brockdorff, ‘most people would advise the minister to go for the first option; the more risky option.’ ‘Intelligent’ robots that live in the fantasy world of Asimov’s

Brockdorff wanted her work to improve people’s lives. Evidence-based policy making was her chance to make a difference

Knowing how people make decisions is an important area of research in the emerging fields of cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience. As Brockdorff explains, decision making is interesting as a matter of pure scientific interest; the quest for knowledge. More important to society, however, it is essential that governments and policymakers understand how people make decisions in order to do the greatest good. Her lab is particularly interested in studying decisions making to inform public policy. Her lab’s researchers investigate the way people

Feature

make decisions in risky situations. She

36

TOOLS OF COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE

is currently involved in two projects

Cognitive scientists use a variety of tools to understand human behaviour and the brain. The basic tools include questionnaires and surveys. More sophisticated measures used by University of Malta researchers include eye-tracking, electroencephalography (EEG), and motion analysis. Brain scanning such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) are also used to understand how behaviour affects brain function.

Horizon 2020 programme that aims

funded under the European Union's to inform policy at a European level, so-called evidence-based policymaking. As part of the CITYCoP project, the team designed an experiment to understand what causes people to feel fear of crime in different situations. Participants spend a


period of time logging any time they feel insecure on a mobile application designed with the assistance of the Department

TERMINOLOGY

of Intelligent Computer Systems (Faculty of ICT). They are also encouraged to take photographs of the situations that

COGNITIVE SCIENCE is an

make them feel uneasy. The researchers can then analyse the

interdisciplinary field of science

responses and photos to understand, in detail, what makes

that aims to understand the inner

people afraid that they will be victims of crime and how that

processes that form a person’s mind.

affects the decisions they make. The results then help create

For example, decision making, memory,

an EU-wide city community-policing mobile application.

language, and reasoning. A cognitive scientist may come from a diverse amount of backgrounds including psychology, medicine, engineering, and mathematics. COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE is a recent development from the field of cognitive science. This new field attempts to reconcile what we know about how people behave with a mechanistic, biological understanding of how the processes are carried out in the brain—termed the biology of the mind. EVIDENCE BASED POLICY-MAKING is the idea that governmental and other public policies should be based on rigorous and objective scientific evidence. Since policies often deal with human behaviour, cognitive scientists are well placed to be involved in collecting and interpreting evidence for

Feature

public institutions.

37


research with little thought to its practical

certain level of skill [and knowledge]’

CARISMAND concerns preparedness

implications. As her career progressed,

to interpret it and apply it to policy.

and response to disasters and after-

she wanted her work to improve people’s

crisis recovery. It aims to provide a

lives. Evidence-based policy making

Malta before 2011 and it is only last

toolkit for disaster managers. ‘[It] will

was her chance to make a difference.

year that the first Master course was

make [policy makers] sensitive to the

She ended up bringing an entire field

launched. From this year Malta will

influence of different cultures and

of research to the University of Malta.

have its own graduates in this field.

The second project called

different types of risk perceptions,’

She ends our interview with a warning.

Cognitive science did not exist in

They will potentially have the skills to

explains Brockdorff. Her team holds

It is easy to assume that humans

interpret evidence for the government

citizen summits that investigate how

behave rationally, like robots, after all,

and local authorities. Imagine if these

people from different backgrounds

we are all human and no one likes to

graduates could start a revolution

perceive risk and react to disaster

think of themselves as irrational. This

where all governmental policy is

situations. The first two CARISMAND

is why scrutinising evidence when

based on scientific evidence.

citizen summits were held in Romania

drawing up policy is so important,

and Malta earlier this year. The processed

even if it contradicts one’s own belief.

results of these summits are then

‘Unfortunately, much policy is not

discussed at stakeholder summits.

evidence-based at all,’ laments Brockdorff.

Brockdorff goes on to note that a

There is a lot of evidence from the field

stakeholder is any person or organisation

of cognitive science that could guide

that ‘can possibly have an interest in

governmental policy, but ‘it requires a

For more information visit www.um.edu.mt /maks/cogscience/master_of_ science_in_cognitive_science www.citycop.eu www.carismand.eu

disaster management.’ Draft policies and procedures are then written up and that information is fed into the next series of citizen and stakeholder summits to iteratively improve the policies. Brockdorff was not always interested in

Feature

evidence-based policy making. Her early

38

career was focused on pure academic

FURTHER READING •

Kahneman, D. (2013). Thinking, fast and slow.


Care till death do us part Feature

Prof. Pierre Mallia talks about an end-of-life project that seeks to overcome misconceptions about unnecessary treatments and pain while dying.

39


P

eople need the most

outcome need to be weighed against

it there simply to ‘be seen’ that we are

attention when they are

what the procedure can actually

doing ‘something’? Is the procedure

close to death. But end-

achieve. Life may be extended by a

really in the patient’s best interest, or is

of-life care is proving to

few months at the cost of inflicting

it simply there to calm the conscience

be problematic in many

further agony. If upon consultation,

of relatives and care providers?

both doctor and patient agree that

more patients requesting euthanasia.

going through with the procedure is

morality are the two biggest issues for

The situation is ironic, considering

excessive, the ethical implications of

healthcare professionals. Both can be

that a significant number of major

futile treatments need consideration.

appropriately addressed. Legal issues

religions and societal institutions have

Feature

It is difficult to remove a patient’s

are unclear since there is no legal

always promoted optimal end of life

life support, even if they are close to

framework for end-of-life. Regarding

care for the elderly and terminally

death’s door. Though, on the other

morality, there is no doubt what the

ill, with appropriate pain relief.

hand, there may be little point in

Catholic Church has to say on end-of-

discussing the issue with relatives and

life: carers do not need to provide futile

Treatment sometimes needs to be

patients once this stage has arrived.

treatment or extraordinary procedures.

omitted to prevent unnecessary

Certainly, a life at its end is difficult for

Whether a treatment is extraordinary

suffering when death is inevitable.

everyone but our concern has always

or not is determined by the patient.

This has been the source of endless

been morally centred on the patient.

By the principle of double effect, pain

debate. For example, should a

Every decision is based on whether it

relief can be provided even if this

bedridden 95-year-old be given a

really benefits them. Is that drip really

may hasten death (which it probably

pacemaker? The expectations of the

providing hydration or are we keeping

does not). The problem therefore

Care can sometimes hasten death.

40

Studies show that legality and

countries because of suggested links to


seems to be lack of moral instruction

positions of end-of-life—the project

and fear of law and litigation.

does not discuss euthanasia. Rather, it is to study why people are ignorant or

EDUCATION IS KEY

afraid of receiving or imparting proper

To overcome these issues, the

hospital really have to die with a drip

Bioethics Research Programme (Faculty

attached to their arms? If they chose

of Medicine & Surgery, University of

to die at home, they legally and morally

Malta [UoM]) applied for Erasmus+

might have been unable to receive that

funds to study this problem. At the

drip. The distinction seems unfair.

end-of-life care. Do all people dying in

Another problem is an inability for

the EndCare project is the largest

hospitals to shift treatment from cure

Erasmus+ project led by the UoM

to care. Do we really have to re-insert

(see www.um.edu.mt/ms/endcare). The project aims to create documents as a guide towards the appropriate education needed and propose them as an international curriculum. Education about end-of-life needs streamlining. The aim is not to re-invent the wheel on the moral

A problem is an inability for hospitals to shift treatment from cure to care.

that drip when a patient is dying, knowing that carers need to insert another needle through collapsed veins that would require jabbing the patient’s arms dozens of times? Is that comfort? An inability for medical practitioners to give a diagnosis of dying means that management is unable to change

Feature

tune of just under half a million euro,

41


treatment from cure to care. End-of-

The curriculum will not address moral teachings as these are widely known

treatment as their justification—aims

treatment, rather it involves reviewing

and one can cover them quickly. What

that could already be met by end-

what is necessary for the comfort

needs addressing is the ethical, legal,

of-life care. This is a clear sign that

of the person. But without a proper

and social concerns of the groups.

wrong perceptions are pervasive. The

diagnosis there is a resistance to

This will help improve end-of-life care.

proper implementation of end-of-life

death. When an illness is diagnosed as

The groups’ feedback is key. Due to

care would reduce the fear of pain or

terminal it means that it has reached

the cultural sensitivity of the issue,

disproportionate treatments that might

a stage where it is morally better to

how end-of-life care is implicated in

make euthanasia moot in many cases.

prioritise the patient’s comfort and care

each country and legislature needs

rather than to seek further treatment.

to be tackled. In the end, the project

The EndCare project is led by the

team hopes to achieve a working

UoM, with Prof. Pierre Mallia as

PEOPLE FIRST

document that will be used in order

principal investigator. Partners

to help alleviate the fear of medical

include the City University of Dublin

End-of-life is not only a medical issue.

practitioners, carers, and patients

(Ireland) and the University of

It is a psychosocial one. The social

on pain or unnecessary treatments

Aquila (Italy). Collaborators include

issues involved, including cultural

that may only prolong the agony.

experts from France, the UK, the

and religious, must be studied and

Euthanasia is still confused with endof-life care. In Malta, recent vox pops

Pontifical Academy for Life of the

working with representatives from

performed by local media addressed

Vatican, and the Curia (Malta).

Christian, Catholic, Islamic, and

a request by a person with motor

The UoM faculties include the

humanist point of views. Although

neuron disease who wishes to have

Faculty of Medicine & Surgery, the

some Christian denominations do

access to euthanasia. Many in favour

Faculty of Laws, and the Faculty of

what it does recommend, much is not practised—an issue which must be understood. All major religions agree that pain relief can be given even if it hastens death. Extraordinary measures must be discussed with patients and relatives. The same holds true for futile treatment, which unfortunately favours continued action over comfort. Many medical professionals do continue using drips though it is uncertain whether it is helpful or incredibly uncomfortable. The curriculum is key to understanding why certain misconceptions continue to be upheld and to introduce ways to change them. This project outcome is being developed in an innovative way. The summer school will involve healthcare professionals, patients, priests and others to input Feature

USA, Iran, Belgium, Holland, the

carefully considered. The project is

Theology. This project is funded by

support euthanasia, most do not. Of

42

of euthanasia cited pain and undue

life care does not involve stopping all

their ideas into the curriculum.

Euthanasia is still confused with end-of-life care.

the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and with the support from the European Commission.  pierre.mallia@um.edu.mt


NGO ALIVE's donation of €100,000. This and other major donations helped the RIDT to raise more than €1 million since it was set up.

GIVING BACK TO THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY Wilfred Kenely, the Research Trust (RIDT) CEO, speaks to THINK about new initiatives coming to fruition thanks a new scheme. Islands. Dr André Xuereb (Faculty of

exciting projects. The funded projects

are hungry for the

Science) will be testing the first ever

range from science and medicine, to

means to make their

quantum-enabled telecommunications

digital arts and archaeology. Research

ideas happen. The

link between Malta and Sicily.

is actively happening in every part of

Research Trust (RIDT)

These are a few of the fifteen

the University of Malta despite the

launched a scheme this year to try and

projects that are being funded under

little funding available. The RIDT is

make some of these ideas a reality.

the RIDT scheme for small project

committed to continue raising the

grants to increase the research

much needed funds so that this call

Knowledge Sciences) will be installing

activity across all areas of study at

can be repeated in the future. Since its

a Holographic and three-dimensional

the University of Malta. The projects

setting up, the RIDT has managed to

audio project, creating a sculpture

cover a wide spectrum of faculties and

raise over €1 million, most of which was

that can be used in art galleries,

institutes. They offer new opportunities

tied to particular projects. The call for

performances, visual arts installations,

for researchers, while bringing flexible

funding of small projects was intended

movie projections, and digital games

and accessible funding. This first

to support projects which do not fall

among others. Dr Paul Refalo and Dr

call was intended to fund projects

into the category of projects that

Christopher Micallef (both Faculty

such as feasibility studies for larger

would normally attract funding, and

of Engineering) will be designing and

projects, proof of concept projects,

remain largely under-funded. To be able

testing devices to recover and reduce

and small, self-contained projects.

to repeat and sustain these funding

the energy required to heat and cool

The response for the call was

programmes, the RIDT is introducing

Dr Vince Briffa (Faculty of Media &

plastic injection moulding equipment,

overwhelming. Eighty project proposals

a number of schemes that generate

while Dr David Mifsud (Institute of

were submitted to the scheme which

revenue streams that trickle into the

Earth Systems) and Dr Marion Zammit

needed a budget of over half a million

general kitty. Such schemes include the

Mangion (Faculty of Medicine &

euros. They were evaluated primarily

University Staff Contribution Scheme,

Surgery) will be conducting studies to

on excellence, impact, and budget.

the payment gateway scheme, and

identify genetically pure colonies of a

The initial budget was bumped up

others that will be introduced in the

particular bee species in the Maltese

to €69,000 to include more of these

near future—every little bit counts.

Research

M

altese researchers

43


Attacking DIABETES THE SILENT EPIDEMIC OF

Diabetes prevalence is burgeoning on a global scale. In 2012, 1.5 million people worldwide died as a direct result of the disease, cementing it as an epidemic. By 2030, diabetes is expected to become the world’s seventh leading cause of death. With 12% of the Maltese population suffering from the disease, a research team has come together looking into new methods of detection to stop the disease in its tracks. Words by Yasmine Gatt.

THE PROBLEM

The cause remains a mystery. On

Malta is a very small island with very

known to be triggered by overeating

big public health issues. Headlines

and physical inactivity. The latter

like “Malta has highest obesity rate

is vastly more common in Malta.

in EU” and “Maltese most obese,

Feature

The danger of diabetes lies with

laziest and most car dependent” have

its early symptoms which, to the

become commonplace. They barely

untrained eye, could appear trivial or

elicit as much as a flinch from readers

indeed go unnoticed; as is the case

at this point. Neither should the fact

with weight loss, excess urination

that more than one in ten people

and hunger. But in reality, this is

on our island suffer from diabetes.

just the tip of a terrifying iceberg.

There are two main types of

44

the other hand, Type II diabetes is

Major complications can arise as a

diabetes. Type I, almost exclusive to

result of the disease. Take ischemia as

juveniles, is a result of the pancreas

the first example. Ischemia sees blood

failing to produce enough insulin.

supply to organs drop drastically,


45

Feature


resulting in tissue damage that has

(loss of the lower limb below or above

the potential to manifest in heart

the knee) and over 350 minor foot

attacks, strokes and gangrene

amputations (loss of toes or part of the

of the feet. Another diabetes-

foot below the ankle). That translates

related problem is neuropathy,

to a minimum of one amputation

which occurs when peripheral

every single day of the year.

nerves do not function properly,

An interesting point to note here

leaving sufferers with numbness

is that while major amputations have

that puts them at an even higher

been reduced by more than half in

risk of developing foot ulcers.

the last few years, the number of

Separately or in combination,

minor amputations has increased

ischemia and neuropathy are the

fourfold over the last eight. This

main causes for the very high

indicates that better screening and

risk of toe and leg amputations

diagnostic technologies are sorely

in diabetes sufferers in Malta.

needed to reduce this staggering

In 2015 alone, doctors across the island collectively performed

Feature

approximately 65 major amputations

46

number of amputations. This is where the Diabetes Foot Research Group (DFRG) comes in.


In 2015 alone, doctors across the island collectively performed approximately 65 major amputations and over 350 minor foot amputations. That translates to a minimum of one amputation every day of the year. 1

2

4

5

6

7

3

Feature

1. Stephen Mizzi 2. Jean Gauci 3. Christian Ellul 4. Dr Owen Falzon 5. Dr Cynthia Formosa 6. Dr Alfred Gatt 7. Anabelle Mizzi

47


THE SOLUTION The DFRG is made up of podiatrists, engineers, surgeons and researchers from the Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics, the Department of Podiatry (University of Malta), Mater Dei Hospital and Staffordshire University. Their goal is quite simple at face value but invariably complex in practice: to detect diabetes and foot-related issues before obvious problems rear their ugly heads. The current gold standard in diabetes detection involves the analyses of blood pressure. A doctor compares the blood pressure in the ankle against the forearms, a measurement known as the ankle-brachial pressure index (ABPI). When the pressure is lower in the ankle, it means an artery is blocked in the lower limb. However, this method is not a completely accurate indicator and only provides information on the ankle’s blood supply; the rest of the foot is not considered. Additionally, when the toe brachial pressure is recorded, measurements are only taken from the big toe or the second toe, not all of them. The pressure index is also effectively useless when a patient is older or has chronic kidney disease because of calcification in the arteries that can skew results. All this highlights how unreliable the current gold standard in diabetes detection is. Diabetics are known for not having an equal blood flow throughout their foot. Imagine that blood supply has stopped in a diabetic’s small toe.

Feature

By only taking measurements from

48

the big toe, a diagnosis opportunity

The possibility of such early diagnoses could be a game-changer. This simpleto-use technique will not only control spiralling healthcare costs but also give patients the possibility of a richer life.


will be lost. This has led the DFRG researchers to investigate the potential of thermographic imaging, also known as Medical Infrared Imaging. This is a quick, non-contact technique that eliminates the risk of infection while providing important information about the blood supply to the feet. The research is currently in its second phase and already making significant headway. The first part of the project assessed thermographic images of healthy individuals. Foot and hand temperature patterns were analysed, followed by an evaluation of the thermal symmetry of the same limbs on opposite sides of the body. This study concluded that the hands and feet demonstrate a characteristic

Clockwise from left to right: Ms Cassandra Sturgeon (MDH), Prof. Nachiappan Chockalingham (Faculty of Health Sciences, Staffordshire University), Prof. Kevin Cassar (Consultant Vascular Surgeon, MDH) and Prof. Ing. Kenneth Camilleri (CBC, University of Malta).

constant thermographic pattern with marked differences between them.

presented at the Mediterranean

of equipment, the end goal would

Conference on Medical and Biological

be to develop a handheld portable

recruited over 200 diabetes patients

Engineering and Computing

device which would give clinicians

with different foot complications.

(MEDICON) in Cyprus. In September

accurate and detailed information

The thermal images acquired are

2016, the findings were also

about the foot thus guiding them to

currently being analysed visually as

presented at the Diabetes Foot Study

early detection and intervention.

well as through automated image

Group scientific meeting in Stuttgart,

analysis techniques that use algorithms

Germany, going on to receive first

on the home front and worldwide.

in order to extract information that

prize for its originality and novelty.

The possibility of such early diagnoses

may be imperceptible to the naked

While there might be several

eye. By comparing them, their tests

reports in the literature relating to

simple-to-use technique will not only

have shown a success rate above

the potential use of thermal imaging

control spiralling healthcare costs

90%, meaning that they could reduce

in the diabetic foot, these are limited.

but also give patients the possibility

human error significantly and not

The use of thermography is also

of a richer life­—a future everyone

miss out blood problems in any toe.

currently limited to research purposes.

would certainly look forward to.

The second phase of this study

Diabetes is a serious problem both

could be a game-changer. This

THE RESULTS

determine whether thermography

This research project is

could be used to develop a reliable

financed by the Malta Council

The work on the developed

and effective tool in the evaluation of

for Science and Technology

automated techniques has been

the diabetic foot. With the advances

through the National Research &

well received. In April 2016, it was

in technology and the miniaturisation

Innovation Programme 2013.

Feature

Ongoing research by the DFRG will

49


Feature

Let it shine 50


Malta has a target: by 2020, 10% of the generation of energy should come from the renewables. Luckily, there is a resource which is available almost every third hour a year—sunshine. Dr Ing. Maurice Apap and Ing. Jurgen Bonavia explain how the solar energy can be harvested. Words by Tuovi Mäkipere.

panels in a PV system behave as a DC (direct

million tourists come to Malta every

current) source when exposed to sunlight, whilst

year. These tourists soak up a lot of

the grid supplies AC (alternating current) electricity.

sun. Their bodies use these rays to

DC voltages have a steady value while AC voltages

produce Vitamin D. On the other

constantly fluctuate in a periodic manner. So

hand, photovoltaic (PV) systems convert this solar

the PV system needs an inverter to convert DC

radiation into electricity. Sunlight is a renewable

into AC current to make it useable for homes.

energy source Malta definitely does not lack.

The inverter ensures that the solar panels

One third of the Maltese Islands are covered in

deliver the maximum power available at all

buildings. If all structures were to install PV systems,

times depending on lighting conditions and

a big chunk of the country’s energy needs could

temperature. When the power generated

be met by renewables. Apart from cloudy days,

by the PV system exceeds the connected

a major obstacle towards this is the utility grid’s

load power within the installation, power

limits, which carries electricity into every home.

is exported to the grid. On the other hand,

Utility grids are traditionally a one-way

when the connected power load exceeds the

distribution network from power stations to

power generated by the PV system, the extra

households. On the other hand, PV systems supply

electricity needed is imported from the grid.

electricity to a distributed energy generation

The Maltese government encourages PV

system, which means they provide energy

installations by paying a feed-in tariff for

from households to the grid. Electrical power

electricity fed into the grid by PV panels. The

conversion expert Dr Maurice Apap (Faculty of

feed-in tariff ensures that the PV system pays

Engineering, University of Malta) explained that ‘a

for itself after a number of years. Although,

country’s first PV systems can be handled easily.

when ‘the consumption tariff exceeds the tariff

As the number starts increasing, you have to

paid for energy fed into the grid, it may be

make sure that the network can deal with them.’

economically advantageous to integrate energy

The typical domestic PV system consists of a string of PV cells connected in series. The solar

storage into the PV system in order to reduce energy imported from the grid,’ said Apap.

Feature

S

unshine is a big reason why over one

51


Feature

Problems do exist. What if a neighbour blocks access to sunlight by building an extra floor? Such questions worry buyers.

52

A PV system can either be a stand-

Dr Ing. Maurice Apap and Ing. Jurgen Bonavia. Photos by Jean Claude Vancell

batteries by day in grid-connected PV

DARK TIME AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS

alone system or be connected to

systems could mitigate this fluctuation

the utility grid. For a grid-connected

by shifting the generated energy within

Malta has around 3,000 hours of

system, the grid supplies electricity

a household to match the pattern of

sunshine per year. The problem is

to the customer when the PV system

consuming energy by the family.

that there are 8,760 hours in a year;

is not generating energy, overcoming

this means that a household with a

the need for expensive batteries

Jurgen Bonavia is researching how

stand-alone system would be bereft

required for a stand-alone system.

to increase the energy consumed

Electrical engineering student

of electricity for over half the time.

Grid-connected PV systems have

by buildings with grid-connected

The issue can only be overcome by

some negative impact on the utility

PV systems. ‘Several households

storing excess energy generated during

grid because the PV panel outputs

agreed in allowing us to measure

the day in batteries to use at night.

a large amount of energy at certain

their daily energy consumption. This

Storing energy is also important since

times of the day, which can lead to

data was used to identify similarities

solar energy peaks during the day

significant voltage fluctuations when

which could then be used in the load

when residents are either working

a proportion of installations within a

management algorithm,’ said Bonavia.

or at school. Energy consumption

neighbourhood alternate between net

peaks when people come back

export of energy by day and net import

sequence of steps and instructions.

home in the dark evening hours.

of energy by night. Energy storage in

The algorithm is made up of several

A load management algorithm is a


PV Inverter

Energy Storage Inverter

Controller

Feature

Feed-In/Consumption Meter

53


different scenarios and instructions

in further increasing this factor since

produce energy during the day when

to switch on and off electricity loads

it requires introducing additional parts

it is typically needed at night. Storing

according to the available energy. A

to the system,’ explained Bonavia.

energy is the ideal solution but cost

scenario could account for changes

These extra parts include batteries, a

is a problem. Energy storage converts

in sunlight in Malta according to

load management system with multiple

electrical energy into another form

season. Each different scenario would

switching devices, energy meters,

and back again—an expensive and

need a different set of computer

and a programmable logic controller

wasteful process. ‘Current batteries

instructions or algorithms.

to send commands to the whole

are still expensive because of

system. Such a setup can be expensive

material and production costs. Price

management system would be

and extend how long it takes for

depends on the amount of storage

impossible. The software we

a PV system to pay itself back.

required and the type of technology

‘Without an algorithm, a load

developed is continuously monitoring

against the benefits such a system

role on the feasibility of the final

on the electricity loads to increase

gives. By consuming electricity when

solution [for a home],’ said Bonavia.

self-consumption by the household.

produced the PV system's influence

The goal is to use as much of the

on the grid is reduced. Bonavia has

available energy when the sun is

built a test-bed based on computer

shining rather than exporting it

simulations and preliminary real-world

to the grid.  The algorithm takes

results that can test run a system

care of this task. […] Each and

before its implemented. This simulation

every household with a PV system

can weigh if such a system is needed.

self-consumption, the tricky part lies

Feature

used. Their size plays an important

the available power and switching

unknowingly performs some form of

54

The expense needs to be weighed

Most households cannot use energy when it is being produced. PV panels

The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive requires the whole 'EU to fulfil at least 20% of its total energy needs using renewables by 2020' […] Currently, about 5% of the energy generated in Malta comes from renewable energy sources.


How much energy can domestic PV

sunlight by building an extra floor?

rate of increase in Malta is mostly

Questions like these worry buyers.

due to solar energy that accounts

Another issue is the environment

for 73% of renewable energy

systems generate? Apap explained, ‘a

and European Union goals. PV

production. The renewable energy

PV system is normally sized according

panels cut greenhouse gas emissions

mix varies across the EU states

to the peak power output of the solar

while the EU is pushing for greater

because of different environmental

panels in the system. If one considers

renewable energy source usage.

conditions. While Malta and Cyprus

a PV system with 12 panels— a

The EU’s Renewable Energy

produce solar energy, mountainous

typical system being installed today

Directive requires the whole ‘EU

countries, like Croatia, Austria,

on terraced houses—its peak energy

to fulfil at least 20% of its total

and Slovenia use hydropower.

generation is around 3kWp meaning

energy needs using renewables by

an average of 4,800 kWh per year.’

2020’. Every country has its own

Malta to recharge their inner solar

4,800 kWh could keep almost 14

targets. They ‘range from a low of

energy batteries under Malta’s

fridges working all year round.

10% for Malta to a high of 49% for

greatest renewable energy: sunlight.

Sweden’. Currently, about 5% of the

But in the future, there might be

costs can be recovered in 4–5 years.

energy generated in Malta comes

more PV systems on Maltese roofs

This payback period and the eventual

from renewable energy sources.

enjoying the same sunshine. With

According to Apap, a PV system’s

return on investment depend on

Renewable energy output in Malta

Tourists will continue coming to

energy storage solutions, houses

whether there are capital subsidies,

grew by 41% per year between 2003

can consume the generated energy

the feed-in tariff offered, and the

and 2013 according to Eurostat.

when needed at night. The right

duration for which the tariff will

Despite this success, Malta’s output

incentives and research can see

apply. Problems do exist. What

remains by far the lowest among

Malta blaze past its 10% requirement

if a neighbour blocks access to

the 28 EU member states. This

for a very green, solar future.

Feature

ROOF FULL OF ENERGY

55


Charting Space & Time Feature

From Google Maps to PokĂŠmon GO, without maps the world would not function. But how did we start developing them? Ritienne Gauci and Dr William Zammit take a look at historical maps to discover fascinating quirks about the Maltese Islands. So how were map errors inherited? And what is the connection between religion and maps?

56

Giacomo Gastaldi, (Post 1558) ISOLA DE MALTA, State 2, Inv. No. 30169-70, Albert Ganado Malta Map Collection – Cartographic Collection, National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta. Courtesy of Heritage Malta.


Johannes Quintinus, (1536) MELITA, Gozo Public Library

records of the past: in a reality where

Some are elaborately

history consisted essentially of political

engraved while others have

chronology, the biographies of the great

a decorative style, which

and mighty, and of momentous happenings,

was particularly loved

the place of maps remained in the realm

by early map-makers and which still is, by

of an antiquarian curio, and they were not

contemporary collectors. On the other hand,

considered important historical documents.

maps can be elegant and simple, similar to highly technical modern digital cartography. Many have tried to explain the appeal

With the rise of a new genre of history, the crucial value of maps became evident. Over time the daily life of the masses became more

of maps. The seventeenth-century Spanish

important for historians as opposed to the

author Saavedra wrote, that by simply

great episodes of the rich and mighty. Maps

looking at a map, one could ‘journey all over

from obscure periods are even more interesting

the universe […], without the expense and

for the evidence they reveal, normally

fatigue of travelling, without suffering the

lacking from traditional documentation.

inconvenience of cold, hunger, and thirst’. Cartography is also a visual medium

Albert Ganado and Joseph Schirò, authors of the latest Melitensia publication

of first-rate geographic and historical

Pre-Siege Maps of Malta: 2nd century to

importance. Traditional history did not

1564, have made a remarkable years-long

have much respect or use for the visual

commitment to Maltese cartography.

Feature

M

aps have immediate appeal.

57


Al-Idrīsī, (c. 1300) [Sicily], Inv. M.S. Arabe 892. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

years he has published a string of

delicious clues about medieval life. The

Melitensia collection into what is

cartography-related publications with

Great Siege of 1565 is one of Malta’s

possibly the largest outside Malta’s

a landmark achievement being the

greatest historical moments when an

national collections. His collection

founding of the Malta Map Society

overwhelmingly large Ottoman army

includes material that had been lost in

in 2009. The organisation is a young

was repelled by Maltese militants and

the repositories of national memory.

and modest cultural institution, but

the Knights of St John. History prior

He has made a major academic

one which has already offered a

to 1530 (before the Knights came

contribution to the Maltese Islands by

series of publications, exhibitions,

to the islands) has generally been

passing on the so-called ‘Albert Ganado

and lectures to the public, which

neglected. They lack documentary

Malta Map Collection’ to the National

have increased awareness of

sources and can be historically

Museum of Fine Arts — a cultural

cartography’s academic significance.

perceived as an uninteresting,

Ganado transformed his late father’s

treasure of international dimension.

The book, The Pre-Siege Maps of

The impressive map collection

Malta, is a tour through the earliest

No map can exist without its

cartographic representations of

being perceived simply as collectible

the Maltese Islands. Spanning over

mapmaker. The colourful and

items, due to their aesthetics and

fifteen centuries, its invaluable

informative book traces the life and

investment considerations. With

productions are intimately connected

times of the period’s mapmakers,

his numerous studies, Ganado

with a historical narrative.

engravers, and publishers. The authors

The work consists of a revamped

tap into the genealogy of these

cartography, rather than leaving

modest, but pioneering study, originally

pioneers, revisiting many aspects of

unstudied maps decorating a hallway.

published in 1986. Thanks to thirty

their lives. Ganado and Schirò reveal

years of research the number of

the pioneers’ childhood, studies, and

Schirò is one of the most renowned

Maltese pre-siege maps shot up from

travels, while uncovering the cut-

professionals in this field. In the last

fourteen to forty maps, revealing

throat challenges of their work.

Emeritus Chief Conservator Joseph Feature

and maps now reveal otherwise.

needed study. Maps carry the risk of

pioneered in the research of Maltese

58

stagnant phase. But, documentation


Ritienne Gauci and Dr William Zammit photographed at the University of Malta Valletta Library. Photo by Lars Lorenz

Albert Ganado transformed his late father’s Melitensia collection into what is possibly the largest outside Malta’s national collections

barely two decades later, turned into

map study, the cartographic genre

twenty-nine place names as drawn

‘books of islands’, known as isolario,

by Gastaldi in his 1551 map Isola di

popularised island geography in this

Malta State 1. In his 1551 map, Antonio

time period. These cartographic books

Lafreri introduces the concept of

combined maps and narrative-historical

settlement hierarchy visualisation, with

chorography. The Mediterranean

eight important places, names of towns

region has 3,000 islands and became

and villages, marked in a small circle.

one of the most fertile avenues for

Some of the place-names of these

the development of the isolari in the

villages have now been lost to time.

fourteenth and fifteenth century. Books

The cartographer indicated a town

by authors, such as Buondelmonti

and village population size with the

and Bordone, helped form

number of residences drawn. Hardly

Renaissance geographical concepts.

any population figures existed before.

Maps intriguingly instill a desire in

Some maps also give a rudimentary

the map viewer to look out for familiar

sketch of the road network. The Lafreri

places or landmarks, such as their

and Bertelli maps of 1551 and 1552

hometown or village. These pre-siege

show an elaborate web of major and

maps coupled with lengthy description,

minor roads. The Beatrizet map from

provide a detailed account of the

1563 provides a rare, possibly unique,

earliest form of urban development

visual layout of the road pattern

in Malta. Johannes Quintinus’ map in

around the developing harbour area

1536 identified seven villages that,

just before the Great Siege.

Feature

With geography at the core of

59


1.

2.

3. 1. 2. Feature

3.

60

Giovanni Francesco Camocio, (c. 1560) DE MELITA INSULA, State 1. Courtesy of the Cathedral Museum, Mdina Giovanni Andrea Vavassori?, (1551) ISOLA DI MALTA, Inv. No. 002-03-003, (old no P300 n.45). Courtesy of Bibliothek der Rijksuniversiteit, Leiden Antonio Lafreri, (1551) MELITA INSULA, quam hodie MALTAM uocant. N. 2587. Courtesy of the University Library, Helsinki (Nordenskiรถld Collection)


are what attracted the Knights to Malta

referred to as an ‘enchanted world’,

the fortifications of Malta and Gozo.

in the first place: the natural water

where the physical and spiritual were

These representations range from

features, sloping topography to landing

not so conceptually separated as

complete fabrication to remarkably

sites, and large sheltering harbours.

they are today. In being so attuned to

accurate ones. The 1553 Foresti

These maps have no contour

symbolism, Christians and Muslims

map erroneously includes Gothic

line representation yet land height

drew maps to portray their symbolic

towering spires and slanted roofs. The

is vividly sketched and coloured

interpretation of the world. Today’s

cartographer had no idea of Malta.

in a rather arbitrary manner. This

maps lack such symbolism.

Cock’s 1551 map, only known from

provides a general idea of the islands’

its second 1565 state, depicts the

hilly terrain. Remarkably, some hills

interpret maps. Detailed analysis is

harbour fortifications precisely.

All this information is needed to

were quickly erased from one map

needed for identification in libraries,

The maps have other quirks.

to another. In the 1551 to 1558

future research, and comparison

The 1536 Quintinus map shows

Gastaldi maps, Mount Sceberras

with yet undiscovered maps. These

the earliest-known image of Grand

became the city fortress Valletta.

maps had a lasting influence,

Harbour’s forbidding gallows at its

Compass directions often radiate

entrance. They also show fresh water

from these maps’ centre. Several

springs and a garden in Marsa.

helping to shape the historical events that unfolded thereafter.

transform the whole map into a

The complexity of research in

These maps pleasantly remind

compass rose, which leaves no

maps in breathtaking. Perhaps the

one about the relative geographic

doubt about the importance of

most fascinating element is how a

inaccuracies of early maps. Distances

these maps for navigational and

single image manages to convey a

between parts of the Mediterranean

military purposes. It is precisely on

diversity of delights to viewers from

are reduced. In the 1536 Quintinus

one of these compass points, where

different walks of life. Cartography

map Malta has its first map separate

geography marries spirituality, with

cuts across borders, and no one

from the rest of the Mediterranean.

the addition of a small cross on the

person is capable of embracing all

Early defensive structures are wrongly

east cardinal point, to symbolically

of the enjoyment of maps.

sited, such as the Gozitan castello,

represent the direction to the holy city

incorrectly drawn on Malta on the

of Jerusalem. Other religious elements

1470 Buondelmonti map. In the 1552

come out more strongly, such as the

Antonio Millo map coastlines lose

dramatic shipwreck portrayal of St

their physical proportionality to give

Paul the Apostle (Ptolemy’s 1540

importance to the main harbours of

Munster’s edition of his Geographia).

Malta. On the Dillingen map, the Paris

But symbolism is not just a

Map, and the Marucelliana map of

prerogative of Christian cartographers.

the mid-1500s, Fort St Angelo was

The authors balance their work

awkwardly placed in the open sea

with fine examples of Islamic

due to map space limitations. There

cartography, which in the book are

are many other historical quirks.

best represented by the works of

Yet, the value of these maps as a

Piri Reis and Al Idrisi. The 1157 Al

navigational tool remains pivotal and

Idrisi map was oriented south (like

central throughout the book. Hazards

most Islamic cartography), because

The Pre-Siege Maps of Malta; 2nd

to navigation are explained with the

many communities that lived north

Century to 1564 was published by the

use of black crosses on shoals and

of Mecca in the seventh and eighth

Malta Map Society (maltamapsociety.

red colouring for reefs; safe landings

century faced south during prayers.

com) and BDL, and was sponsored

Through these works, the authors

by the Alfred Mizzi Foundation. It

are marked by dots or tiny dashes at sea. The islands’ geographical

reveal to us a ‘medieval world’, which

is available in hard cover format

characteristics, as portrayed in maps,

philosopher Charles Taylor famously

in all leading local bookshops.

Feature

Most maps of the period depict

61


62

Culture


CULTURAL REGENERATION THROUGH URBAN SPACES AND PLACES projects taking place in Valletta as part

with two M.Arch. (Architecture and

Capital of Culture are

of the European Capital of Culture:

Urban Design) students—Daniel

felt through both the

The Valletta Design Cluster (il-Biċċerija)

Attard and Christopher Azzopardi—

cultural activities that

and its surrounding neighbourhood;

carried out extensive studies to gain

take place and through

Strait Street; the relocation of MUŻA

a deeper understanding of the sites.

the interactions people have with

– Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti (Malta’s

Attard developed a matrix in order to

each other as well as the space

National Museum of Fine Arts) – to

score the different types of interactions

around them in their everyday lives.

Auberge d’Italie and Pjazza de Valette;

within each site. Split into categories

The Valletta 2018 Foundation

and the area surrounding the Valletta

such as ‘aural’, ‘user categories’ and

Covered Market (is-Suq tal-Belt).

‘actual use of space,’ the sections

has been working tirelessly on

help identify emerging patterns and

several projects preparing Valletta

The four projects are in different

for its title as European Capital of

stages of their implementation, and

traits from the implementations of

Culture in Malta in 2018. More so,

have been dispersed throughout

the projects. The Biċċerija and Strait

it is researching how these projects

Valletta in a way that allows them

Street all score high in the ‘aural’

are changing the lives of people.

to collide with many of the different

category, meaning various elements

districts of the capital. While none

that contributed to noise, or the lack

communities and their surrounding

lack cultural significance, each project

of it, were observed. MUŻA and the

space are key issues being

has displayed different strengths in

Covered Market both qualified for

investigated by the Valletta 2018

implementation. The Valletta Market

the ‘user categories’ section, meaning

Evaluation & Monitoring research

and Strait Street Projects have a

that a relatively diverse demographic

process. This is a five-year research

particularly strong commercial value,

was observed making use of the place.

study examining the impacts of

while the Valletta Design Cluster

The Valletta Design Cluster was noted

the European Capital of Culture on

is aimed at creative design and

for having a higher level of human

Malta’s society and economy.

encouraging entreprenuership. MUŻA,

interaction take place daily (balcony

These interactions between

more overtly than any of the other three

conversations, loud conversations in

2018 Foundation, has been studying

projects, is an attempt at traditional

general, and so on). Finally, all four sites

the relationship between community

forms of cultural engagement and

qualified for the category of ‘actual use

inclusion and space in cultural

regeneration through the development

of space,’ meaning that people actively

infrastructural projects. His research

of a national, community-driven

show awareness of the space by taking

focuses on four specific infrastructural

musuem of art. Zammit, together

photos, complaining due to lack

Dr Antoine Zammit, with the Valletta

Culture

T

he effects of a European

63


of public conveniences, construction

in its current state is poorly perceived

work, and shops setting up or closing

and somewhat inaccessible. Matching

down, among other things.

Azzopardi’s findings with statistical

On the other hand, Azzopardi

through the NSO’s evaluation of the

sites by looking at their accessibility

available 2011 Census Data, Zammit

and permeability, perception and

has determined some relationship (but

comfort, and the vitality of the four

not statistically significant), between

sites. Of the four, Strait Street, more

the buildings’ current state of repair

specifically the intersection with Old

and the community’s achievements in

Theatre Street, scored highest, followed

literacy, education, and employment.

Culture

by MUŻA and the Valletta Market. The

64

data, obtained at a neighbourhood level

focused on the spatial quality of the

The diversity of the four sites were key

Valletta Design Cluster obtained the

to Zammit’s studies. He studied the effect

lowest score, suggesting that the site

their differing cultural infrastructure

Quality urban design has increasingly become about creating these habitable places. It is ultimately all about the quality of life of residents.


had on the cultural regeneration

is, "what will that infrastructure give

has increasingly become about creating

of Valletta. ‘Cultural infrastructure

back to the community at the end

these habitable places. It is ultimately

entails those interventions, which

of it all?"’ Other research, similar to

all about the quality of life of residents.’

generally have some kind of physical

Zammit's, holds that more than just

This issue of liveability is key to being

implication, in an urban space which

creating spaces, cultural regenerative

a European Capital of Culture. Its goals

tends to enhance and broaden people’s

projects should aim to create places

are to create high-quality cultural and

cultural appreciation,’ explains Dr

which result from quality urban design.

artistic activities while improving the

Zammit, ‘but I see it as requiring an

‘Over the past two years, I started

quality of life of communities through

added value. In my opinion, art for

to realise that the real difference is

culture. Zammit’s study highlights many

art’s sake in these cases doesn’t mean

‘between places that are alive, versus

potential issues such as an increase in

anything. Which is why the question

habitable places,’ comments Zammit,

noise pollution, gentrification resulting

which I try to answer in my research

who thinks that, ‘quality urban design

from a rise in property values and rental prices, and other potential impacts on Valletta residents. The Valletta 2018

MUSEUM OF THE PEOPLE

Foundation is discussing these issues in its upcoming conference Cities as Community Spaces in November 2016, which will bring together a number of international speakers to explore how different communities make use of public spaces for creativity, contestation, and interaction. For more: valletta2018.org

CULTURE

Naqsam il-MUŻA is a branch project inspired by MUŻA. Currently in progress, participants in the Naqsam il-MUŻA project were selected from different communities around Malta and taken to see the art collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts. They will then exhibit their choice of artwork from the museum in their localities. It brings the museum to the people, rather than the other way round.

65


Curiosity saved the cat Since childhood Ian Zammit has always been curious about why things are the way they are. His curiosity has led him to work on a water recycling project from which Malta could potentially stand to gain. He speaks to Veronica Stivala.

C

CLEAN WATER

the methods to assess antibiotic

Zammit’s case, it pushed

Zammit is currently working with

and model the spread of antibiotic

him to work on a project

a research group run by Prof. Luigi

resistance when water is reused,

that affects every single

uriosity can sometimes be a good thing. In Ian

Rizzo in Salerno. The group’s research

develop and trial technologies

one of us: our health. Antibiotic

centres around how water treatment

that effectively mitigate antibiotic

resistance is on the increase leaving

technologies can lower antibiotic

resistance, and produce regulatory

doctors with fewer options to cure

resistance in bacteria. The project could

guidelines for policy development.

disease. Zammit works on decreasing

be particularly significant to Malta,

the harmful effects of this resistance

which, because of its low water supply,

is in developing a reactor using

in wastewater and its reuse.

could benefit greatly from recycling

heterogeneous photocatalysis —

waste water. But more on that later.

normally a compound (classically,

Zammit has always been curious about why things are the way they are

Alumni

There is growing global concern on

Zammit’s direct contribution

the catalyst titanium dioxide)

and how they work. He always asked

antibiotic resistance. The sub-lethal

that absorbs light to generate a

lots of questions, coupled with a

levels of antibiotics in waste water

reactive oxygen radicals that can

critical mind that never just accepted

promote antibiotic resistance and the

stop bacteria from exchanging

answers but needed explanations.

reuse of treated waste water with

genes. The bacteria stop dividing

these antibiotics is a potential health

and growing with released DNA

though he lauds those teachers

risk. Zammit, together with a large

affected, which means that antibiotic

‘who could really get their students

team of researchers and collaborators,

resistance is stopped in its tracks.

excited about [it]’. He found

is working on an international project,

himself excited by the fact that

entitled ANSWER (Antibiotics

his knowledge to help society. He is a

‘scientists can completely change

and mobile resistance elements

passionate scientist and says that he

our understanding of things’ with

in wastewater reuse applications:

is ‘really enjoying the fact that [his]

the facts they discover and which

risks and innovative solutions).

work is aimed at producing something

could in turn change societies.

This project aspires to develop

that will be used in real scale and

Science came naturally to Ian,

66

resistance in the environment, follow

Zammit is clearly determined to use


Speaking about the frustrating aspects

research and teaching assistant. For his Ph.D., Ian wants to work

of the project, Ian admits that ‘having

on more applied problems. It was

many different parameters that can

through a professor at Stockholm

substantially affect the efficiency of the

University that he found out about

final design is not the simplest of tasks.’

a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action

Zammit is a passionate scientist

conducted at the Agricultural Research Organisation of Israel (www.agri.gov.il).

BRINGING KNOWLEDGE HOME

(MSCA) on antibiotic resistance and

We talk about Malta and how the

but his zeal for the discipline

wastewater reuse. In Stockholm

project can potentially help the island.

extends to a general enthusiasm

he worked on how quickly organic

Because of its low rainfall, long dry

and enjoyment about life. He wishes

pollutants decreased by gaseous

summer periods and high population

to buy a motorcycle and tour il bel

hydroxyl radicals. This determines how

density, Malta is highly dependent

paese. ‘Being in the region famous

persistent some organic pollutants

on energy intensive reverse osmosis

for the production of mozzarella di

are in the atmosphere. His current

(RO) technologies for its water supply.

bufala, I’m also frequently stuffing

work is on similar oxidation reactions

Between 2004 and 2013, 55.7% of

my face with too much mozzarella.’

but now includes other reactive

Malta’s water was produced by RO

oxygen species used to treat water.

consuming 3.7% of its energy (National

Zammit initially read for a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Chemistry and Biology

Zammit’s role in the ANSWER

Statistic Office, Malta, 2014).

(University of Malta), followed

project sees him assessing how good

by a brief stint working in the

various compounds are in disinfecting

processes that are used in a number

pharmaceutical industry on the

water. He is scaling up a reactor

of arid countries, most notably, Israel,

island. But it was after this that he

which will include a secondment

Singapore, and Windhoek (Namibia)

decided he ‘wanted to do something

at Adventech, in Portugal, www.

as a means to recycle water for

less commercially minded’ and

adventech.pt); and using treated water

agriculture and industry requiring

followed an M.Sc. in Environmental

for crop irrigation to see if it can stop

high purity and potable use. These

Science (Stockholm University).

the spread of antibiotic resistant

processes are more cost effective

After his masters, he stayed on as a

bacteria. This work will mostly be

than using reverse osmosis.

An alternative is tertiary treatment

Alumni

not just a hypothetical application.’

67


In Malta, the Sant’ Antnin sewage treatment plant produces recovered waste water supplied mostly for agriculture, and to a lesser extent, industry. The recovered water consumes 3.5 times less energy to produce. The demand for the regenerated water has been in decline (National Statistic Office, Malta, 2014) and there are also reports of low quality water from the plant. Malta recently invested in developing waste water recla iming technologies, with the intention to eliminate over extraction from aquifers and then regenerate them using reclaimed water. Cost effective reactors use advanced oxidation processes, which is the aim of Zammit’s project, are integral to these water reclaiming plants. Through the project, the scientists also aim to better understand antibiotic resistant spread from reclaimed water to crops which has health implications for consumers worldwide. The project has the potential to improve Malta’s water situation and the world’s health. Reducing antibiotic resistance will help control this burgeoning problem. Ian has just started the first year of a three-year grant and says, ‘I would love to do research for a living, be it academic or industrial’. Here’s hoping he does. This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 675530. Alumni

www.answer-itn.eu

68

Zammit is a passionate scientist and says that he is ‘really enjoying the fact that [his] work is aimed at producing something that will be used in real scale and not just a hypothetical application.’


BOOK REVIEW by Andrea Marie Cini

How To Teach Quantum Physics To Your Dog CHAD ORZEL science—debatable). Orzel’s ideology is pretty

many hearts. Such a complex subject has,

simple: if a dog could understand his explanations

for many years, dumbfounded students, and, it seems, their dogs alike. Chad Orzel (a professor at

then a human surely would. Apart from being a sturdy foundation for the

Union College,New York) in his book, How To Teach

topic of quantum physics, the fun-loving and

Quantum Physics To Your Dog, tries to accomplish

comical conversations between Orzel and Emmy

just that; how do you explain sub-atomic physics

the dog are a captivating read. Emmy’s curious

in a fun and easy way? Using his dog Emmy

questions and Orzel’s exceptionally patient

as a fellow narrator, Orzel explains quantum

answers make it almost impossible for readers to

physics from a different, more canine-oriented

forget. Within this novel it feels as if the reader

perspective, and actually manages to make it work!

is really strolling in a park with the duo. Apart

Making use of situations that dogs encounter

from this professor’s incredible explanations and

on a nearly daily basis, such as rabbit chasings,

handy diagrams, another distinguishable feature

evil squirrels and squeaky toys, the author

of his book is the fascinating footnotes—a source

explains some of the most complex theories and

of unforgettable fun facts. For example, did you

experiments in science. Sound bites as particle-

know that the great scientist, Schrödinger, was a

wave duality, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle,

notorious womaniser?

and quantum tunnelling are just a few of the

While I would not recommend How To Teach

many topics covered and are colourfully explained

Quantum Physics To Your Dog to pass the next

within this book. Making use of simple diagrams

quantum mechanics exam, it is great foundation

and modern references, these previously baffling

material. Studying quantum physics has never

topics are simplified in a way even a dog could

been more fun and the book is a great read—highly

understand (if dogs were capable of learning

recommended. Fun

T

he term quantum physics has struck fear into

69


GAME REVIEW by David Chircop

Traders of Osaka

I

’m an absolute sucker for elegance. I love games with few components and

rules, yet still manage to create a deep and

Publisher: Z-Man Designer: Susumu Kawasaki

thoughtful gameplay system. The card game Traders of Osaka has all of these traits. Based on Traders of Carthage, where the goal is for players to move ships, and deliver goods

destination. When it reaches Edo the player can

from Alexandria to Carthage, Traders of Osaka is

sell the goods of a specific colour. However, if the

essentially the same but this time the gameplay

seas are perilous just before docking, it sinks, and

is set in a new continent and era, with the cargo

everyone’s goods of that colour go to waste.

needing to be shipped from Osaka to Edo in Japan. The game has both cards and a board. Each

the players around you. The competition is

the type of goods you can ship, and the number

absolutely bittersweet. Don’t be fooled by its

indicates their value. But, the game gives you

spareness, these are some of the most tactical

the choice to keep your card in hand or place it

choices you will have to make in your life.

goods or cash to use later to purchase the goods. Apart from this choice, as a trader you need to move your goods. Each time you buy an item, Fun

The setup leads to a very simple, binary choice, which is affectd by the actions of all

card has a number and colour. The colour denotes

in front of you. This turns them into purchased

70

the ship of its colour moves one step closer to its

The game is about trading rice in Osaka over 100 years ago—a hard sell. But it has beautiful artworks, and a modern design that runs smoothly and is easy to learn. Trust me, give this one a shot.


FILM REVIEW by Charlo Pisani

Song of the Road S

atyajit Ray’s monumental

by Ravi Shankar’s sitar music. In

which brings out the bright blaze of

Pather Panchali deals with an

a celebrated scene, the mother

India’s heat and the silvery tones of

impoverished family in rural Bengal.

is unable to communicate to the

the monsoon habitat to crystalline,

Maybe monumental isn’t the right

father that their daughter Durga

elemental palpability. The recent

word for this humble movie and yet,

died from a cold; the mother’s

Blu-ray release eliminates the

it is apt because of the film’s intense

cries are replaced by wailing sitar

‘ghosting’ effect and muddy transfers

depiction of human emotions and its

notes. The shot remains helplessly

of previous VHS or DVD releases.

towering position in Indian cinema.

‘immobilised’ as the anguished

Finally, one cannot imagine Pather

father rises out of the camera’s

Panchali without the actress Chunibala

view, then returns helplessly to it.

Devi, who plays the aged widowed

This is Satyajit Ray’s first film and the first in a trilogy depicting Apu’s coming of age and a family’s fateful

The film’s pacing alternates between

aunt. The moment she comes to

descent into misfortune while the

quiet, domestic chores and vibrant,

realise that she is no longer wanted

father works in the city. Adapted

exterior episodes in which Apu and

in the household, convinces me that

from Bibhutibhushan Banerji’s novel

Durga behave as children do. Much

the medium close-up was invented

of the same name, it reproduces

like the source novel and the Mangal-

for this moment in film history.

many of the episodes from the book.

Kāvya poems in Bengali literature

When I met Satyajit Ray’s son in

However, it commands pacing,

(made up of episodic poems called

Calcutta, he gifted me with an original

cinematography, and performance

panchali), it is the periodic nature of

poster of the film. A Bollywood

which make it a distinguishable

rural life which drives the film forward.

producer present in the same room

work in its own right and a prime

Although it differs from commercial

leapt up for it. That poster made it

example of India’s transcendental

western narratives, with their linear

through the monsoon (unlike Durga)

take on Italian Neorealist cinema (c.

cause-effect plots and clear resolution,

and Pather Panchali continues to win

1944–1952), which was based on

the film made its way to western

hearts across the world. It is in this

serious concerns and social realism.

audiences winning the Best Human

spirit that this review was written—

Document award at the 1956 Cannes

with the hope that a work from a

Film Festival (among many others).

different time and so close to the

The director has a keen eye for establishing natural pacing devices—from gathering storms to

Of note is the film’s excellent

flitting mosquitoes—accompanied

black and white cinematography,

human spirit, could become something personal for the readers of THINK. Fun

Pather Panchali

Year of release: 1955 Director: Satyajit Ray Production company: Government of West Bengal Certification: U

71


Dr Jackson Levi Said

MY 100 WORD IDEA TO CHANGE MALTA Make society more science-oriented

DO EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTIVES CAUSE ABORTIONS? Alexander Hili

T

his depends on how the words contraception and abortion are interpreted. Being scientifically correct does

Science offers more than just the yearly cutting edge installation in a phone series or the next technological interest such as augmented reality headsets. It also offers a whole new perspective

not mean ethical correctness for some. The facts state that if a contraceptive blocks fertilisation of the woman’s egg then the contraceptive technique does not cause an abortion. The flipside is that some believe that interfering with

on how to view the world, from understanding

the natural course of things should not be done. From

how everyday things work through to the intrigue

a scientific perspective, emergency contraceptives, like

of space and the very small dimensions of the

the morning after pill, retard or block ovulation. They do

Universe. Making science more central to society can enrich every level of it from giving children the

not cause an abortion. The egg has not been fertilised and so has no chance to become a living creature.

curiosity bug to creating tomorrow’s next world

Other medications can cause abortions. In these cases, the

changing idea. Such a society could have better

matter becomes an ethical decision. However, one should not

informed national discussions. Science can make

falsely claim that emergency contraceptives are abortive.

Malta a global leader. Send in your science questions to think@um.edu.mt

Fun

Don't THINK

72

by Ġorġ Mallia



Think — Issue 17