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DECEMBER 2015 • ISSUE 15

ISSN 2306-0735

I D E A S

M A LTA

R E S E A RC H

P E O P L E

U N I V E R S I TY

DIGITAL EDITION


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EDITORIAL

A CITY CALLED MALTA To communicate with us and follow the latest in research news www.twitter.com/thinkuom

M

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

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

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

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

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).

www.issuu.com/thinkuni

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).

www.um.edu.mt/library/oar

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.

CONTRIBUTE

58–63). Flip through the pages and tell us what you think.

Edward Duca

EDITOR

edward.duca@um.edu.mt @DwardD

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

1


COVER STORY

CONTENTS ISSUE 15 � DECEMBER 2015 TOOLKIT

The Malta BioBank

4 WITHOUT BORDERS

Sound, reading, and a fishing line

6

DESIGN

Creative playground

8 10

OPINION

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

10

What can Malta learn from Singapore?

11

13

16

STUDENTS

Fly power for neurodegeneration

12

Nicotine stresses you out!

13

Do you recognise me?

14

The future of transport

14

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

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

2


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

23

A periti education

16

I want to go home (Irrid immur id-dar)

19

Marsa 2050

23

Time to evolve

24

Rumble, rumble, toil and tumble

29

Engineering modern life

33

53/100

CULTURE

Spaces & places

38

A cultural map for Malta

RESEARCH

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

37

FEATURE

Of science and literature

46

The life-journey of Prof. Rena Balzan as writer and scientist studying a link between aspirin and cancer

FEATURE

39

Make games, make yourself Is game design the next step in education?

FEATURE

Literature will break your heart

58

In search of catharsis

50

FUN

Reviews (Books, Film, Tech, Games)

58–63

100 word idea: National Excellence

63

Do plants feel pain?

63

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

EDITORIAL

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

3


Toolkit

TOOLKIT

4

Photos by Elisa von Brockdorff


The Malta BioBank / BBMRI.mt

I

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

Toolkit

• Effective capacity: 728 Ɩ

5


WITHOUT

BORDERS Sound, reading and a fishing line Words by Giuliana Barbaro-Sant

Q

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

acoustic instruments.

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.

Without Borders

performer, sound art, story, music, and digital

6

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.

org/?eventname=Quintessence


7

Without Borders


Design

DESIGN

8


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 students’ 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

Design

(Faculty for the Built Environment).

9


New designs for better streets Dr Antoine Zammit

U

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,

Opinion

policies, good-practice guidance, and technical

through its streets. The human scale responds

apartment blocks litter the edges of villages.

10

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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Opinion

S

ingapore is Asia’s success

11


STUDENTS

Fly power for neurodegeneration Rebecca Borg

S

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.

Students

to malfunctioning proteins, in turn leading to cell

12

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

People for More Jobs and a Better Quality of Life’.


Nicotine stresses you out! Caitlin Davies very day in Malta, one person will die from a smoking-

release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in brain ‘reward’

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.

Students

E

13


Do you recognise me? Julia Farrugia

A

utomatic facial recognition could change the world of

Sketches and photos have different natures (modalities)—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

T

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 1 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

Students

but aims for higher

14

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

possible suspects.

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. 

Students

After this research, Spiteri built a

15


URBAN LIFE

/

BUILT ENVIRONMENT FOCUS A WORD FROM THE EDITOR

W

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?

S

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

16

adjudge, on land disputes, to measure sites or land, and to establish the value of rural or urban properties, or other

S PECIAL

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

stereotomy, perspective,

Built Environment Focus

Access to the professional status of perit was based on a system of

By 1863, the courses had a

17


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

18

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 Architects’ Ordnance, which

Master’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 brother’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. ‘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

W

hat day is it? He cannot

19


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

20

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

Vascular Dementia

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

Frontotemporal Dementia

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

21


FACTS •

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

22

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.


Marsa Umami

Self-Determining City

Marsa

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.

54

2050

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

Visit www.um.edu.mt/ben

refreshed, Marsa will slowly unravel a

to see the projects unfold.

The Amphibious Machine

Built Environment Focus

L

Anthropolis

23


Built Environment Focus

M

24

PRINCESS


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

TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT

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

B

uilt environments need to evolve.

25


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

26

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.


By 2020

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

1,586

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

20,000

university occupants

2,766

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

150

units within the residential building

Built Environment Focus

WATER: REALITY CHECK

27


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

28

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

R

30

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.

31


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

32

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.

33


Simulated pressure (left) on a building surface and air velocities (right) across a building form.

T

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 building’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 building’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.

34

HOT SOLAR, HOT IDEAS

The program then generates massive volumes

Solar panels could decrease indoor air temperature.

of data interpreted using special graphs (contour

Micallef’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.

Geometrical Model

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,

each other.

‘Long gone are the days when architects and engineers used (only) generic rules of thumb

2.

Meshing

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

processing.

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

4.

Solve Run the program to obtain estimates.

Built Environment Focus

system for the construction industry. If we learn

35


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

home.

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

concept

energy generation hovers slightly short of 5%, but where is wind power? ‘If Malta

Built Environment Focus

were to

36

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.

Culture

C

Photos by Elisa von Brockdorff and Tomoko Goto.

Spaces & places

37


Photo by Albert Camilleri

THE FUTSAL CHALLENGE FOR ALS Words by Sarah Spiteri

T

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.

Motor-Neuron disease’.

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

Facebook www.facebook.com/

experiences competing in the Futsal

unversityfutsalmdinaknights

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

38

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 Baker’s Yeast. Illustrations by NO MAD. 39


I

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

Feature

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

40

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

Feature

Balzan then read for a pharmacy undergraduate course at the University

41


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

Feature

cancer cell lines, thus eliminating these

42

WHY YEAST?

AGENT ANTI-CANCER

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.

Feature

which resemble cancer cells in

43


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

Feature

Aside from her studies on aspirin,

their cellular stores of the chemical

These findings are clinically

44

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.’

Feature

confesses. ‘When one is born a

45


Feature

Make games, make yourself

46

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

Feature

G

ame design is hard to pin down. It

47


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

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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),

48

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

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then select healthy ingredients while

49


Feature

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.

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L

iterature, cinema, and television very

51


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

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misfortune. We can experience it

inspires a sympathy that is more

And it does so […] because

52

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.

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As Corby explains, our emotional response to the persecuted character

53


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

54

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.


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Dr David Vella. Photo by Edward Duca.

55


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 story’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

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our life projects fail, we need to do

escape our pain by repressing it. In

reaction to the events in the story. It

56

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

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and self-renewal [italics removed]’.

57


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:

T

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

Fun

military research project that led to the atomic

58

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 opponent’s—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

C

59


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,

Muhammad’s worldview.

experience—as if washed on the

The film starts with a quasi-

Fun

then focusing on their surroundings. At

60

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

M

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

Fun

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

62

this ledger is not kept in a single

Bitcoin is essentially a peer-to-

Bitcoin is now accepted by most

be anonymous—with some effort.

certificates became paper money.

peer system for transferring units.

Attempts to discredit bitcoin keep

Today’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

Fun

Don't THINK

63


MEME

Meme

CULTURE GENES

64


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Think — Issue 15