DECEMBER 2015 • ISSUE 15
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
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alta is the most built-up country in the EU. One third of the Islands are covered in buildings with little consideration for green spaces and urban design. The Faculty for the
Built Environment is celebrating 100 years since it was set up and
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recent graduates are now challenged with helping fix previous mistakes. Apart from this problem, in a special focus (pg. 8–10, 16–33) THINK looks into the research re-envisioning Malta. A step in the right direction is a new document outlining the principles of good design and planning in Malta (pg. 10). Another step sees the
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University of Malta used as a test bed to solve the traffic and water problems of the whole country (pg. 24) with the debilitated port town of Marsa transformed by 2050 (pg. 23). However, the built environment is not simply concerned with buildings but also with welfare. A team of researchers are creating spaces to help dementia patients (pg. 19), while others are seeing how modern Maltese buildings would react
To read all our printed magazines online
to Earthquakes—an infrequent, but dangerous, possibility (pg. 29).
Apart from the focus, this issue talks about Prof. Rena Balzan’s life journey writing literature and using yeast to study many diseases including cancer (pg. 39). Dr David Vella writes about how literature can break
For our archive from the University of Malta Library
hearts, but that is a good thing (pg. 57). Other research hints towards designing games to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle (pg. 44).
Student research looks into neurodegeneration, nicotine, visual impairment, facial recognition, and new transport (pg. 12–15). Our more lighthearted fun section is filled with quirky reviews (pg.
58–63). Flip through the pages and tell us what you think.
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 email@example.com or call +356 2340 3451
CONTENTS ISSUE 15 � DECEMBER 2015 TOOLKIT
The Malta BioBank
4 WITHOUT BORDERS
Sound, reading, and a fishing line
The Faculty for the Built Environment celebrates its centenary Some cast sculpture houses of clay and plaster from the Diploma in Design Foundations Exhibition that highlights the yearlong visual and creative process of 80 students. See story on pg. 8. Photo by Mark Casha.
New designs for better streets
What can Malta learn from Singapore?
Fly power for neurodegeneration
Nicotine stresses you out!
Do you recognise me?
The future of transport
CONTRIBUTORS OPINION ARTICLES Dr Edward Duca Dr Antoine Zammit Dr André Xuereb STUDENT ARTICLES Rebecca Borg Caitlin Davies Julia Farrugia Brandon Spiteri WITHOUT BORDERS ARTICLE Giuliana Barbaro-Sant
BUILT ENVIRONMENT FOCUS Prof. Alex Torpiano Dr Claude Bajada Dr Marc Bonello Dr Reuben Borg Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi Dr Kevin Gatt Dr Odette Lewis Perit Alexia Mercieca Dr Daniel Micallef Natasha Padfield Perit Petra Sapiano Dr Charles Scerri
FEATURE ARTICLES Dr James Corby Ashley Davis Dr Gianluca Farrugia Dr Stefano Gualeni Prof. Rena Balzan Dr David Vella RESEARCH ARTICLE Sarah Spiteri CULTURE ARTICLE Valletta 2018 Foundation
FUN ARTICLES Ryan Abela Prof. Frank Camilleri David Chircop Dr Edward Duca Alexander Hili Costantino Oliva Charlo Pisani
PHOTOGRAPHY Dr Edward Duca Jean Claude Vancell Elisa von Brockdorff
COMIC STRIP Dr Ġorġ Mallia
WEBSITE Tuovi Mäkipere Jean Claude Vancell Scott Wilcockson
ILLUSTRATIONS Sonya Hallett NO MAD
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The powerstation will be regenerated as a creativity hub – The workshop will allow the manifestation of creativity. Such workshop can be integrated with an educational facility (i.e Conference halls) to facilitate the creativity in the adjoining workshop. Finally, an exhibition centre can showcase innovative creations which were conceived in the neighbouring facilities. This use will embrace the research and development sector and thus provide innovative ideas for the industry in the surrounding areas.
BUILT ENVIRONMENT FOCUS
A periti education
I want to go home (Irrid immur id-dar)
Time to evolve
Rumble, rumble, toil and tumble
Engineering modern life
Spaces & places
A cultural map for Malta
The futsal challenge for ALS The University's Research Trust (RIDT) teams up with the ALS Malta Foundation to help research into this childhood disease
Of science and literature
The life-journey of Prof. Rena Balzan as writer and scientist studying a link between aspirin and cancer
Make games, make yourself Is game design the next step in education?
Literature will break your heart
In search of catharsis
Reviews (Books, Film, Tech, Games)
100 word idea: National Excellence
Do plants feel pain?
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
DECEMBER 2015 - ISSUE 15
Edward Duca EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Natasha Padfield FOCUS EDITOR DESIGN
Jean Claude Vancell DESIGNER COPYEDITING
ISSN 2306-0735 Copyright © University of Malta, 2015 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 PRINTING
Gutenberg Press, Malta
Photos by Elisa von Brockdorff
The Malta BioBank / BBMRI.mt
n the early 1990s, the Malta BioBank was started
wide studies that collect data on genomes, and clinical
with the collection and storing of samples from
and health data, from large numbers of people.
all Maltese children who had been screened for rare
In the spirit of citizen science and shared ownership,
blood disorders. Set up as a collaboration between
the BioBank is part of an FP7 project called RD-
the University of Malta and the Malta Department
Connect and the BBMRI-ERIC network (founders of
of Health, it was first launched using Italia-Malta
the EuroBioBank) whose members are developing IT
project funds followed by EU pre-accession funds.
tools to have a catalogue for medical research. A future
The BioBank is a research tool that provides high
project will allow research participants to become
quality samples for human biological research which
research partners. The idea is to create a cooperative
in turn allows Maltese researchers to collaborate as
of research subjects that would use smartphones
members of international consortia to investigate
and the Internet to exchange data and information
important diseases. The BioBank has helped studies in,
with the research team. The Biobank provides an
to name a few, thalassemia (a locally prevalent blood
essential service to the Maltese Islands for biomedical
disorder), Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Parkinson’s disease,
research. It has grown to continue innovating local
and kidney disorders. It has also aided population-
research solutions to worldwide health problems.
Various Sanyo, Ultra-Low Temperature Freezer Models: MDF-U54V QUICK SPECS
• Housing: Painted steel • Alarm: High and Low temperature, power failure, door, filter
• Insulation: Vacuum insulation panel and rigid polyurethane foamed-in place • Temperature controller: Microcomputer system • Weight: 346 kg
• Effective capacity: 728 Ɩ
BORDERS Sound, reading and a fishing line Words by Giuliana Barbaro-Sant
uintessence is best described as an immersive experience that wraps the audience in an
In close collaboration with Spiteri, writer and researcher Giuliana Fenech drew upon studies of
alluring world of sound, created through the use
sound and auditory culture to complement what
of sampling and live electronic manipulation, a
the visual can do, in certain instances superseding
large suspended metal sheet, a fishing line, vocal
it, in order to challenge audience perceptions about
phrases, and a sculptural array of found objects and
a straightforward interpretation. In a performative
reading that is delivered after the show, she provokes
This is Maltese experimental electronic artiste and performer Renzo Spiteri’s new solo performance Quintessence and which recently
the audience to rethink the piece, revisiting the multiple journeys that are embedded within its story. Quintessence traces its roots to an artistic
premiered at The Royal Northern College of Music
collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire
in Manchester (UK) in partnership with Future
of Music of The Hague (The Netherlands) in
Everything Festival 2015.
September 2012, when Spiteri co-led workshops.
Quintessence is at the forefront of artistic
Part of the output of these creative sessions
experiments in a digital age storytelling technique
resulted in the vocal phrases, featured in
that brings audiences together to discover and
Quintessence, by Leah Uijterlinde and Egle
experience the meeting point between live
Petrošiūtė, former students at the conservatoire.
performer, sound art, story, music, and digital
technology. It is a piece that challenges the
Quintessence is presented by Open Works
audience to reconsider what sound can mean and
Lab and will be performed at Spazju Kreattiv,
how the boundaries of self and world, performer
Valletta, between 29 and 31 January 2016.
and spectator, organic and inorganic, sound and
Tickets are available at: https://ticketengine.sjcav.
instrument are rendered fluid and all-encompassing.
Creative playground T
Chair design by Clara Grech
he Diploma in Design Foundations Exhibition highlights the yearlong visual
and creative process of 80 students. It is a study in representation, composition, and perception of space. Pencil drawings, typographic prints, cast sculpture houses, and panoramic landscape photography fill the studio space. Creative awakening is the undertone of the
Pavements by Daniel Lupi
exhibition. Students are encouraged to harness their skills and to experiment freely with visual thinking within a structured environment. The exhibition consists of projects completed throughout the year. Pencil sketches of chair designs and glass houses illustrate the design process followed by rich computer-generated 3D renders. The results are absorbing images of townscapes, landscapes, and alternative interpretations of mundane sights like pavements and road markings that are given new aesthetic meaning. Cast sculpture houses of clay and plaster are the studentsâ€™ first experimentation with form in three-dimensional space and with mold making. The Diploma Exhibition gathers together a range of diverse and original ideas using skills acquired through practice-based research. For dates about the upcoming exhibition see www.um.edu.mt/ben/visualarts. The exhibition was curated by Anton Grech in collaboration with Mark Casha from the Department of Visual Arts A typeface poster by Inez Kristina Baldacchino
(Faculty for the Built Environment).
New designs for better streets Dr Antoine Zammit
rban development in Malta
architects (periti), decision-makers, and experts
has undergone an exponential
in sanitary law, transport, and conservation.
growth in the past decades. This
Instead of simply refining the policy document,
is a growth that has often been
the working group saw this as an opportunity
imposed indiscriminately within
to formulate a new document altogether. The
long-established and tightly knit streets, and
result is the Development Control Design Policy,
worsened by a lack of urban design approaches
Guidance and Standards 2015 that sets a new
by investors and politicians alike. The Maltese
approach for Malta in urban design by departing
planning system has only reacted to economic
from planning-and-architecture-focused policy-
and market conditions instead of trying to foresee
making. Its basic premise is that better urban
them, and consecutive governments have simply
environments must start from better streets.
sought to stimulate the construction industry
This is a simple principle with deeply rooted
further. In addition, none of the policies produced
implications for design approach and assessment.
by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority
important urban design principles for designers
The planning system has been overloaded with a
and assessors by focusing on qualitative
plethora of policies that however fail to consider
performance criteria, which involves looking at
the street—arguably the most important spatial
how important values may perform in reality. For
scale within the Maltese urban environment.
this reason, it contains a mix of design regulations/
We experience the richness of any settlement
standards. The document is strategically structured
to building proportions within the street
to include more policies in the initial critical parts
environment, the street’s enclosure, and
that form the basic streetscape structure and
activity. Instead, closed street-level garages
more guidance towards the end of the document
line our streets, medium-rise blocks coexist
that may result in multiple design solutions. The
erratically, with lower buildings exposing high
aim is to strike an important balance between
stretches of blank walls which overshadow
homogenising the street structure and creating a
lower structures, and ‘template’-designed
nonetheless varied and interesting streetscape.
In order to improve urban environment quality,
policies, good-practice guidance, and technical
through its streets. The human scale responds
apartment blocks litter the edges of villages.
The document facilitates the understanding of
(MEPA) have to date been urban design-oriented.
Arriving here has not been easy. It required challenging blinkered, insular attitudes
in 2013 MEPA entrusted me to review a key
towards design and construction, oscillating
policy document called Development Control
between varying public and private interests,
Policy and Design Guidance 2007. The authority
political pressures and commitments. That,
set up a working group that included practising
however, is another story altogether.
What can Malta learn from Singapore? Dr André Xuereb and Dr Edward Duca from minor innovations in industrial
research must be made the new
story. It has a landmass
processes to entirely new technologies.
norm. The University’s Research
just over twice that of
It is humanity’s investment in the ideas
Trust (RIDT) is a first step in this
Malta but produces over
and technologies of tomorrow. But just
direction, but new financial incentives
30 times its economic
how far away is that tomorrow? Should
and tax breaks should be deployed
output. Singapore has invested heavily
we fund ideas that may (or may not) be
for individuals and companies
in quantum technologies, turning
made into a product 20 years from now?
investing in Maltese researchers.
itself into one of the world’s leading
Malta needs to rethink its science
Singapore and Malta share a little-
industrial economies. Though poor
investment mechanisms. Public
known link. In 1967, a delegation from
in natural resources, Singapore’s
funding must be made available
the Singaporean government surveyed
investment in knowledge has resulted
for projects that are too far from
Malta as an example of a maritime
in it becoming one of the world’s
the market to be of interest to
economy—learning from our mistakes.
healthiest industrial economies.
commercial entities, or in areas new
Fast forward to the 21st century:
to the country. Hand in hand, a
Singaporean science has advanced
itself indefinitely: research forms the
culture of private scientific funding
in leaps and bounds, whereas Malta
necessary backbone from which new
must be developed. Society needs to
invests less than 1% of GDP into
ideas branch out. Research’s target is
regard investment in science as an
research. It is now our turn to learn
to increase humanity’s knowledge and
investment in the future; philanthropy
from the Singaporean model or run
prompt the development of everything
and other donations towards scientific
the real risk of missing the boat.
Industrial innovation cannot support
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Fly power for neurodegeneration Rebecca Borg
pinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a neurodegenerative
more than 70% disease-related genes with humans,
disease that causes motor neurons to deteriorate.
and they are easy to breed and manipulate making
These nerves are required for voluntary muscle activity control. Neuronal loss leads to progressive muscle
them ideal for researchers to study human disease. Borg wanted to find out how the proteins that work
weakness that makes it difficult for one to move and
with SMN operate to build the spliceosome. She used
function normally. These devastating consequences make
molecular techniques to remove or over produce these
SMA the leading genetic killer of infants, who succumb
proteins. Then she observed what effect this had on
to the effects of the condition within a few years.
the fruit fly’s motor system. She studied their behaviour
The underlying cause of SMA is an error in the gene that
and death rate. Borg’s results showed that abnormal
produces the protein SMN (Survival of Motor Neuron).
amounts of these proteins led to more deaths, muscle
This fault leads to low levels of SMN, which is essential
defects, and abnormal movements. More studies
to assemble the building blocks required to form the
are required to unravel the link between SMN, the
spliceosome that edits molecules carrying the DNA code
spliceosome, and the neuromuscular defects observed
to generate proteins. Without significant levels of SMN,
in SMA, with the hope of bringing us closer to
spliceosomes are not formed and inaccurate editing leads
controlling or treating this devastating condition.
to malfunctioning proteins, in turn leading to cell
death. Correct protein processing is necessary in
This research was performed as part of a Master
all cells in the human body. However, the million-
of Science at the Faculty of Medicine & Surgery,
euro question is: if this process is so essential,
University of Malta. It is partially funded by STEPS (the
why are only the motor system cells affected?
Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship—Malta).
Attempting to resolve the mysterious puzzle
This scholarship is also part-financed by the European
revolving around SMA, Rebecca Borg (supervised
Union—European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational
by Dr Ruben J. Cauchi) used the fruit fly (Drosophila
Programme II—Cohesion Policy 2007–2013, ‘Empowering
melanogaster) as a model organism. Fruit flies share
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Nicotine stresses you out! Caitlin Davies very day in Malta, one person will die from a smoking-
release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in brain â€˜rewardâ€™
related illness. People usually begin smoking tobacco
centres. Smokers experience this whenever they light
in their adolescence and addiction quickly follows.
up. However, this temporary sensation soon gives way
Quitting is hard and the majority are unsuccessful.
to withdrawal symptoms: craving and increased anxiety
Nicotine, with its crippling withdrawal symptoms, is to
levels. The only way that these unpleasant symptoms can
blame. Research suggests this component of tobacco
be reduced is by smoking another cigarette, perpetuating
can be more addictive than heroin. Smokers say that
the addiction cycle. Smokers rarely link increased anxiety
nicotine is pleasurable and enables them to concentrate
to their addiction. However, smoking increases stress
and reduce their anxiety. Scientists think the opposite.
and does not reduce anxiety but instead just covers the
Research conducted by a team under the supervision
bad symptoms with a short-lived pleasant sensation.
of Prof. Giuseppe Di Giovanni demonstrated that nicotine
Caitlin Davies (supervised by Prof. Giuseppe Di
in fact increases anxiety. Upon inhalation of tobacco
Giovanni) investigated the effect of nicotine on the rat
smoke, nicotine creates a sense of relaxation due to the
brain. The lateral habenula is a small brain area involved in stress, anxiety, and depression. Davies investigated whether the lateral habenula was involved in nicotineinduced anxiety-like behaviour by conducting experiments on rodents with lesions of this brain region, which essentially inactivate it. When the lateral habenula was not working, nicotine was unable to increase anxiety-like behaviour. These results suggest that the lateral habenula plays a key role in controlling nicotine-induced anxiety. More research is needed to understand exactly what is responsible for these findings. Nevertheless, the study could help develop more effective therapies for people to stop smoking. These therapies would increase the unpleasant properties of nicotine so that the drug smokers once enjoyed would instead be undesirable. This research was performed as part of a Professional Training Year (PTY) at the Faculty of Medicine & Surgery, University of Malta and a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science (Anatomy) at Cardiff University. Davies received funding from the British Council and was awarded a best early-stage researcher oral poster presenter at the 5th Mediterranean Conference in Sardinia, June, 2015.
Do you recognise me? Julia Farrugia
utomatic facial recognition could change the world of
Sketches and photos have different natures (modalities)â€”photos are
law enforcement. Profile photos
generally captured using a digital
of suspects are rarely available, so
camera, while sketches may be hand-
investigators still rely on face sketches
drawn or computer generated. In
based on eyewitness descriptions.
order to tackle this problem, Farrugia
Julia Farrugia (supervised by Dr Ing.
developed an inter-modal approach
Reuben Farrugia) implemented an
to sketch retrieval. Without changing
automatic face recogniser that is able
the nature (modality) of the images,
to retrieve a photo based on a sketch.
common features in the sketch and
This narrows down the number of
photo were used as a basis for retrieval.
potential criminals before trails start
Testing was carried out using the
to go cold.
Chinese University of Hong Kong
The future of transport Brandon Spiteri
he world has globalised. People
friction since the vehicle floats on
and cargo need to get about in
electromagnetic waves that make
cheaper, faster ways that use better transport technologies. Magnetic levitation is one way to achieve higher speeds at a cheaper fuel cost whilst offering a smoother ride. There is less
this transport method very efficient. Brandon Spiteri (supervised by Dr Ing. Maurice Apap and Prof. Joseph Cilia) designed and built a model in which a vehicle was moved at constant speed whilst levitating 1â€†cm above the track. Spiteri identified three levitation techniques. Firstly, the German approach eliminates needing wheels to initially move the train, but requires complex control methods. Secondly, the Japanese approach requires wheels to initially move the train, but achieves higher speeds than German technology. Lastly, the MDS type system is still being developed
but aims for higher
The Japanese MLX01 Maglev train
Photos used with permission: X. Wang and X. Tang, “Face Photo-Sketch Synthesis and Recognition,” IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (PAMI), Vol. 31, 2009
(CUHK) student database, which
match between sketch and photo. To
filtering the photos according to
contains 188 photo-sketch pairs.
improve these results, texture features
gender and by experimenting on larger
The implementation makes use of
of the query sketch and each photo in
datasets with subjects from different
an Active Orientation Model (AOM),
the dataset were extracted using Local
ethnicities, wearing glasses, or having
which is freely available. 68 strategic
Binary Patterns (LBP). The distance
facial hair. Advancements in computer
points on a query sketch and suspect
was again calculated but included the
vision means that soon humans will
photo are plotted. Dots depict features
texture features. The results were then
not be the only eyes narrowing down
like eyebrows, hairline, and nose. The
merged with the distances obtained
distance was calculated between the
using the AOM method. Giving a higher
respective points on the sketch and
priority to the distances obtained using
This research was carried out as part
photo. The smaller the difference
the texture features increased the
of a Bachelor of Science in Computer
in distances, the closer the match.
recognition rate to 60.11%.
Engineering at the Faculty of ICT,
55.85% of tests resulted in a correct
Results could be improved by
University of Malta.
The model built by Spiteri, levitating over the track.
speeds than the German model
The strength and polarity of the
a less polluting and more efficient
without the need for wheels.
electromagnet varies with the size
system. Fresh graduates Justin Zarb
and direction of the electrical current
and Luke Lapira recently proposed
model by using an industrial-power
passed through it. By manipulating
a plan called Maltarail (elevated,
DC motor. Levitation was achieved by
the electromagnets the vehicle moved
suspended trains running on a single
using magnets of similar polarity that
forward. The built model achieved a
rail) to government. This project has
repel each other. Opposing permanent
top speed of 1.41 km/hr. In his study,
been submitted to the European
magnets were installed on the track
Spiteri proved the energy efficiency
Investment Initiative. Such a project
and vehicle. Permanent magnets
of these systems: the model uses
would place Malta on par with
retain their magnetic properties
the same energy as a 12 W bulb,
European transport leaders.
(North and South poles) even when
much less than a train on wheels.
no current or electromagnetic field is
Magnetic levitation will shape the
This research was carried out as
present. The train moved by having
future of transportation worldwide.
part of a Bachelor of Engineering
permanent magnets on the track
Monorail may be vital to reduce
at the Faculty of Engineering,
and electromagnets on the vehicle.
Malta’s transport problems to have
University of Malta.
After this research, Spiteri built a
BUILT ENVIRONMENT FOCUS A WORD FROM THE EDITOR
orldwide, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Our daily lives are full of traffic, see us walk past blocks of buildings, and we spend most of our time working
in a rectangular office. The people that try to ensure that this urban environment provides a decent quality of life are graduating from the Faculty for the Built Environment (University of Malta). To celebrate 100 years since it was founded THINK has prepared its most diverse focus ranging from health to earthquakes. Dr Claude Bajada writes about dementia-friendly buildings (pg. 19) and on the research predicting modern-Maltesebuild seismic risk (pg. 29). Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi writes about a future-Marsa (pg. 23). Natasha Padfield about the traffic and water problems at the University of Malta (pg. 24), and building airflow and renewable energy design (pg. 33). But first, how were all these researchers taught?
ince the year 2000, the term periti has covered professional architects, civil, and structural engineers. But this term used to refer
to a more specific professional role in the building industry that combined the architect, engineer, surveyor, and valuer. The term is of Italian origin, meaning an ‘expert’, which is not many miles distant from the Maltese ‘mgħallem’, which refers to the skilled master builder, or the Arab for architect, ‘Għarif’. During the time of the Knights of the Order of St John, a primary role for periti
Built Environment Focus
and land surveyors was to report, or
adjudge, on land disputes, to measure sites or land, and to establish the value of rural or urban properties, or other
FE AT U RE
damages and interests in buildings. These roles are described in the De
A periti education Prof. Alex Torpiano DEAN, FACULTY FOR THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Rohan Code of 1782 when referencing
a two-year course in arithmetic,
‘Periti Agrimensori’ and ‘Periti Calcolatori’.
geometry, mensuration, surveying, and
three-year duration and added
valuations was started by the Collegio
the subjects of agrimensura,
di Citta’, of the Collegio di Malta.
arithmetic, descriptive geometry,
apprenticeship. There was some
In 1837, His Majesty’s
theoretical instruction, normally
Commissioners of Enquiry
architectural design, freehand
in Mathematics and Surveying;
recommended the establishment of a
drawing, and calligraphy.
but, effectively, it depended on
Chair of Civil Architecture and Land
Following the publication of a
vacancies being available with a
Surveying at the University of Malta,
new University statute in 1898, the
maximum number of 12 periti, as
‘on account of the general ignorance
Faculty of Literature and Science
prescribed by existing statutes
of those sciences’. In 1839, G. B.
was subdivided into two sections,
like the Vilhena Code of 1724.
Pullicino MD, (son of the famous perit
with engineering, architecture,
Giorgio Pullicino), was appointed
and pharmacy included within
were being organised at the University
Master of Geometry, Algebra, and
the scientific courses. The course
of Malta. By 1828, access to the
Land Surveying, at the University
in ‘Ingegneria e Architettura’ was
title of ‘Periti Agrimensori’ depended
of Malta. He introduced the first
elevated to the status of Academical
on examinations, particularly in
complete course for architects and
Course in 1904. In 1905, the School
Land Surveying and in the Italian
land surveyors covering studies of
of Architecture was incorporated
language. During this period, there
algebra, geometry, trigonometry, land
within the Faculty of Literature and
are also references to the title of
surveying, planimetry, stereotomy,
Science, with its own Faculty Board
‘Periti Apprezzatori’. Around 1831–32,
valuation, and livellation.
of Engineering and Architecture.
By 1806, ad hoc theoretical courses
Built Environment Focus
Access to the professional status of perit was based on a system of
By 1863, the courses had a
The key development happened 100
Civil Engineer warrant with a B.E.&A.
years ago. A new university statute
degree. The new 1971 government
was published on 25 June 1915
did not agree with the changes
that split the Faculty of Literature
and refused to make any changes
and Science into the three Faculties
to the law. By 1972 the degree of
of Literature, of Science, and of
B.E.&A. had to be reinstated and
Engineering and Architecture. The
the other degree courses stopped.
University now had six faculties
In 1978, when the student-
including Medicine & Surgery, Laws, and Theology. The new Faculty of Engineering and Architecture offered the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering and Architecture, and of Doctor of Engineering and Architecture, as well as the Diploma of Land Surveyor and Architect, (translated in Italian as Perito ed Architetto). Admission took place every three years. This was not the first course that led to the degree of Bachelor of Engineering and Architecture. Records show that in August 1913 there were six new graduates. In 1935, the Faculty was split into three departments: Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Municipal Engineering. This set-up remained until 1955. The concept of the architect-engineer was rather alien
worker scheme was introduced, the
A new university statute was published on 25 June 1915 that split the Faculty of Literature and Science into the three Faculties of Literature, of Science, and of Engineering and Architecture.
Built Environment Focus
to the post-industrial revolution
Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering was incorporated within the Faculty of Science. The faculty lost its independent status. It was reconstituted as a faculty in 1988 with yet another change in political philosophy. The faculty was organised into two departments: the Department of Architecture and Urban Design, and the Department of Building and Civil Engineering. During this period, the five-year course was re-structured to introduce the concept of specialised study streams in the final two years: Architecture, Urban Design, Structural Engineering, and Infrastructural Engineering. The last phase of development started in 2009. The faculty was renamed to the Faculty for the Built Environment with seven
Anglo-Saxon tradition of complete
Polytechnic was set up, the teaching
departments: Architecture and
separation between the professions
of civil engineering disciplines was
Urban Design, Civil and Structural
of architects and civil engineers. As a
re-organised leading to a de facto
Engineering, Conservation and Built
result, between 1945 and 1952 some
geographical separation between the
Heritage, Construction and Property
tried to split the training of these two
Department of Engineering, which
Management, Environmental Design,
disciplines. During the 1950s, the
offered B.Sc. (Civil Eng.) degrees at
Spatial Planning and Infrastructure,
first B.Eng. degrees were awarded to
the Polytechnic, and the Department
and Visual Arts. The B.E.&A. degree
candidates who had initially registered
of Architecture, which (under the
was finally phased out and replaced
for the degree of engineering and
direction of Prof. Quentin Hughes)
by a multi-tier degree structure
architecture, but were then invited
started to offer B.A. (Architecture)
comprising a one-year diploma in
to pursue studies in the UK in the
and B.Arch. Degrees up to 1971.
Design Foundation Studies, a three-
relatively new disciplines of electrical,
The academic changes were not
year B.Sc. in Built Environment
mechanical, and structural engineering.
accompanied by any change in the
Studies, and a selection of two-year
These attempts proved unsuccessful.
1920 Architectsâ€™ Ordnance, which
Masterâ€™s degree courses. All that is left
linked the granting of the Architect and
is updating the 2000 Periti Act.
In the mid-1960s, when the
I want to go home
The government recently published an evidence-based national strategy for dementia which recommends that all buildings should be designed in a dementia-friendly way. Dr Claude Bajada speaks to Perit Alexia Mercieca and Dr Charles Scerri to find out more.
surroundings and find it difficult to control their
remember. It is awfully
emotions. It is a disease that can affect different
cold and rainy for summer.
aspects of brain function and is incurable.
He cannot remember his brotherâ€™s name. He is his
Incurable does not mean untreatable. If doctors catch dementia at an early stage, medicines can
closest friend. Each day is new and scary. It makes
slow its progression. But even with the best
him sad. Why does everyone want to take him to
medication, disease progression is inevitable.
new places? He wants to stay at home, it is familiar
How can our society ensure that a person with
and comfortable. He has dementia. This is not a
dementia can experience a good quality of life?
normal part of ageing, but it is a neurodegenerative
Architect Alexia Mercieca, a researcher in the
disease, a progressive condition that affects
Faculty for the Built Environment (University
the brain, slowly damaging it from within.
of Malta), studies how building design can help
Memory loss is part of the condition that is dementia, but it is not the only symptom. People with dementia have problems with
people with dementia. Doing this requires a shift in the way we design and build structures. â€˜The typical care space in Malta is a corridor with
planning and organisation. They become
rooms double banked on both sides, and a person
confused when taken out of their usual
will just walk up and down along it.
Built Environment Focus
hat day is it? He cannot
3d renderings produced by Jonathan Avellino & Christopher Azzopardi
It is a bit like having a hamster in
filmed by thousands of cameras. All
and a theatre. The only difference from
a wheel going round in circles,’
the characters in his life are actors and
other villages is that the members
explains Mercieca. Places should be
even though he does not know it, he
of staff are also the patient’s carers.
familiar and safe, where people with
is leading a sheltered life, controlled
It is a sheltered environment that
dementia can feel at home. This means
by others. The audience sympathises
looks and feels like a village but
understanding what the issues are
with Burbank as he tries to break
is in actual fact a care facility.
and catering for them. ‘[One of the
free from his manufactured life. But
biggest] issues is wandering. We tend
Carrey portrays a healthy middle-
such a project in Malta. The first step
to think of this as ‘misbehaving’. But
aged man who is in full possession of
is to provide a solid evidence base to
wandering is essential to a person
his cognitive functions. Now, what if
support the idea. As part of her Ph.D.
with dementia. So how can spaces
we had to imagine that his character
at the University of Edinburgh, she
be designed to actually allow those
had dementia—would a sheltered
is studying the situation in the UK
with dementia to wander safely? How
environment be therapeutic for him?
and in Malta. She is also investigating
Built Environment Focus
can all the necessary safety features
Mercieca is ardent to underline that research shows there is ‘less violence, less aggressiveness, less need for tranquilisers, and less medication [in adequately designed dementia-friendly accommodation].
Mercieca explains that the
Mercieca is excited to implement
what was done elsewhere and is
be integrated [and] camouflaged
Netherlands have been experimenting
working to adapt best practice
within a building, while still keeping
with a similar concept for people with
techniques to the local scenario,
it as close to ‘home’ as possible?’
dementia. Just outside of Amsterdam,
taking into consideration cultural
In the 1998 film The Truman Show,
a nursing home called Hogewey caters
shifts. The aim of the Ph.D. is to
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives in a
for 152 patients with dementia. This is
produce a set of guidelines to regulate
made-up reality. Unknowingly, Burbank
a speciality nursing home that includes
dementia design in Malta. This fulfils
is the star of a reality television
a fully functioning village. There is a
one of the recommendations of the
programme in which his entire life is
park, a supermarket, a restaurant, bar,
national strategy. Mercieca is ardent
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? Dementia is not a single disease. It is a word used to describe a group of neurodegenerative diseases that cause a global cognitive impairment. Many people think of dementia as a disease that causes memory loss but memory is not the only brain function that is affected in dementia. In fact, in some types of early dementia, memory is usually spared. People with dementia often have problems with thinking, planning, social skills, and language. As the condition progresses, it causes problems in the person’s everyday life.
Perit Alexia Mercieca. Photo by Edward Duca
TYPES OF DEMENTIA Alzheimer’s Disease The most common form of dementia. It is the condition that comes to mind to many people when they think of dementia. People with Alzheimer’s
to underline that research shows there is ‘less
Disease often start off noticing that their memory
violence, less aggressiveness, less need for
is getting worse. As the disease progresses,
tranquillisers, and less medication [in adequately
other brain functions become affected.
designed dementia-friendly accommodation].’ The government is backing Mercieca’s project. In
a statement to THINK, Parliamentary Secretary
Poor blood circulation to the brain causes small
for Rights of Persons with Disability and Active
areas of the brain to die off, leading to dementia.
Ageing Justyne Caruana, said that ‘Mercieca’s work
The symptoms of vascular dementia depend very
‘would have a huge and positive impact especially
much on which areas of the brain are affected.
on individuals with dementia and those who care for them. Dementia-friendly environments are essential
Lewy Body Dementia
in creating dementia-friendly communities where
This is a type of dementia that has a lot of symptoms in
individuals and their caregivers are empowered
common with Parkinson’s disease. Besides memory loss,
to have aspirations and feel confident, knowing
patients with Lewy Body Dementia also shake, move
they can contribute to their communities, have
slowly and they can also experience hallucinations.
lives. This would be of great benefit to society
in general and is a cornerstone in eliminating
This is an uncommon type of dementia. This is
stigma.’ She stated that ‘when new buildings are
one of the strangest types of dementia because
designed, they will take this approach from the
memory can be spared. People with this type of
very start,’ taking into consideration the guidelines
dementia can change their behaviour or they may
developed by Mercieca in her research.
stop understanding the meaning of words.
Built Environment Focus
more choice and control decisions that affect their
Dementia is not a normal part of ageing
Malta has a National Dementia Strategy
dementia care. Ten years ago things
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia but it is
were bleak. Families would try to
not the only one
hide the condition from society. Now,
Dementia Helpline: 1771 (24 hour service)
Malta is one of the few countries
Dementia Activity Centre: 2122 4461
that has an evidence based National
Dementia Memory Clinic: 2208 2000
Dementia Strategy. The strategy
Malta Dementia Society: www.maltadementiasociety.org.mt
even has a dementia-friendly version. ‘We made a difference,’ exclaims Scerri. Now, Malta must take up the challenge to go one step further to
But Mercieca does not want to
contemporary setting that aims to
support cross disciplinary research
wait to complete her Ph.D. to make
provide a familiar environment and is,
into dementia and to create, evidence
a difference. She wants her students
most importantly, safe. In this space
based, dementia-friendly environments
to design a dementia-friendly space
you would have a hairdresser, a little
like Hogeway. ‘It will happen within
right away. She recently approached
grocery shop, a post office. [They are]
the next five years,’ says Scerri.
Parliamentary Secretary Caruana
structures that allow the residents to
who immediately welcomed her idea.
perform simple activities but which
It is still cold outside but he is not sad.
‘They were really excited about it
are rituals, which are very important.’
He lives in the new residence that
Built Environment Focus
and took it on. They gave us a garden
The co-founder of the Malta
What day is it? He cannot remember.
has just opened. This is a dementia-
at St Vincent de Paul [Residence]
Dementia Society, Dr Charles Scerri,
friendly residence. The carers are
as a case study’, notes Mercieca
is excited about these developments.
his friends. He is about to go into
enthusiastically. ‘One of [the students’
‘Alexia is a godsend,’ says Scerri,
the garden with them. He can also
proposals] was a reinterpretation of
while lamenting that Malta’s main
go to the little grocer shop. Their
a typical Maltese village [adapted
problem is human resources. Despite
oranges are spectacular. At the end
from the Hogewey concept], bringing
this, he explains that Malta has made
of the day he goes to bed. He likes
together traditional elements in a
tremendous advances in the field of
his room. He is safe. He is home.
The powerstation will be regenerated as a creativity hub – The workshop will allow the manifestation of creativity. Such workshop can be integrated with an educational facility (i.e Conference halls) to facilitate the creativity in the adjoining workshop. Finally, an exhibition centre can showcase innovative creations which were conceived in the neighbouring facilities. This use will embrace the research and development sector and thus provide innovative ideas for the industry in the surrounding areas.
Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi Symbiosis
ooking past derelict sites,
younger waterside district by peeling
abandoned warehouses, shifting
layers of grime built up over the years.
communities, shipping waste, and
The objective is to develop five
ships in disrepair Marsa’s true beauty
visionary perspectives. The new spaces
awaits emergence—a port city with
are meant to help trade emerge,
enormous potential. But can we
embrace education, use multiple levels
predict what this place should offer by
of land, build pedestrian links, and re-
2050? Final year Master's students at
think derelict sites to turn them into new
the Faculty for the Built Environment
architectural masterpieces. Marsa is a
were asked to produce their vision for
calling card for architects and planners
debilitated Marsa. Each concept tells
to define new uses for spaces to
its own story fuelled by the analysis of
produce their full value for Malta. These
an unravelled quayside. Like Canary
projects are entering their second design
Wharf (London)— today a major
phase. Expect the extraordinary.
business district, or the Port of Leith (Edinburgh)—now deindustrialised and
refreshed, Marsa will slowly unravel a
to see the projects unfold.
The Amphibious Machine
Built Environment Focus
Built Environment Focus
TIME TO EVOLVE Urban areas suffer from crippling traffic issues and gross water wastage. The University of Malta could become a living experiment to test innovative solutions to these problems. Words by Natasha Padfield.
management problems. Transport specialist Dr
Unharnessed, this evolution spirals
Odette Lewis and water governance researcher
out of control: buildings spring
Dr Kevin Gatt supervised the workshop. I
up haphazardly, traffic escalates,
asked them what the future could hold.
infrastructure crumbles. Malta has
the highest proportion of built-up land in the EU according to Eurostat in 2013. Solutions are
needed for us to continue enjoying our quality of
Maltese drivers spend an average of 52 hours
life and natural resources. Only the strongest and
in traffic each year. Taming the traffic beast is
most sustainable lines of action lead to a brighter
no mean feat. Lewis explains that the workshop
future. But how do we choose which to take?
embraced a ‘holistic’ approach. The issue was
The Master Plan uses the University of
investigated from various angles to identify the
Malta (UoM) as a pilot project to test cutting-
roles of different entities, from local councils to
edge remedies for urban problems. University
transport operators. The focus was on transport
suffers many issues symptomatic of a modern
to University, parking, and circulation on campus.
urban environment. Proposed residential and
A mock Traffic Impact Statement was produced
commercial complexes will increase the area’s
to test the team’s proposals. Similar reports
mixed uses and population leading to a major
are submitted to the Malta Environmental and
restructuring. The plan intends to guide the
Planning Authority as part of planning applications.
evolution of the site over the next 20 years. A team of ten Master's students from the Faculty
The team estimated that by 2020 the population will reach 20,000 with the proposed residential
for the Built Environment have brought fresh
complex housing 158 residential units. Considering
ideas to the plan. Through a design workshop,
environmental considerations and authority
they developed solutions to traffic and water
restrictions, the number of parking spaces was
Built Environment Focus
uilt environments need to evolve.
Area of new and potential developments at the University Msida Campus. Design by Team 2 Architects, 2015.
assumed to remain at current levels.
been missed because of late buses.
Junction modelling software was
The architects used demographic
used to simulate the impact of future
projections to learn which localities will
commuters. Effort was centred on
experience an increase in commuters.
the roundabout junction between
They studied bus frequencies to
University and Mater Dei Hospital.
identify under-serviced routes.
The Modal Split was key to the
solution to encourage. Parking
Travel Plan survey showed that 66%
restrictions and timed parking
of students and staff used private
in residential areas would curb
cars, 22% public transport, and just
the overspill. However, limiting
7% carpooled. University parking also
private car use without working
overspills heavily onto surrounding
on the other solutions would
residential areas, putting pressure on
only frustrate commuters.
Built Environment Focus
the whole of the Msida and Birkirkara
Car sharing could be an easier
proposals. Results from the Green
The plans give priority to
area. Capping parking spaces on
pedestrians and public transport
campus is a short-sighted solution if
users. The entrance to campus would
measures are not taken to alleviate
be a pedestrian plaza, with a public
parking pressure on the whole region.
transport station. Traffic would flow
A multi-pronged approach is
from the roundabout to a route
needed to solve the crises. Students
beneath the plaza and parking from
are wary of public transport because
the ring-road would be reallocated
it is unreliable. Many lectures have
to underground areas. Parking
The problems are there, they will remain there, and they will probably increase unless there is a change in mentality.
Sectional drawing of a new building proposed for the Msida campus
management systems could also be
and fertiliser runoff. Three Reverse
introduced. Levelled parking would
Osmosis plants turn salt water
allocate spaces for students, staff,
into fresh water to alleviate the
and visitors. From a technological
burden on other sources soaking up
aspect, apps can highlight free
millions of units of electricity a day.
spaces and signs could inform drivers
Malta has no fresh water bodies.
when an area is full. Detailed plans
‘The fact that you open your tap
ensured that the proposed multi-
and water flows gives a false sense of
level solutions could work within
security. We still do not understand
the area. Once tested at University,
the value of water,’ Gatt comments.
these systems could be implemented
There is a contrast between Malta’s
nationwide. Malta desperately
arid landscape and the volume of water
needs to solve the traffic problem.
storms bring. The resulting flooding
Some plans might become real
gives an enormous surface run off
as many were well received by the
that is not collected, adding more
University and the Green Travel Plan
pressure on groundwater supplies
Committee. However, the biggest
because of poor water management.
challenge is changing people’s
parking spaces on campus
Gatt oversees the water planning
behaviour. Lewis is adamant: ‘We
aspect of the University’s Master Plan.
agree there’s an issue with congestion
Like traffic, he wants to use it as a test-
and parking at University, but no
bed for new approaches to manage
one is willing to leave their car at
water for the whole country. Storm
home, no one is willing to share
water management and waste water
a car with someone else, and no
treatment are the plan’s two pillars.
one is willing to revert to public
parking spaces outside campus
The team began with a water
transport. So the problems are there,
audit of campus. They investigated
they will remain there, and they will
water usage and efficiency of fittings
probably increase unless there is
like taps. Their assessment saw that
a change in mentality.’ Only a joint
campus was at risk of flooding and
effort will calm the traffic beast.
damage because of impermeable surfaces and inadequate reservoirs. The solution is green. Gardens, green roofs, and living walls drain
Malta lands in the top 10 most water
storm water naturally. Local plants are
stressed places in the world. Water
ideal since they are adapted to arid
is Malta’s scarcest natural resource.
summers and intense, short rainfall
Groundwater supplies around 45%
in cooler months. These plants are
of tap water but this source is
usually shunned since they might not
threatened by illegal borehole use
be considered as attractive but they
units within the residential building
Built Environment Focus
WATER: REALITY CHECK
require less watering in summer and
the main sewage system. Treated
cope better in winter than plants that
water could then be used to replenish
are not well adapted to Malta’s climate.
groundwater. Although low-risk
Water collection would reduce
technology to treat water to potable
disruptive flows into the flood prone
quality does exist, Gatt believes more
Msida Valley. Cascaded reservoirs
education is needed before society
and basins could intercept overflows
will accept the value of such a plant.
from existing reservoirs to target
The plant would provide water to
areas prone to flooding. Collected
the residential complex. The complex
water can be used with minimal
is that place where ecology meets
treatment for use in toilet flushing,
comfort. Gatt’s research shows that
irrigation, and fire-fighting. Gatt
in Maltese households water-saving
comments that ‘it is absurd that we
technologies like low-flow taps and
flush toilets with drinking water’. In
shower heads are not well received.
homes, one third of potable water
Current building trends do not
consumption is used for toilet flushing.
provide enough pressure to taps.
Run off water could be diverted into
New University buildings need to
a water treatment plant. A grey water treatment plant near campus would process all wastewater except that from toilets and kitchen sinks, because of the heavy solid material. A challenge in implementing a plant is the daily Built Environment Focus
drastic swings in campus population
and the drastic drop during holidays. One solution is a modular plant that can be partly shut down over weekends and summer recess. Another possibility is to divert water into the plant from
The fact that you open your tap and water flows, gives a false sense of security.
incorporate these technologies. Lowflow taps have a major impact: normal taps discharge around nine litres per minute while low-flow models reduce this to 4.5 litres per minute or less. As well as showcasing waterconscious building design the Master Plan explains how to increase the sustainability of existing infrastructure. This injection of fresh ideas could save us from a water infrastructure crisis in future. But will society act on it?
Parking is a high priority for Maltese homeowners and, as a result of this, garages are becoming compulsory in new buildings. What does this have to do with earthquakes? Dr Claude Bajada meets earthquake engineers Dr Marc Bonello, Dr Reuben Borg, and Perit Petra Sapiano to find out.
Built Environment Focus
Rumble, rumble, toil & tumble 29
Dr Marc Bonello, Dr Reuben Borg, Perit Petra Sapiano and Prof. Alex Torpiano. Photo by Edward Duca.
Built Environment Focus
umble, rumble, tumble,
SIMIT. The project is vast in scope but
crash! An earthquake has
the team’s remit is straightforward.
hit. It is a big one. The
The group wants to study the effect
epicentre is closer to the
of earthquakes on Maltese buildings
island than it has ever been
and to provide a quick and effective
before. Buildings are crumbling, leaving
way to assess the seismic risk of every
destruction in their wake. The Civil
building on the Maltese Islands. This
Protection Department is formulating
will have two outcomes. First, the
a response. What tools can they use
authorities will have an evidence-based
to ensure that their intervention is as
picture of Malta’s seismic risk, which
effective as possible? How can they
should in turn guide policies. Second,
know which of the standing buildings
it will provide the Civil Protection
are most at risk from damage? They
Department with a tool to be able to
must respond quickly to save lives but
identify which areas are most at risk
do not have the information to do so.
if the worst case scenario happens.
Hopefully, this is all set to change
Dr Marc Bonello explains that
thanks to the members of a team of
in Malta ‘architects (periti) tend to
earthquake engineers at the Faculty for
follow international design codes
the Built Environment (University of
when it comes to designing reinforced
Malta) who are creating a toolbox for
concrete and steel structures, but
the Civil Protection Department. Their
when it comes to masonry buildings
work forms part of a multidisciplinary,
[…] the construction is usually based
EU funded, international project called
on tradition and experience.’ The
team members explained that as a result of the ever growing parking problems on the island, underground parking facilities are being designed into most new structures. ‘Parking requires column-free space because otherwise drivers cannot manoeuvre their cars properly. This results in situations where the basements are devoid of any internal vertical [support],’ leaving the buildings
Architects (periti) tend to follow international design codes when it comes to designing reinforced concrete and steel structures, but when it comes to masonry buildings […] the construction is usually based on tradition and experience.
vulnerable to earthquake damage. Despite the risky building practices, there is still not much information about how these buildings will react to an earthquake—the core research question. The last recorded major earthquake in Malta was in 1693. There is no rigorous data about how that earthquake affected buildings so the engineers have to rely on numerical simulation. These simulations are performed on virtual buildings. The problem is simulating the entire island which needs too much computational time. To solve this problem, the group has devised a survey that can quickly be applied to a building. The survey is based on similar ones that the Italian Civil Protection Department use for
WHAT CONTRIBUTES TO SEISMIC RISK?
These must then be adapted and
‘When we talk about seismic risk, there are three important
calibrated, which is the team’s current
components’, says team member Dr Ruben Paul Borg. ‘One is the seismic
aim. They are comparing the results
hazard, or earthquake intensity; the second is exposure, or population
from the numerical simulations to
size and property number; the third is the building’s vulnerability‘.
survey data. Bonello explains that
Property vulnerability to earthquakes is reduced by earthquake resistant
‘we cannot cover all areas of Malta at
construction and better disaster resilience. The earthquake of 1693
once, so we chose two specific sites
devastated south-eastern Sicily and caused extensive damage in
which, in our view, have geological
Malta. Research suggests that a similar earthquake on the same fault
characteristics that would render their
could occur every few hundred years. Today, Malta has a much larger
seismic vulnerability to be quite high.’
population than in 1693, with a third of the Islands built up and the 8th
Once the surveys are pared down to give accurate results, the team can use them on every building
highest population density in the world.
Built Environment Focus
assessing their buildings’ seismic risk.
WHAT IS SIMIT – WHO TAKES PART? SIMIT is a European Union funded project that enables collaboration between the universities and Civil Protection Departments in Malta and Catania. The universities involved are the University of Malta, the University of Catania, and the University of Palermo. The entities at the University of Malta that contribute to the project are the Faculty for the Built Environment, the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Arts and the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development. More information about the contribution from the Seismic Monitoring and Research Unit (Department of Geosciences, Faculty of Science) can be found in Rocking the Islands (Issue 11, p.33).
on the Island. Their vision is a map
a big one. The new stations report
They put a university research
of Malta where every building is
that it was the biggest in recorded
project on high priority and funded
coloured according to its seismic risk.
history. The rumbling was intense
it heavily. The project gave an in-
They hope that this evidence will
but the destruction was minimal. A
depth account of the island’s seismic
convince policy makers to introduce
few buildings fell, mostly older ones.
vulnerability and as a result building
mandatory building regulations
The Civil Protection Department
regulations were tightened. Every
to ensure that new structures are
intervened quickly and effectively
new structure was built with a seismic
built with minimal seismic risk.
because they could pre-empt which
event in mind. The Civil Protection
areas would be hit hardest. Much loss
Department was also equipped with
problems. The data collection
of life was prevented. Experts are
a map that shows which buildings
involves enormous time investment.
attributing the minimal damage to
are most vulnerable to earthquakes.
‘We would like to […] complete
the Maltese government’s foresight
Malta was lucky. The Government
the seismic vulnerability maps for
in the early years of the last century.
had taken scientists seriously.
The team faces substantial
the entirety of the Maltese Islands. That will take years!’ exclaims Bonello. ‘You would need lots of people gathering and analysing that information.’ The analysis needs powerful computer systems that Built Environment Focus
can cope with the large amount of
data. Funding is another problem. ‘[SIMIT wasn’t] an end in itself, it was the beginning of a process.’ The year is 2150. Hardly anyone slept last night. The earthquake was
FURTHER READING •
Montanaro Gauci, G. (2015) Mdina cathedral destroyed in the 1693 earthquake. The Sunday Times of Malta. [Online] 11 January. Available from http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/ view/20150111/life-features/Mdina-cathedral-destroyed-in-the1693-earthquake.551625
ENGINEERING MODERN LIFE
Built Environment Focus
From improving life quality to solar panels that decrease temperature, researchers at the Department of Environmental Design in the Faculty for the Built Environment (University of Malta) have come up with some ingenious ideas to strengthen modern building design. Natasha Padfield learns more.
Dr Daniel Micallef. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell.
Simulated pressure (left) on a building surface and air velocities (right) across a building form.
he modern house is a machine.
like wind turbines. To verify modelling results they
Twenty-first century living demands
are checked against real-world experiments.
air conditioning, ventilation,
This research can lead to more comfortable,
insulation, and heating. Buildings are
safer, and energy efficient urban environments.
no longer simply walls and windows.
Information on wind speeds and drafts is used
Intelligent systems have brought brick and mortar
to see if a proposed development is comfortable
skeletons to life powered by science.
for humans. Using these methods, architects can
The science behind modern building design and
ensure a building has good ventilation when the
how it interacts with the outside environment is
building is being planned. Inadequate ventilation
the subject area of Dr Daniel Micallef (Department
can aggravate asthma and lead to poor health. In
of Environmental Design, Faculty for the Built
the past, building ventilation could only be tested
Environment, University of Malta). He specialises
after construction was completed. Sub-standard
in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and wind
buildings were either unsafe to live in or subjected
engineering. He uses computers to understand
to expensive, time-consuming modifications.
how fluids (such as air) flow in and around whole
The models can enhance a buildingâ€™s energy
buildings or parts of them. Using specialised
efficiency. They can assess a building's insulation
programs, he models airflow around and within
to estimate the amount of heat flowing into
buildings. Humans are constantly affected by fluid
and out of the building. Planning alterations
dynamics, whether they are shying away from a
ensure maximum efficiency, saving money and
draft or wondering why their bathroom is stuffy.
the environment. CFD can also be used to
Our comfort and safety rests on understanding
assess the potential of a rooftop wind turbine.
how airflow works.
Modelling helps perfect a building before it is built,
CFD converts the buildingâ€™s environment into a
maximising the latest technology.
mathematical model. The geometry of the building as well as wind speeds, atmospheric pressures, Built Environment Focus
and wall properties are inputted into the program.
HOT SOLAR, HOT IDEAS
The program then generates massive volumes
Solar panels could decrease indoor air temperature.
of data interpreted using special graphs (contour
Micallefâ€™s research has shown that panels can
plots). From these graphs, Micallef can extract
funnel air providing cooling airflows over the roof.
information about air velocities and pressures
Implementing his studies could help change solar
acting on different parts of a building or elements
panel positioning to reduce heating and perhaps
FLUID MECHANICS: A CRASH-COURSE ‘Fluid’ is an umbrella term for liquids and gases. Fluid mechanics studies their behaviour. Studies involve many variables and there are a few simple rules. Micallef’s research is based on fluid mass, momentum, and energy conservation equations that describe the fluid behaviour. The equations cannot be solved using direct mathematical techniques and scientists needs computers to crunch the large calculations.
If Malta were to completely ignore the potential of wind energy, it would be disastrous. Velocity field on the roof of a building in the presence of photovoltaic panels.
cool a building instead. With solar energy gaining popularity in the Mediterranean, this research
BUILDING A MODEL 1.
could lead to more innovation to synergise the
The geometry of the problem is
other beneficial and indirect effects of solar
defined. For example, the dimensions
energy systems in the built environment.
of the building and the photovoltaic
Just how important are these tools and
system, and their positions relative to
the insights they give? Micallef is emphatic,
‘Long gone are the days when architects and engineers used (only) generic rules of thumb
when designing [...] This scientific research
The model gets divided into sub-
builds our knowledge step by step. This could
sections for detailed computer
seem useless in isolation but when worldwide
research is combined we can develop a useful 3.
Set Boundary Conditions
what happens in nature we can then use this
Input wind speed, atmospheric
knowledge to build better buildings [...]. I would
pressure, and wall conditions.
like to see a more scientific approach towards building energy efficiency. I think buildings have almost become a machine. We cannot simply design a building with techniques used
Solve Run the program to obtain estimates.
Built Environment Focus
system for the construction industry. If we learn
100 years ago.’ Modern buildings need
completely ignore the potential of
of a renewable energy mix. This seems
the application of modern science.
wind energy, it would be disastrous.’
to have been forgotten given the
Micallef concedes that wind farms
predominance of solar energy uptake.
Alternative energy has a big role to play in building efficiency.
can be a visual scar and that Malta has
For his Ph.D., Micallef worked on
limited onshore or near-shore sites
right investment and regulations, our
improving the performance and the
appropriate for development, which
buildings will continue to become
modelling of wind turbine blades.
leaves offshore wind farms as the only
greener, smarter, and safer. Research
The improvements have a relatively
option. ‘Malta should not miss the boat
like Micallef’s is forging a healthy
small effect on singular turbines but
by failing to invest in on-going research
relationship between our natural
lead to huge savings in wind farms.
related to these new deep offshore
environment, building requirements,
In urban areas wind is even more
technologies.’ Malta needs to think
and cutting-edge technologies—our
complex to study because buildings
ahead and invest in research and then
ever-increasing demands on building
change its direction. In such areas
build these wind farms. Wind energy
performance beg for turning mud into
Micallef is researching rooftop flows.
can complement solar energy. Both
bricks into a modern smart
would give a more stable and complete
Malta’s energy infrastructure is experiencing an overhaul with a
energy package for Malta. There have
newly installed interconnector and
been plenty of discussions in the past
replacement of heavy oil power
ten years or so on the
stations with gas. Malta’s renewable
energy generation hovers slightly short of 5%, but where is wind power? ‘If Malta
Built Environment Focus
In the next few decades, with the
Words by the Valletta 2018 Foundation
ities are constructed from spaces
say or do, change is inevitable and
mapping helps better planning within
pulsing with energy. They rely
this, of course, also applies to cultural
an uncertain future. He explains that
heavily on culture and innovation,
change. Koefoed asserts that ‘cultural
this is what we should be working
which act as their lifeblood. Cities
change is not necessarily aggressive or
for—to plan for the things that we
are in constant flux as they would
negative.’ For us to reap the benefits of
presently do not know. ‘Shouldn’t we
stagnate without change. The role
change, we need to use the differences
be able to stretch the type of cultural
of the city is to drive the whole
immigration brings to develop new
mapping model we are working with
country forward. When it comes to
ideas for the benefit of the community.
further? Let’s add more dimensions.
city growth, culture is pivotal, be
Koefoed was recently in Malta as
Let’s add more versions of potential
it in the form of art or phenomena
one of the speakers at the ‘Cultural
situations and possibilities of what
that impact culture, such as the
Mapping: Debating Spaces and
could happen, while looking at the big
economy, or widespread immigration.
Places’ international conference,
waves that are actually hitting us.’
Culture ties with sustainability.
which was organised by the Valletta
Analysis of cultural mapping is
Danish action-philosopher Dr Oleg
2018 Foundation. He highlighted
applicable beyond their territorial
Koefoed reflects upon the role of
cultural mapping as an innovative
base. ‘The elements and results of
urban and cultural sustainability and
tool to stimulate change.
cultural mapping are significant
innovation, specifically that focused on
Cultural mapping is recognised
beyond their immediate sphere of
building networks mainly in the Nordic
by UNESCO as a technique to
influence. The real worth of mapping
and Baltic regions. He is currently
preserve and promote the world’s
culture goes beyond a single project’s
involved in the innovative Valletta
cultural assets, drawing attention
findings and is an internationally
Design Cluster at the Old Abattoir
to the existence and importance
relevant tool,’ states Koefoed.
site, an intervention project involving
of tangible and intangible cultural
Valletta, Gdansk, and Copenhagen.
resources within a community.
forefront of a community’s cultural
By placing cultural mapping at the
Koefoed states there will always be
Koefoed believes that through this
change, Koefoed’s argument suggests
some who fear change and others who
mapping process, cultural resources
that it is also central to the cultural
embrace it or work for it. Within the
‘become a tool, not so much to
sustainability of the community.
field of migration, for example, there
predict or control but to help bring
Apart from this, it also allows us
will be those who fear a changing
about an evolution. This is not
to plan ahead when the future is
social fabric. They will try to resist
necessarily about the planned future
unclear, ensuring a life-enhancing
such change and this will cause long-
but about the anticipated future.’
transition throughout the inevitable
term damage, because whatever they
Koefoed believes that cultural
process of cultural change.
Photos by Elisa von Brockdorff and Tomoko Goto.
Spaces & places
Photo by Albert Camilleri
THE FUTSAL CHALLENGE FOR ALS Words by Sarah Spiteri
his time last year, the Ice Bucket
Foundation. Dr Ruben Cauchi (Faculty
Challenge made ALS (Amyotrophic
of Medicine & Surgery, University of Malta) is currently researching the
talent. Futsal is a vibrant sport and
topics across the world. Who had not
function of RNA-binding proteins
our club boasts talented players and
watched videos of people dumping
(Ribonucleic acid) which, on mutation,
personnel,’ said Gayle Lynn Callus,
buckets of ice-cold water over their
cause a degenerative motor neuron
Sales and Marketing Manager of the
heads to raise funds for ALS? ALS is a
disease that is similar to ALS. The
club. ‘We believe in investing in the
neurodegenerative disease that causes
research team needs funding to be able
future by nurturing potential players.
the death of the body’s motor neurons,
to overcome the particular challenges
In order to help the University of
and which in turn causes mobility
of this disease.
Malta develop tomorrow’s players, we
space of just three to four years.
Many fundraising activities are being
are collaborating with RIDT to help
held for ALS research. The University’s
promote its efforts towards research.
Earlier this year, the Ice Bucket
Futsal Team (the University Knights) is
As a sports team, we feel that we
Challenge took on a completely new
organising a series of friendly matches
should be on the frontline in helping
meaning for Bjorn Formosa, who was
outside its normal fixtures, with all
RIDT’s efforts to research the ALS
diagnosed with this disease. He fought
proceeds going towards ALS research.
back by setting up the ALS Malta
The club is a daughter organisation of
Part of the membership fee for
Foundation, focusing on three main
the KSU (Kunsill Studenti Universitarji),
joining the University Knights goes
aims: to raise awareness about the
and a joint initiative with MUSC (Malta
directly towards this fund.
disease in Malta, to improve the quality
University Sports Club) and Mdina
of life of ALS sufferers, and to support
Knights Football Club. University
For further information on
ALS/MND (motor neuron disease)
students and staff from various faculties
matches and to join the club,
research at the University of Malta.
run the club which sees people from
follow The Mdina Knights FC on
diverse social backgrounds and sportive
experiences competing in the Futsal
The University’s research trust (RIDT) Research
‘RIDT favours dynamism and
Lateral Sclerosis) one of the hottest
problems that can lead to death in the
Malta Association National League.
has been working with the ALS Malta
OF SCIENCE AND LITERATURE Feature
Prof. Rena Balzan (Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine & Surgery, University of Malta) stands out as one of the first women in Malta to carve out a scientific research career. She is also the author of numerous poems and novels in Maltese. Research colleague Dr Gianluca Farrugia delves into her backstory underlying her lifelong pursuit of both Maltese literature and science, which includes research on the anti-cancer properties of aspirin using Bakerâ€™s Yeast. Illustrations by NO MAD. 39
gently knock on the door.
the room with colourful depictions of
scientist and which I am very keen to
Professor Balzan knows it is me.
artworks, photos, and the odd cartoon,
discuss with her as she turns towards
‘Idħol (Come in), Gianluca’.
such as one portrait of Charlie Chaplin
me, over her large mug of tea.
I open the door and drift into the
office, settling down into my usual
my favourite). Add to that a motley
IN SCIENCE WE TRUST
visitor’s seat by the enormous desk as
collection of no less than six small
Balzan remains glued to her computer,
clocks, the signatory tea kettle, and you
Balzan explains how it all started,
adding final touches to a document or
have a room bearing the distinctive
‘I happened to discover the joy of
email. I throw a cursory glance at the
marks of a very interesting character.
reading at quite an early age, when
pristine office, the very same room I
hard at work on a Sudoku puzzle (easily
Balzan easily fits that description,
I was about ten years old and this
have stepped into countless times since
given her unique contribution to
instilled in me an attraction for books
I first started my Ph.D. under Balzanʼs
both science and Maltese literature.
that kept growing throughout my
tutorship eight years ago. Precious little
She is a well-published researcher of
life. It was through reading that I
has changed since then—the tall oak
molecular biology and biochemistry,
became acquainted with the marvel
shelves, packed with their colourful
but has also penned numerous
of science and its ramifications. So
mosaic of science textbooks, journals,
poems, short stories and four novels
when at grammar school we had to
folders, and dissertations (my own now
in Maltese, some studied as part
choose certain subjects for further
included) still lean on the walls around
of the national curriculum. Balzan
studies, even though in the early
the desk, accompanied by cabinets
is both an artist and a scientist—a
sixties science subjects were not the
filled with years-worth of scientific
seemingly dissonant combination,
favourite choice for girls, I opted for
papers. Several old calendars animate
which always intrigued me as a
physics, chemistry, and biology.’
Dr Gianluca Farrugia with Prof. Rena Balzan. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell
of Malta, a difficult choice given the then-prevalent mentality that a woman’s role was constrained to marriage, raising children, and managing household chores. She overcame this challenge in part thanks to family support. ‘I thank God that my father was a very progressive and open-minded person and my mother always co-operated with him. They rebuffed the comments from some people in my village, who should have known better, that a girl doesn’t need
Science is an everyouthful topic. It knows no ageing, and a scientist is always aware that there is so much to learn. One never knows enough.
to go to university to further her
I realised that a career in scientific research was the profession that attracted me most. Then with the boom in molecular biology and biotechnology starting in the eighties, my fate was sealed. It seemed it was all I had always wanted.’ After many years working with Balzan I can see that her love of science is as fervent as it was when she first started her career, drawn as she is to its demand for creativity, innovation, and inexhaustible challenges. ‘Science is an ever-youthful topic. It knows no ageing, and a scientist is always aware that there is so much to learn. One never knows enough.’
studies, that this would be a waste
Watson’s famous account of the
of money and effort. In those days
discovery of DNA. The book helped
her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and
In 1990, Balzan began reading for
we paid quite hefty university fees.’
spark her interest in genetics and this
Biotechnology (Cranfield University,
Balzan then graduated, but had
resulted in her travelling to Milan to
UK). This involved molecular cloning
not seriously considered a career in
start out in research. ‘It was during
and expression of the antioxidant
scientific research until unearthing
my specialisation in Applied Genetics
enzyme, iron superoxide dismutase, in
a copy of The Double Helix, James
at the State University of Milan that
the bacterium Escherichia coli and in
Balzan then read for a pharmacy undergraduate course at the University
Baker’s Yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae
the most powerful models to study
anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) on
which she used as an experimental
human disease and to develop new
the market today. ‘The use of aspirin
model of organisms like humans.
drug treatments. They have many of
in the prevention of thrombosis and
At the time, Balzan had to
the same basic structures and core
stroke is well known,’ she points out.
perform some of her doctorate
cellular processes found in human
‘However, in recent years another role
research in Malta due to lecturing
cells, but have many advantages over
for aspirin has emerged in its ability
commitments. This required her to
human cells for research. ‘Research
to prevent or inhibit the development
set up a new yeast laboratory in
work carried out on yeast cells is in vivo
of colorectal cancer, and even other
the Department of Physiology and
and not in vitro,’ Balzan emphasises.
types of tumours.’ Indeed, long-term
Biochemistry (University of Malta).
‘One is working with a whole organism,
aspirin use (subject to medical advice)
With the full support of the then
not part of an organism, as would
has lately been shown to reduce the
Head of Department, Professor
be the case with human cells that
incidence of stomach, oesophageal,
William Bannister, Balzan went about
are derived from different tissues
and colorectal cancers by nearly half.
the huge task of assembling, from
of a much larger organism.’ She
scratch, a Yeast Molecular Biology and
also points out that yeast cells are
have partly been attributed to its ability
Biotechnology Laboratory, bringing
easier to handle than human cells,
to cause a form of programmed cell
it to a standard matching advanced
have a short generation time and
death called apoptosis, in cancer cells.
yeast genetics laboratories abroad.
are easy to genetically manipulate,
In fact, NSAIDs such as aspirin have
No easy feat for a Ph.D. student.
which speeds up research time.
been shown to cause apoptosis in colon
‘The anti-cancer properties of aspirin
cancer cell lines, thus eliminating these
cells from the body’, Balzan explains.
Baker’s Yeast is what makes bread,
All in all, given its advantages, Baker’s
Dr Neville Vassallo, while reading
pizza, or beer, as well as being very
Yeast remained the experimental model
for his M.Phil. degree under my
important to scientific research. These
of choice for Balzan in her studies of
tutorship in the late nineties,
small, oval-shaped cells are one of
aspirin, the oldest known non-steroidal
decided to test the effect of aspirin
‘It was with this in mind that
on yeast cells. I remember he was very excited when he showed me the results,’ Balzan recalls fondly. ‘The cells treated with aspirin died. This really roused my interest in aspirin. There were a number of questions for which I couldn’t find an answer and I thought it would be feasible to
These findings are clinically important since they show why, in early developing tumours in humans, cancer cells can be very sensitive to aspirin compared to normal healthy cells.
embark on a series of experiments to study what was actually going on. It became clear to me that yeast could be a very good model to study the effect of aspirin vis-à-vis oxidative stress, apoptosis, and cancer cells.’
ALL IN THE OXYGEN WE BREATHE After this find, Balzan carried out numerous studies on the effect of aspirin on yeast cells to understand the mechanisms behind its anticancer properties, many of which are not fully understood. So far her work has shown that, under certain growth conditions, aspirin causes programmed cell death in yeast cells lacking manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD-deficient cells), a key protective antioxidant enzyme usually found in cell mitochondria (the cell’s energy-generators). In these MnSOD-deficient yeast cells,
RAISING NOBEL-WORTHY AGENTS
that they are sensitive to oxidative
No less than three Nobel prizes in Physiology and Medicine have been
stress (redox-compromised), aspirin
awarded in the past 15 years, to researchers who used the yeast S.
shuts down the machinery of
cerevisiae in their work to understand how human cells work. The first, in
the mitochondria. This causes a
2001, was achieved for the discovery of the different stages of the cell
build-up of dangerous superoxide
life cycle and its control mechanisms. The second Nobel Prize in 2009
radicals that trigger oxidative stress,
was awarded for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected from
leading to irreparable damage of
deterioration by protective DNA sequences called telomeres. This had an
mitochondria and subsequent cell
important significance for the study of ageing and cancer. Finally, the 2013
death. Conversely, aspirin shows
Nobel Prize was awarded for solving the mystery of how the cell organises
a benign, if not protective effect
its transport system.
on normal healthy yeast cells.
which resemble cancer cells in
The power of aspirin goes a step
the cancer cell’s defences during the
further. Balzan showed that aspirin
early stages of tumour development,
impairs the ability of yeast cells lacking
meaning that the cancer cells die
MnSOD to maintain and replenish their
and so tumour growth is stalled.
antioxidant defences. Aspirin depletes
Balzan is a poet and novelist. But what
of genetic analysis of the effect of
major disparities are there between
NADPH, a key substance that cells need
aspirin on yeast cells, using microarray
writing Maltese literature and science?
to build new molecules and sustain
techniques carried out recently in
‘Writing science is different from
their antioxidant defenses. In fact,
collaboration with the European
writing literature although creativity
these same defences were found to be
Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL)
is a vital factor for both,’ Balzan points
severely depleted by aspirin working on
in Heidelberg, Germany, we have come
out. ‘When writing literature, one can
these redox-compromised yeast cells.
to understand that there are behaviours
be more subjective and what is written
of aspirin that still need exploration,
depends to a greater extent on the
important since they show why, in early
such as its effect on energy production
authorʼs or poetʼs personal perception
developing tumours in humans, cancer
in the mitochondria of MnSOD-
of things. In scientific writing one has
cells can be very sensitive to aspirin
deficient yeast cells,’ Balzan explains.
to be very objective. Interpretation of
compared to normal healthy cells. The
Her laboratory is now investigating
experimental results has to be strongly
hypothesis is that cancer cells endure
how aspirin affects energy production
backed and proved by experimental
constantly higher levels of oxidative
in the mitochondria of yeast cells
data and the results have to be
stress compared to normal cells, as a
lacking MnSOD function and how
absolutely repeatable. Whatever the
result of their increased metabolic rate.
this leads to the death of these cells.
scientist may have thought or wished
The increased oxidative stress induced by aspirin may be enough to overwhelm
Aside from her studies on aspirin,
their cellular stores of the chemical
These findings are clinically
Balzan’s work is ongoing. ‘As a result
CREATIVE SCIENCE, CREATIVE STORIES
A true scientist must first be an artist. In science, creativity plays an important role in the generation of ideas for research, in devising experiments, and in the interpretation of results.
Balzan hopes that her research will
to think before embarking on the
help pave the way towards a better
experiments, has to be subdued to
understanding of how aspirin prevents
what is clearly observed in the results.’
cancer in humans. This in turn can
On the issue of creativity as needed
contribute to the future design of
for both literature and science, Balzan
more effective aspirin-like drugs for
takes it a step further. ‘In my opinion,
cancer prevention and therapy.
a true scientist must first be an artist. How creativity evolves in science
Prof. Rena Balzan. Photo by Jean Claude Vancell.
is different from how it evolves in
In the end, I decide to tease Balzan
a grin on her face, ‘a poet you are
literature. In science, creativity plays
with one final tough question. If
born, a scientist you become’.
an important role in the generation
forced to give up either science
of ideas for research, in devising
or literature, which one would she
Balzan’s current research is
experiments, and in the interpretation
choose? ‘I absolutely don’t like the idea
financed by the Malta Council for
of results. Obviously this must be
of having to face a choice between
Science & Technology through
supported by scientific literature.
science and literature,’ she admits.
the R&I Technology Development
One has to keep abreast with what is
‘However,’ she cryptically adds with
Programme (Project R&I-2015-001).
going on in related scientific fields.’ Curious, I then ask Balzan if she has been working on any other novels after her recent release of the English translation of Ilkoll ta’ Nisel Wieħed, into Bonds in the Mirror of Time. ‘To embark on the writing of a
FURTHER READING •
Balzan, R., Sapienza, K., Galea, D.R., Vassallo, N., Frey, H., Bannister, W.H. (2004) 'Aspirin commits yeast cells to apoptosis depending on carbon source.' Microbiology (150) p.109-115.
Sapienza, K., Bannister, W., Balzan R. (2008) 'Mitochondrial involvement in aspirin-induced apoptosis in yeast.' Microbiology (154) p.2740-2747.
Farrugia, G., Bannister, W.H., Vassallo, N., Balzan, R. (2013) 'Aspirininduced apoptosis of yeast cells is associated with mitochondrial superoxide radical accumulation and NAD(P)H oxidation.' FEMS Yeast Res (13) p.755-768.
novel while one is deeply involved in scientific research is very difficult,’ she grudgingly admits. ‘Both are very demanding and although I hate to say it, they can well be mutually exclusive. My novels were mostly written when there was no possibility for me to do scientific research.’ Having said this, Balzan insists she does not exclude writing more literature in the
FURTHER READING (LITERATURE)
future, particularly when it comes
Balzan, R. (1982) Il-Ħolma Mibjugħa [The Betrayed Dream]. Malta: Gulf Publishing Ltd.
Balzan, R. (1987) Ilkoll ta’ Nisel Wieħed [Bonds in the Mirror of Time]. Malta: Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd.
Balzan, R. (1995) Fiż-Żifna tal-Ibliet [In Tune With City Life]. Malta: Bugelli Publications.
to poems. ‘When I feel the urge to write a poem, it comes like a flash. It is sudden, the process is quite quick and unless I’m quick in responding, the poem may be lost forever,’ she poet, normally one dies a poet.’
confesses. ‘When one is born a
Make games, make yourself
Illustration by Freepik.
Want to lose weight? Then design a game. Preliminary data by Dr Stefano Gualeni edges towards game design as a self-transformative experience that could change political views or even our capability to excel at that dreaded organic chemistry. Words by Ashley Davis.
the self’: techniques by which individuals obtain
is a motley and multidisciplinary
a degree of self-betterment and expertise.
tangle of practices and know-how
In a recent study performed in an informal
that can be recognised either as a
collaboration with the Behavioural Science Institute
form of art, a scientific endeavour,
(BSI, University of Nijmegen, Netherlands), Gualeni
or simply personal expression, to name a few.
gave students of the University of Malta’s M.Sc. in
Game design can also be understood as a form of
Digital Games the task of designing and developing
communication through which designers engage
computer games that would improve players’
in a ‘conversation’ (so to speak) with their players.
unconscious attitudes to healthy food. Students
In the process of designing the game, designers
were to work in groups and had five months
must consolidate what they know about the
to develop playable video games. The students
player experience they are crafting. Game design
did not know that Gualeni was, at the same
therefore involves careful research, iteration, and
time, conducting an experiment on the students
game testing. It could be said that, together, these
themselves to see if the game design activity
processes are in themselves a learning experience.
transformed their attitudes and eating habits.
Game design lecturer Dr Stefano Gualeni
Students could adopt two out of three methods
(Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta)
used in psychology to provoke attitudinal
sees the learning potential of video game design.
changes in a digital game. The first method, called
A recent branch of his research focuses on how
ʻevaluative conditioningʼ, involves consistently
game design intersects with what the French
associating healthy food, such as vegetables, with
philosopher Michel Foucault calls ‘technologies of
positive stimuli in order to improve a player’s
Screenshots from the game Necessary Evil
ame design is hard to pin down. It
Photo by Edward Duca
attitude towards it. The second, called ʻattention biasʼ, requires players to focus their attention on healthy food while dismissing unhealthy food. In the final method, called the ʻgo/ no goʼ paradigm, players would need to perform a certain action when Virtual Worlds as Philosophical Tools is Dr Gualeni's radical book that was published by Palgrave last Summer
presented with healthy foods, but not when presented with unhealthy foods. To help the research along, the games produced by the Maltese students were short, single-player, and involved frequent action on the
Dr Stefano Gualeni is an architect, philosopher, and
part of the player. Students were
game designer best known for creating the videogames
asked to make games that were not
Tony Tough and the Night of Roasted Moths (1997) and
too predictable and that ended with
Gua-Le-Ni; or, The Horrendous Parade (2012).
a ‘game over’ screen, quantitatively
Being both a philosopher and a game designer, Gualeni works at the intersection of continental philosophy and virtual world
One group of students made the
design. He studies virtual worlds in their role as mediators
game Fast Food. In the game, players
of thought: as interactive, artificial environments where
select to play as one of a number of
philosophical ideas, world-views, and thought-experiments can
aspiring cooks. Research shows that
be explored, manipulated, and communicated objectively.
players develop a closer affinity with
His book, Virtual Worlds as Philosophical Tools (Palgrave, 2015),
summarising the gameplay session.
in-game characters when they can
recognises computers as instruments to (re)design ourselves
choose and customise them to some
and our worlds and as gateways to experience alternative
extent, and that affinity normally
possibilities of being. He examines virtual worlds as the
makes the transformative qualities
contexts where a new humanism has already begun to arise.
of the game more effective. Players
Screenshots from the game Fast Food by M.Sc. in Digital Games students Yasmin Cachia and Rebecca Portelli.
avoiding unhealthy ones as they pass quickly down a conveyor belt. The game uses both the ʻattention biasʼ and ʻgo/no go paradigmʼ methods by asking players to react to healthy ingredients while completely ignoring those that are unhealthy. So, did making a game to provoke healthy food choices actually improve the designer’s unconscious attitude towards high-fat and sugary foods? Did they start eating healthier food? Before even talking to the students about the project, Gualeni performed an implicit-attitude test (IAT) on
The group that worked on foodattitude related games collectively lost 6 kg over five months, while the students who did not work on these games collectively gained 4 kg.
each student to determine their
statistical correlation could be teased out, meaning that more studies are needed for any strong conclusions. This small pilot study is not irrefutable, but does suggest something very interesting: designing a game might help transform those people’s attitudes and behaviour, a finding that would have many applications in learning and education. Gualeni plans to continue with similar studies concerning the messy practice of game design as one of the crucial ‘technologies of the self’ of the 21st century. In the next experiments, he will investigate if such change in
initial attitudes to healthy food. The test measured the time taken for
enough students were tested, no
food-related-attitudes applies to other His results showed that attitudes
areas of our lives. It could help change
each student to identify different
to healthy food improved more
political views, make someone better
foods as being healthy or unhealthy,
among game design students who
at organic chemistry, help become
thereby measuring the strength
worked on the assignment than
a more aware recycler, and deepen
of their automatic associations to
those of a control group. The group
awareness on certain ethical issues.
healthy food in general. Gualeni
that worked on food-attitude related
also asked students to report their
games collectively lost 6 kg over
exercises will be as common in
weight and dietary habits. He
five months, while the students
classrooms as drawing, painting, and
collected the same data at the end
who did not work on these games
crafting activities. This approach
of the experiment for comparison.
collectively gained 4 kg. Since not
could transform the classroom.
Perhaps, one day, game design
then select healthy ingredients while
LITERATURE WILL BREAK YOUR HEART 50
TRAGEDY AS THERAPY
Dr David Vella interviews Dr James Corby to find out how literature can help you face tragedy in your life. Illustrations by Sonya Hallett.
If that is the case, what precisely are its values?
often present us with scenes of extreme
How can we distinguish this more meaningful
violence, pain, and death. Brutality on
tragedy from gratuitous entertainment?
screen is becoming more frequent, gratuitous, and ever more graphic. What
is puzzling and ironic is that while we tend to recoil
TRAGEDY AND CATHARSIS
from real-life footage of violence such as terrorist
What does ‘tragedy’ mean? Its everyday usage can
executions, many of us eagerly flock to watch a
refer to a whole variety of situations. It can include
new episode of Game of Thrones or The Walking
school shootings, fatal car crashes, viral epidemics,
Dead. Tragedy could be one of the main reasons
suicides, and starvation in developing countries.
why we enjoy watching these TV series so much.
The diversity of these situations is all too clear.
There could be several reasons for this. Our
There is one important quality, however, that they
fear of and repulsion toward tragedy in real
all have in common. They are all instances of some
life can provoke a certain fascination when it
event which has to do with suffering and loss, and
happens in a movie, experienced in the familiar
our recognition of it. When we say an occasion
comfort of our homes. Here, tragedy taking
is tragic we are implying that its victims and/
place in a fictional scenario can provide a guilty-
or their spectator (us perhaps?) are aware of the
pleasure peek at what otherwise makes us
pain caused by the incident. A tragic event cannot
so anxious and horrified in the real world.
be tragic if no one understands how tragic it is.
For others, tragedy offers thrills and
Tragedy in literature and film can go further than
suspense. We love being jolted out of our
this. The portrayal of tragedy can be therapeutic.
seats by all the shocking imagery. We want
Experiencing representations of pain and loss
to experience that nervous excitement,
can have a healing effect upon us. They can give
distracting us from our humdrum lives.
us a new strength and enhance the way we see
Perhaps, for some of us, tragedy is attractive
our lives. Tragedy can change us for the better.
because it feels somehow intimate. We believe
Many thinkers have often called this particular
that it holds certain insights into human
‘treatment’ brought about by tragedy, ‘catharsis’.
nature. Maybe it can reveal something deep about ourselves and the world we live in. Does this mean that scenes of violence and
The term ‘catharsis’ comes from the Greek katharsis, which means ‘purification’ or ‘cleansing’. The philosopher Aristotle first used the term in
death can achieve more than a shock effect? If we
relation to the arts in his Poetics (c. 335 bce). For
believe there is worthwhile literature out there
him, catharsis is the effect that Ancient Greek
that deals with tragedy, are we to suppose that
tragedies (or comedies and quite possibly other art
tragedy here is more than a sensational trick?
forms) can have on their audiences.
iterature, cinema, and television very
This kind of theatre purifies and
of those we might empathise with—
read Anna Karenina, we experience the
purges certain strong emotions that
reaching beyond family, friends and
tragic fate of a passionate woman in
we have suppressed, emotions that
familiars to all kinds of foreigners. If we
19th-century Russia. If we read Scarlet
otherwise would be unbalancing
read Oedipus Rex, we experience what
and Black, we relive the life of an erratic,
and destructive. Once released,
it is like to be a Greek who murders
wilful youth in Napoleonic France.’
equilibrium is restored leading to
his father and marries his mother. If we
a new sense of relief and calm.
Literature can put us in another’s shoes by appealing to our imagination and empathy. If we feel close to a
CARING FOR THE VICTIM Dr James Corby (Department of English, University of Malta) has offered his own ideas on the relationship of tragedy with literature and dramatic arts. He points out that tragedy brings about catharsis only after we identify with the victim. For tragedy to have its effect, we have to care deeply for that person who will eventually meet their downfall. We almost feel responsible for their well-being. Literature elicits these feelings well. Richard Kearney writes: ‘Literature
almost as if it is ours. According to Aristotle, this reaction would involve two primary emotions. We respond by feeling pity (eleos) and fear (phobos) for the character we love. Their suffering can cause us sorrow and compassion. It can also compel us to be afraid for them as well as awed by the terrible things that are happening to them. In the post-apocalyptic landscape of Cormacy McCarthy’s The Road, for example, we feel sympathy for the unnamed father and his son. The endless desolation and ruin that confronts them together with
extensive and resonant than that
the ever-impending threat of the
experienced in ordinary life.
cannibalism and cruelty of the human
it amplifies the range
misfortune. We can experience it
inspires a sympathy that is more
And it does so […] because
Literature can put us in another’s shoes by appealing to our imagination. If we feel close to a character in a story, we feel their misfortune.
character in a story, we feel their
survivors cannot but evoke a certain feeling of dread
Dr James Corby
and fascination. In Edward Bond’s
an imminent threat. Our response
decide that everything is over now so
Lear, human cruelty goes hand in hand
is determined solely by a desire for
they might as well dig a hole and die
with a hunger for power. Lear’s torture
self-preservation. Similarly, when we
there. Theirs is an acknowledgement
at the hands of his daughters with a
identify with a threatened character
of the harsh truth, an acceptance
machine that sucks out his eyeballs
our self-defensive instincts are
of their tragedy. ‘Such acceptance,’
is another source of pity, horror, and
triggered vicariously. Will I—will that
Corby comments, ‘is rarely complete,
awe for the unfortunate protagonist.
character—endure or escape calamity?
of course. It is more a recognition that the worst has happened, or is
LOSING CARE; BEYOND CARING
happening, and that our [and/or their]
survival. Our concern about whether
At some point, the character stops
that nothing the character can do will
the character will get through their
fighting against the odds. Recognising
save them. They cannot escape or
ordeal prompts an instinctive and
that pain and loss are inevitable, the
resist what has come upon them. The
almost visceral reaction. Will they live
victim gradually begins to accept
consequences are inescapable, and
or die? Will they overcome adversity
their fate. Likewise, our distress for
with that recognition comes a certain
or succumb to it? This response is
them reaches such an intensity that
release, a loosening of the bonds of
very similar to the flight-or-fight
it cannot be endured any longer.
care. This is precisely what Corby
reaction we feel when exposed to
We give up our urgent concerns
understands by ‘catharsis’. I would
danger. In moments like these, we
for them as they give up theirs.
add that by reconciling ourselves
above all reveals our intense concern with the persecuted protagonist's
are taken over by the impulse to run away or to defend ourselves from
direct emotional response is at some level irrelevant’. Here one realises
This surrender is not a pessimistic
with the character’s demise, our
attitude. The character does not simply
sorrow for them burns itself out.
As Corby explains, our emotional response to the persecuted character
Acknowledging the fatality of the
reach a place that is uninvolved and
My Death. Here, the author recounts
situation slowly exhausts our pity and
detached from the emotional storm
his close brush with death before a
fear for them. We tire ourselves of our
we have just been through. Freed from
Nazi firing squad. At the moment of his
emotions—we despair of them. Our
all attachments to any individual self,
execution, his own inescapable death
emotional depletion also occurs in the
our being now feels unencumbered,
is embraced and with this comes ‘a
victims once they too face their lot.
light. There is a sense of liberation.
feeling of extraordinary lightness, a sort
This is experienced acutely in
characters as well. In acceptance, they
– sovereign elation […]? He was
Atomised and Possibility of an Island.
surrender all care for themselves. Corby
perhaps invincible’. Another instance
Here, the pervading obsession with
illustrates this by referring to Maurice
can be seen in Act III of Shakespeare’s
physical illness, ageing, and death
Blanchot’s short-story, The Instant of
play, King Richard the Second. Here, the
builds up toward the decline and sad
banished Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of
endings of many of the characters. It
Hereford, has come back to challenge
makes these endings feel inevitable,
Richard for the crown as his army is
inescapable. We realise at some point
deserting him. Further on, Richard also
these people we have sympathised with over the course of the story. For Corby, in reconciling ourselves with tragedy in literature, we are released from the anguish caused by our protective relationship with the fictional person. The question of their self-preservation, for what they have lost or what they are going to lose, does not affect us directly any longer. The burden of our possessive care for them is lifted away. The unhappiness that comes from personal loss therefore disappears. What Feature
of beatitude (nothing happy, however)
such novels as Michel Houellebecq’s
that we cannot do anything about
We see this mirrored in the
follows is a certain state of calm. We
In reconciling ourselves with tragedy in literature, we are released from the anguish caused by our protective relationship with the fictional person.
learns that his close friends Bushy, Bagot, and Green have been killed. On hearing this news, his defiant front is broken. With this final straw, he talks about rejecting anything that can bring comfort to a human being: hope, success, the satisfaction of desire, safety: ‘of comfort no man speak […]’. Instead, he announces the need to talk about death and loss, the need to give in to the insufferable distress that accompanies them. Corby insists on the solace that all this talk of misery gives the deposed King. In accepting what has happened to him, Richard has finally discovered tranquillity.
Dr David Vella. Photo by Edward Duca.
ETHICS COMES FROM A CALM PLACE Catharsis therefore purifies or purges us. It liberates us from a narrowed vision focused on our immediate concerns for an individual seen as an imaginary extension of ourselves. This does not mean that we stop caring
When we are struck by misfortune, a loved one dies or our life projects fail, we need to do what may initially seem impossible: to face this reality and move on.
about them. It simply means that
what may initially seem impossible: to face this reality and move on. Intense grief is not pleasant to face. The experience of suffering can be so overpowering that it can make us despair of ever finding happiness and hope again. We might also seek to
our sense of care no longer comes
much broader and more sensible
our darkest moments, anything would
from our raw self-centred emotions
viewpoint. Doing so opens up new
do, so long as we get away from the
that accompany an anxiety over our
ways of responding to experiences.
consciousness of what we have lost.
own survival or that of the character
We find in ourselves the potential to
In our denial, however, we can find
we identify with. It comes from
see the storyâ€™s universe through other
ourselves consciously or unconsciously
elsewhere. The fight-or-flight impulse
forms of understanding. For Corby,
reliving the tragic event we are trying
does not get the better of us in our
this is how ethical thought begins.
to forget. What happened in the past
no longer controls or influences us. Our perception now comes from a place that is not engaged directly with the person we have been relating
our life projects fail, we need to do
escape our pain by repressing it. In
reaction to the events in the story. It
by misfortune, a loved one dies or
can keep haunting us time and again.
TRAGEDY IN OUR LIVES So is catharsis important for our lives? Yes, if it can lead us towards a
Catharsis, on the other hand, calls for the unconditional acceptance of our loss as ever present in our lives. It is the realisation that what we have
to. We become detached from their
frame of mind that can help us
lost will never come back and that the
world. Our mindset is now composed.
handle our own tragedies and recover
rest of our life must be lived with this
It enables us to see things from a
from them. When we are struck
fact one way or another. We must
work through it somehow. We can
returned to us. We are reendowed with
inspires through its tales of woe can,
do so at this point because catharsis
esteem and belief in what we can do.
in turn, bring about the same mindset
gives us the calm and disengagement
This is where literature (together
in our response to real tragedies.
required in order to decide and act
with film and other artforms) comes
Literature can influence the way we
intelligently when confronted with our
in. Literature can help us achieve this.
look at our misfortunes. Engaging with
troubles. Catharsis, Kearney writes,
Both Corby and Kearney believe that
its stories is a training of sorts. It trains
‘turns passive lament into possibilities
artistic representations of tragedy can
us in the art of seeing our world in a
of active complaint […]. [It] transform[s]
effect a kind of catharsis in our actual
more effective and enlightened way.
paralysis into protest […]. [It] invites
lives. In other words, the mindset it
Good literature is an initiation.
the victim to resist the alienation of evil, that is, to move from a position of mute helplessness to acts of revolt The serene and clear-sighted mindset we acquire through this experience enables us to make
FURTHER READING •
Corby, J. (2014) Of Comfort No Man Speak: Tragedy, Indifference, Consolation. Thinking through tragedy and comedy: Performance philosophy and the future of genre. Berlin. 4-5 December 2014. Germany: ICI Berlin.
Corby, J. (2015) Ratio Essendi: Tragedy and the Scalar Therapeutics of Loss. Scale. Valletta. 15-18 June 2015. Malta: European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu).
Kearney, R. (2002) On Stories. London: Routledge.
Kearney, R. (2003) Strangers, Gods and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness. London: Routledge.
choices that are more just, prudent, and moral. No longer blinded by our self-defensive instinct, we can now think more deeply and carefully on our attitude and behaviour. Perhaps we can now find out how to make the best of what we have in order to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. Our faith in ourselves is
and self-renewal [italics removed]’.
BOOK REVIEW by The Editor
Atomic: The First War Of Physics And The Secret History Of The Atom Bomb: 1939–49 JIM BAGGOTT Quill Rating:
o date atomic war still threatens to wipe
bomb. Concentration camp-like secrecy did not
out humanity. That threat hangs at the
prevent Russian spies completely infiltrating the
command of every atomic state, an ever-
institution. The Russians learnt about the bomb
growing number. The argument to restrain
before it was used. Spies included scientists with
other nations is repeatedly controversial, being
communist ideals and others who thought it insane
perceived as oppressive, unfair foreign policy.
that America would hold a nuclear monopoly.
Every aspiring country wants The Bomb. Jim Baggott’s account starts from 1939 when Otto Frisch and Lise Meitner scribbled their
campaign against perceived communists, especially
calculations for nuclear fission on a tree trunk in
nuclear physicists, which ended up in J. Robert
an idyllic village, to be closely followed by the Nazi,
Oppenheimer (the father of the bomb) being
British, Russian, and American bomb building war
stopped from further consultation and Felix Bloch
efforts. The book ends with an extended epilogue
(a ground breaking quantum physicist) to be exiled
zipping through the cold war escalation of atomic
to Brazil. Cold War America was a place of fear.
armament that has cost the world tens of trillions
Scientists’ reputation suffered. The bomb
of dollars, sterling, roubles, and other currencies,
placed scientists on the same moral ground as
all to build warheads that will hopefully remain
politicians and other human beings. They were
unused. Baggott leaves unsaid the obvious benefit
capable of being pushed to develop ‘evil’ weapons
to humanity if that money was otherwise used.
should they be under an oppressive regime or
The book is richly detailed, its narrative replete
under the perceived threat of a greater enemy.
with scientific and political personalities. The well-
These scientists first lost credibility then were
researched book uncovers many misconceptions
hounded as spies because of a few defectors.
about atomic history, from German scientists
America was the other big loser. As the
actively building or resisting the construction
only country to ever use the atomic bomb, it
of the atomic bomb (neither is true), to America
lost credibility as the world’s policeman and
dropping the bomb to save lives (Japan had
peacemaker. All future political manoeuvring
already discussed surrender, they just did not
would be against this dark shadow. Atomic is
want the word ‘unconditional’ used). The book
a great, well-researched must read for anyone
sets the record straight for a number of topics.
interested in atomic science and the story
The Manhattan Project at Los Alamos was the
military research project that led to the atomic
Such infiltration led to the paranoia of the Carter era in the early 1950s. Jimmy Carter started a
behind how the world fell in love with the most horrible weapon ever devised.
BOARD GAME REVIEW by David Chircop
Epic Card Game Designers: Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle | Producer: White Wizard Games
ollectible Card Games (CCGs)
in its basic play mode each player
one mana to play. You get one mana
appeal to the most addictive
receives 30 random cards from the
during your turn, and one mana
aspects of our personality. The
120 that form a deck. This is quite a
during your opponentâ€™sâ€”simple.
adrenaline rush when opening
paradigm shift from the classic CCG
random packs and finding "good
model, where the players spend days or
The players outsmart each other
cards", combined with the exquisite
even weeks perfecting their deck. Epic
through precise timings of card play
feeling of beating your opponents
manages to pull this off with a single
and card combos. Damaging the
can be one of the more satisfying
important change. Every single card
opponent becomes a rarity, and
gaming experiences of your lifetime,
in Epic is an explosive ball of immense
when damage is actually done it is
as well as the most expensive.
power. Each card is an absolute game
generally a reasonably heavy blow
changer. Any card that you draw
rather than a repetitive trickle of
Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle,
opens up an extensive variety of new
low damage. The game is a quick
who themselves had won a variety
options, resources or lifelines. There
start battle of wits, where players
of competitions playing the flagship
are no cards that are just fillers, no
look for cards that work together.
CCG Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps
land cards, no mana curve, no puny
they stopped when their significant
starter monsters, no wasting time.
and it never tries to replicate the
other discovered that they spent
You have a huge monster down on
immense depth of a dedicated player
more on Magic than paying rent.
turn one and so does your opponent.
community. Instead, Epic is a distilled
Designers know this fact, especially
They have now designed a game
There are two types of monsters:
The game plays like a tug of war.
Epic is not Magic: The Gathering,
CCG-style monster duelling experience
of their own: Epic, a game that plays
the really powerful ones, which cost
without the immense investment of
like a CCG but is purchased only once.
zero mana to play, and the really
time and money. If that is what you
Designed to be immediately playable,
really powerful ones, which cost
are seeking, Epic will hit the spot. Fun
FILM REVIEW by Charlo Pisani
Year of release: 1999 Director: Majid Majidi Production company: Varahonar Certification: PG
RANG-E KHODA (The Colour of Paradise) T
he Colour of Paradise (originally
He gauges the distance between
There, he measures the changes that
released as Rang-E Khoda, The
himself, the chick’s tweets, and the
went on in his absence by touching
Colour of God) is Majid Majidi’s
mother’s calls, then follows the bird’s
faces or noticing the growth of
fourth feature—here as director and
tweets through the rustle of fallen
vegetation. Hashem eventually
screenwriter. It revolves around a
leaves. Bird’s eye view shots suggest
takes Muhammad far away for an
blind boy’s return to his village for
that nature is watching and calling for
apprenticeship with a blind carpenter,
the summer recess, focusing on the
help. As for the soundtrack, sounds
but returns for him again after his
widowed father-son relationship and
are highlighted in sonic close-ups
grandmother dies and the marriage is
the intense bond between the villagers
as the boy hears them, while visual
called off. While crossing back through
and natural forces.
crossfades suggest that time and
the ominous, overseeing forest, the
patience were required by the boy
father’s look shifts between humble
documentary look at the school for the
to complete his task. This scene
and darker aspects. An accident on a
blind in Tehran. The style alternates
exposes the audience to the boy’s
bridge ensues and Muhammad and
between long shots and close-ups,
capacities but more importantly, to
Hashem wake up to an almost mystical
much like a blind person examining,
experience—as if washed on the
The film starts with a quasi-
then focusing on their surroundings. At
Things take a sad turn when the
shores of an afterlife where through
the end of the school day, Muhammad
father arrives and asks the school
synaesthetic skill (bringing together
waits for his father Hashem to pick
principals to keep the boy for the
sight and sound) the boy sees the
him up, during which time he finds a
summer. Eventually we learn that
colour of God through his fingertips.
fallen chick and returns it to its nest
Hashem believes the blind boy to be
on a tree. Muhammad’s reactions to
a bad omen for his marriage plans—a
film relies too heavily on beautiful
touch and sound are reflected in his
case where tradition makes one blind.
scenery to communicate to the
actions (and the film’s editing) being
His request is declined and the boy
viewer the outer beauty which a
broken into the smallest components.
is accompanied back to the village.
visually impaired person cannot see.
Jonathan Romney argues that the
GAME REVIEW by Costantino Oliva
DIY MARIO Super Mario Maker Platforms: Wii U Developer: Nintendo
ario meets democracy in Super Mario Maker, a side-scrolling platform game creation system and video game developed and
published by Nintendo in which fans are provided with the tools to design and create their own levels. Players from all over the world responded to this call and thousands of levels have already been created, ranging from the brilliant to the dull, from the insane to the even more insane. Super Mario Maker is a development tool just as much as it is a guided tour of the world of Super Mario. Devoid of enemies to beat or princesses to save, players now witness the familiar 2D spaces raw. They
It can also be argued that sound
need to populate them with obstacles and challenges and will quickly
foregrounding techniques used in
realise how hard it is to design a good level. This experience reveals the
the film to depict hyper-sensitivity
balance and elegance reached in games such as Super Mario Bros. 3.
to sound and pantheistic forces,
However, democracy has its perils: many creations will probably be
are nothing new to filmmaking.
ignored by the Mario community, but a few kind peers will certainly
However, Rang-e Khoda’s strength
comment and play through them. If you’re good enough, you can become
relies on a narrative cycle in which
a Mario starchitect, respected and applauded by the community. To reach
contrasting intensities shift from a
that status, you need to analyse the failures of others who play your levels.
quasi-documentary style, to a scenic, intimate, and mystical feel. The film reflects on a person’s relationship between the outer and inner
Will you make the level harder or easier? The choice is yours. There’s no pre-made game in Super Mario Maker. Effectively, the player creates content for Nintendo. The player will stumble
world. It highlights the capacities
through many unremarkable levels
and limitations of sound and sight,
but the experience is worth the time
which are often taken for granted and which have given us cinema itself.
and will help you learn to love the possibilities you create in the familiar Super Mario universe.
TECH NEWS by Ryan Abela
THE FUTURE OF MONEY? M
oney has evolved hand in hand
with plenty of associated charges.
with society. Early civilisations
In 2008, an unknown person or
place, but is distributed and replicated
exchanged goods, which were then
group of persons under the pseudonym
worldwide. Any changes in one
replaced by precious metals, like gold
Satoshi Nakamoto published a
system are replicated everywhere.
and bronze that represented the value
paper describing a new form of
of other goods. This metal money
asset or currency called bitcoin. A
online merchants. It can even be
was made efficient through banks.
year later they released the first
exchanged for other currencies. It
Banks kept a gold reserve issued to
open-source bitcoin software.
reduces commission charges and can
an owner against a certificate. These
this ledger is not kept in a single
Bitcoin is essentially a peer-to-
Bitcoin is now accepted by most
be anonymousâ€”with some effort.
certificates became paper money.
peer system for transferring units.
Attempts to discredit bitcoin keep
Todayâ€™s money revolution is digital.
Encryption techniques are used to
occurring because of its supposed
The advent of the Internet and
generate these bitcoin units and to
use for illegal activities. However,
introduction of e-commerce has
verify transactions. The innovation
bitcoin keeps attracting investors like
made plastic money even more
in bitcoin is that it is a decentralised
Reid Hoffman, who have invested in
popular. One can trade without
system, meaning that there is no single
startups and innovative businesses
being present. Nevertheless, plastic
entity controlling it, and no single
using this currency. This month the EU
money is still backed up by fiat
middleman like Visa or Mastercard
court also declared that no VAT should
currencies, which are governed by
to verify transactions. Other people
be charged when exchanging bitcoin,
a central entity dictating the value
using the system perform verification
placing it on par with other currencies.
of money based on the economic
automatically and collectively. Each
Bitcoin is still a new technology with
value of the country. Transactions
transaction is then stored in a global
some growing pains, but it is also the
require a middleman to be approved,
ledger called the block-chain. Again,
next step in the evolution of money.
Prof. Frank Camilleri
MY 100 WORD IDEA TO CHANGE MALTA National Excellence
DO PLANTS FEEL PAIN? Alexander Hili
To see the details, to hear the sounds, to taste the flavours, to smell the scents, to feel the textures of
Pain is defined by humans as a highly unpleasant physical
the urban and rural environments, ecologies, and
sensation caused by illness or injury—something that humans
cultures that constitute the material assemblage
usually try to avoid.
called Malta. To be aware of the histories, to be
Plants, like humans, want to avoid illness or injury. In
respectful of the diversities, to be participant in
the light of this, plants feel pain. They have a defensive
the trajectories that have shaped, are shaping, and
mechanism that allows them to secrete compounds that
will shape the movement called Malta. In concrete
can warn nearby plants that a threat is nearby. These plants
terms, to improve Malta through the appreciation of
respond by defending themselves through, for one thing, the
who and where we are, which can only be achieved
production of sour tasting toxins that cause the herbivore
through the aspiration for excellence in every aspect
discomfort (meaning, for example, that go090ats end up with
of society. In other words, education.
upset stomachs). So plants do feel ‘pain’ and have evolved to react to it— food for thought.
by Ġorġ Mallia
No matter where you choose to work you will drink up to 5 cups on your average working day. Discover a world of opportunities in between. Visit us on facebook or apply under the careers section on w w w.computime.com.mt