Should Malta Be The Next China?

JonathanCBorgAfter repeatedly visiting Asia, I totally disagree with comments occasionally made that China’s industrial success is wholly attributed to its ability to replicate low quality versions of branded products at rock-bottom prices. In China there are many good examples of good quality products and brands being produced such as Audi, Airbus, and Armani. Based on these facts, what Maltese industry and policy makers should focus on is making our industry more competitive by improving the current situation and analyzing products being developed elsewhere.

The Maltese industry is not really dying. Our industry has indeed changed, for example from textiles to pharmaceuticals. Overall, the number of employees has declined. However, this is either due to industry becoming more efficient hence able to produce more with less, or due to the way statistical data is being collected.

Malta’s industrial sector can become more competitive. However, what does it mean to ‘be competitive’? Goods should be produced with shorter delivery periods, better costs and quality compared to competitors. Since we lack raw materials cost is very challenging to compete on. On the other hand, improving quality provides much more opportunity. Quality can be improved by increasing the external quality of the products manufactured, the product’s functionality, the interactions that take place with clients during product development, the quality of support and after sales services, management of operations, and how operators work. Core to adopting this quality-based approach is the need to focus on shifting from just manufacturing products to designing and manufacturing products in Malta.

“Goods should be produced with shorter delivery periods, better costs, and quality compared to competitors”

To design their own products, Maltese manufacturing firms need to set up an internal Research & Development unit. At the same time, industry needs support through government policies and incentives. In their publication ‘Vision 2015’ American consultants clearly specify product design as an enabler to higher value added manufacturing. The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry has also recommended starting a Malta Business Research & Innovation Body. These recommendations need urgent implementation to shift Malta’s manufacturing industry towards becoming ‘design driven’.

The UoM’s Faculty of Engineering has been actively contributing towards a design driven approach. Our undergraduate engineers are purposely trained in this design-centric approach. Additionally, some final year student projects focusing on design are sponsored by industry: an excellent win-win mechanism. A number of both mechanical and electrical engineers have also benefited through an evening M.Sc. in Integrated Product Development. The Faculty also collaborates with industry through MCST funded Research & Innovation projects. More financial support to University would help every academic active in research to regularly receive decent research funds.

Considering the above, Malta does not and should not aim to be the next China. On the other hand, Malta should nurture its unique strengths such as a highly educated, flexible English-speaking workforce. We should aim to address weaknesses related to Malta’s manufacturing sector. This requires short-term and long-term commitments from our policy makers. Business leaders can also proactively embrace change by aiming to offer quality and innovative solutions, rather than aiming for higher production rates of existing products. The Maltese industry should support continuous training and collaborate on research activities with University. The UoM can help them become more innovative. Like Airbus, Armani, and Audi, Maltese business leaders should exploit, rather than fear, Asian industry. Some Malta based entities, such as Toly Products Ltd, are already going down these routes and are reaping the rewards of growth during a recession. Clearly others should aim to do the same to keep Malta competitive.

Incubator Helps Start-ups take off



The old saying goes: it takes a village to raise a child. In other words, to get it right a community effort is needed, shared by family and friends who pass on their experience and knowledge to the youngster.

The same saying applies to building technology companies. Budding technology entrepreneurs in Malta need plenty of nurturing and guidance to get their innovations off the ground and into the marketplace. A supportive and well-connected entrepreneurial community is what is needed to transform Malta’s innovations into start-up ventures that will expand the economy.

The good news for Malta is that the basic components of a technology start-up community already exist. The University of Malta is a hothouse of world-class scientific, engineering, and creative research that holds the potential to spin out exciting commercial ventures. A new generation of bright, technically-skilled graduates is starting to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path. Malta lacks a professional venture capital investment industry, but does have high net worth entrepreneurs and private ‘angel’ investors. Many of these have valuable experience gained abroad and are hungry to find and fund high-potential technology companies. The government is exploring ways of encouraging early-stage investment by way of tax incentives and seed fund development. Ideas, entrepreneurial energy, and money — the key ingredients for raising technology start-ups — are all here on the island.

“Tucked away in their laboratories, garages, and workshops, Malta’s innovators are not networking”

So, what is holding us back? I recently spoke to Steve Blank, a highly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor. I asked him what he thought was missing. His reply: ‘much of the Valley’s alchemy lies in connectivity’.

Innovators, entrepreneurs, investors – Malta has got them all. Unfortunately, they are not finding each other. Tucked away in their laboratories, garages, and workshops, Malta’s innovators are not networking. They need skilled and experienced business people to push their technologies past the idea stage. Wealthy angel investors are here in Malta, but they frequently operate ‘under the radar’ and can be hard to access. In the absence of connections, both investors and innovators miss out on potentially rewarding opportunities. Promising young ventures, which might takeoff with a little support and funding, consequently get left to struggle on their own.

The University of Malta Business Incubator will start operations this year and create a platform for new start-ups. Opening its doors to researchers, students, and aspiring technology entrepreneurs, the incubator will provide them with space to plan, launch, and grow businesses. There, a network of seasoned entrepreneurs, business mentors, and angel investors will join them. These ‘parents and village elders’ will be mobilised to concentrate efforts to guide start-ups to create a company, raise capital, and reach the marketplace. We aim to make the incubator a lively hub to create businesses.

Building a company, like raising a child, is a lot of hard work. Bringing the community together under one roof, where it can do the job right, will ease the labour of start-up development, and improve the odds of scoring triumphs.


Ben McClure is Manager at the University of Malta Business Incubator


You have to see the real thing!

Darren Tanti
Darren Tanti

But what does real really mean? Is there only one reality or are there multiple realities? These questions have been asked over and over again ad nauseum throughout humanity’s history only to end up with the same paraphrased answer: ‘Dear Sir, we can’t give you a definite answer since up to now we are not sure enough of what we are really speaking about.’ Socrates said reality is One, The Matrix says that the reality we experience is an illusion, while Stephen Hawking argues that reality is made up of distinct sets of laws of physics interwoven together into what he — plus a few other scientists — calls M-Theory.

Indeed the digital era has not improved the situation. What was once the domain of the tangible and spiritual world ended up expanding exponentially into virtual worlds entirly created by humans — a hyperreality! Indeed the hyperreal has found its way in the visual arts. In the 60’s Photorealist painters created paintings indistinguishable from photographs. Their succesors, the Hyperrealists, depicted photoreal realities that never actually happened.

How can a painting feel more real and tangible than reality? Up to the beginings of the last century mimesis (roughly means to imitate) was one of the main preocupations of western art. Artists made use of various visual tricks such as perception, occlusion, and chiaroscuro to fool the eye and give life to their works. But no matter how hard they tried they were doomed to failure because in an instant the brain would discover the illusion and reveal the flatness of the painted surface. The reason is simple, painted surfaces are monoscopic, from one point of view, whereas the brain builds a picture from what two eyes see to understand space and depth, a binocular system.

For this reason, Darren Tanti harnessed binocular vision to his advantage and implemented stereoscopic principles into his paintings to create 3D images. 3D images form in our brains when two images (a left and a right image) are set slightly apart. Our brain fuses the two images together giving the illusion of depth and form. The trick is to recreate the two images onto the same canvas with two different paints, to align them slightly apart as precisely as possible, and to calibrate colours to match the colour filters of 3D glasses. The right combination of all three creates a fully functioning 3D painting.

At first glance, 3D artwork might seem simple but there is a lot of work behind it. This technique cannot be used for its own sake. By combining it with other drawing or painting methods then there is a good chance to break ‘through the looking glass’ and enter a whole new world.

Give it a try
Below is a simple method to create an anaglyph 3D image. Words by Darren Tanti
  1. Get hold of a high resolution digital camera.
  2. Build a simple camera slider. It is important that it allows smooth horizontal movements, which do not lead to vertical variations.
  3. Set a simple object as a model and put it within 1 to 2 meters from the camera (for the first attempt use a white plain background).
  4. Take the first picture and drag the camera smoothly on the slider about 2.5–4cm to the right and take the second shot (keep steady and avoid tilting, changing the angle of the camera, or zooming, at least for the first trials).
    The resulting images as described in step 4
  5. Once you have the two pictures (referred to as chips) you have your stereo pair that can be viewed by a stereoviewer to make 3D images.
  6. The images are ready to be turned into a type of 3D image called an anaglyph. For this step, you need to edit them in Photoshop or software like StereoPhoto Maker. Do not overdo the 3D effect because it will look unpleasant.
  7. For your first experience I recommend StereoPhoto Maker. It’s free, easy to use, and spares you the technicalities of converting a stereo pair into an anaglyph image.
  8. There you go, you have your first anaglyph image. You need to view it from 3D red/cyan glasses which are cheap to buy ( or make.
  9. Now paint it! There are different ways how to turn a 3D anaglyph image into a painting. It really depends on your artistic skills. The trick is precision. Initially, you have to find the correct paints that match the 3D glass filters that are going to be used. The red paint has to be perceived as white when viewed through the red filter and the cyan paint has to be perceived as white when viewed through the cyan filter. If not, you will have ‘ghosting’ problems that will ruin your 3D image.
  10. When the filters are swapped, the red paint will be seen as black through the cyan filter and the same for the cyan paint through a black filter. The luminosity of the two painted colours should be equal when viewed through the coloured filters. If not, the effect won’t work.
  11. Now paint the outline of your painting using ‘the grid’ technique, a very mechanical (and tedious) method but a good beginners’ technique for precision drawing. As long as you are precise any method will do.
  12. Try to replicate as accurately as possible the anaglyph (red/cyan) picture. Remember any distortions will make it extremely difficult for your brain to fuse the anaglyph image into a 3D image.
  13. If you succeeded, remember that this is only the beginning. Art is about self expression and creativity; give this technique your own twist and context to develop it into something authentic.



Diabetes: from genes to blood

Alexandra Fiott
Alexandra Fiott

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is a disease that affects over 250 million people worldwide. Many in Malta suffer from the disease because of our high carbohydrate diet and lack of physical activity. Type 2 diabetes arises when levels of the sugar glucose remain very high in the blood. Testing normally involves frequent finger pricks to determine blood sugar levels, or otherwise a patient can take a sugary drink followed by regular urine/blood testing over 2 or more hours.

Alexandra Fiott (supervised by Prof. A. Felice) studied whether the absolute HbA1c levels (the haemoglobin fraction with sugar attached multiplied by the haemoglobin concentration) would provide a better method to describe the link between one’s genetics and diabetic condition. She attempted to reduce the frequency of the testing needed while using a relatively non-invasive test — the withdrawing of one tube of blood, while investigating the genetics of diabetes.

Haemoglobin (Hb) transports oxygen throughout the blood through red blood cells. The HbA1c forms when glucose binds to haemoglobin. This can be used as an indirect measure of average blood sugar concentrations. Measuring HbA1c levels is rapid, but unfortunately the results are influenced by factors that affect red blood cells. With around 5% of Maltese having red blood cell disorders, an alternative measurement would help reduce inaccurate results and unnecessary worry for patients. The absolute HbA1c was used for this study.

The genetics and blood profile of five different patient groups were determined using genetic and biochemical methods: adults with a normal blood profile, anaemics, beta-thalassaemics, pregnant women, and type 2 diabetics (on limited treatment). Statistical analysis did not reveal an improved link, but the absolute HbA1c did help distinguish between the different patient groups.

To improve the reliability of these results, a separate set of experiments was carried out to see whether a known Maltese variation in haemoglobin, with a prevalence of around 1.8% in the Maltese population, has an effect on the amount of sugar that binds to the haemoglobin. This variant was found not to influence the blood glucose levels and therefore the HbA1c.

Taken together these results showed that the absolute HbA1c does not improve the link between the genetics and blood profile of the patients. However, it could distinguish between different groups of patients.


This research was performed as part of an M.Sc. (Melit.) in Biomedical Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Malta.

Deep Sea Malta

Kimberly Terribile
Kimberly Terribile

The deep sea covers 70% of the Mediterranean seabed, with Malta on the boundary of the Sea’s two main biogeographical sectors. Despite its importance in detecting changes in biodiversity, research on what lives in this habitat lags behind. Kimberly Terribile (supervised by Prof. Patrick J. Schembri) characterised the marine life on the seabed in deeper waters around Malta as a first step to find out what lives far beneath our waves.

Terribile studied species by-catch samples that were caught from depths of 72 to 201m during deep sea trawls from 2009–2011. These were part of the Mediterranean International Trawl Surveys (MEDITS), which is meant to assess the state of fish stocks around the Mediterranean. Over 100 samples were analysed, which showed that light and the grain size of the sea bottom greatly influence the species that can live there. The type and number of species found were different from distributions seen in the western Mediterranean. She also mapped which species groups were found where.

Taken together, these results show that the assemblages of species in the western Mediterranean are different from those in the central and eastern areas. The knowledge of these ecosystems is essential to properly manage these areas to maintain the health of fish stocks and for the management of the marine environment around Malta.

Mapping the deep sea holds strong commercial importance. By knowing where important feeding, spawning, and nursery areas may occur, fish stocks and other commercially important species can be properly managed to maximise the catch from the Mediterranean without causing the populations to collapse.

The study attempted to start understanding the deeper seas around Malta. Fish do not exist individually, they need to breed, shelter and feed on other organisms. To maintain commercial fish you need to understand how all species affect each other. The study is a first step in maintaining our seas for tomorrow.


This research was performed as part of an M.Sc. (Melit.) in Biology at the Faculty of Science. This project forms part of a collaboration between the Department of Biology and the Maltese Government’s
Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

The Universe is Strange and Beautiful

Super dense stars shooting jets of radiation, black holes swallowing up stars, supernovae, and unexplained bursts of gamma rays. These are all examples of a ‘transient event’, an incident that lasts at most a few days. They are amongst the most powerful and mysterious phenomena in the universe, but from Earth they appear as ‘blips’ on our telescopes, making them very difficult to study.

Byron Magri (from the Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Programme (AACRP) and supervised by Dr Kris Zarb Adami) is shedding light on how to detect these fleeting wonders. His work is focused on fast transients that only last a few seconds.

Earth-based radio telescopes (aka antennae) are as big as they can get. The problem is that astronomers need bigger telescopes to produce higher resolution images to reveal finer details about these objects and find new discoveries. The solution is to use arrays of smaller radio antennae that are linked together. Interferometry is used to combine the data.

The technique uses enormous computing power to measure the radio waves phase delays being gathered by the individual antennae. Interferometry then overlaps and superimposes them to produce a stronger signal and an image with a much higher resolution.

For this technique to work, it must carry out all the calculations as the event is happening. The computer algorithm interpreting the data must also filter out all the noise due to the Earth’s atmosphere. To top it all off, the transient events need to be singled out.

To meet these challenges Magri used GPUs (Graphic Processing Units), which are usually used by hardcore gamers to power the most advanced graphics. The design of GPUs lends itself well to heavy numerical processing. Magri wrote an algorithm that acts as an inferometer on a GPU and he is testing it on data from the BEST-2 radio telescope array in Medicina, Italy.

Developing these algorithms is important to make future arrays larger. The next generation interferometer, the Square Kilometer Array, will have hundreds of antennae, meaning that information extraction will need to be extremely efficient and rapid. These algorithms are a keystone to maximise the potential of a €1.5 billion telescope to find more amazing phenomena in our universe.


This research was performed as part of an M.Phil. (Melit.) in Physics at the Faculty of Science. For more about Malta’s role in the Square Kilometre Array see pg. 14, Issue 02 of  Think magazine (