Refugee Students

Learning Diversity: A Case Study of Refugee Students in Primary School is an international project created to provide information about the unique needs of refugee students, their obstacles to success, and the interventions and good practices applied to help them. Jonathan Firbank speaks with lead coordinator, Prof. Simone Galea, about the study’s ethics, methods, and findings.

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Eco-Anxiety

Have you ever felt stressed about your future when hearing about environmental issues and climate change in the news? Have you ever felt particularly anxious about the future of humanity and our planet? Well I can assure you, you are not alone. 

There is a formal term for this phenomenon: eco-anxiety. The American Psychology Association describes eco-anxiety as ’the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations.’ While this is not yet considered as a psychological illness, it can have numerous mental consequences in some people.

Martina Camilleri – photo courtesy of Jean Claude Vella

Eco-anxiety does not affect everyone in the same manner. Various studies in the last few years have shown that eco-anxiety tends to impact younger generations the most, mainly children and youths.  Surveys show that many young people rank climate change as the most significant societal problem.  In one recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health and conducted in 10 different countries among 16 to 25-year-olds, 59% of respondents stated that they are very or extremely worried, while 84% of participants said that they felt at least moderately worried. 

Moreover, the majority of respondents ‘felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty,’ about climate change. Eco-anxiety also tends to be more prevalent among people who are aware of the environment and knowledgeable on climate change. This group feels largely responsible for solving this problem that has been dumped onto its shoulders by governmental inaction and earlier generations.

This might also explain why it is quite common for young students studying in the environmental field to feel the symptoms of eco-anxiety.  As a student currently following a sustainability-related course, I am aware that it can get quite overwhelming. In fact, as part of a recent Sustainability Week on university campus, a workshop was organised to help students cope with the symptoms of eco-anxiety. While coping mechanisms vary from one individual to another, these are some things you can try out if you find yourself in a similar situation: 

  • Explore a healthy outlet to give your thoughts a break through physical exercise, meditation, and deep breathing.  
  • Share your feelings with friends or note them down in a journal.
  • Take tangible action by making small but necessary lifestyle changes.
  • Make your voice heard through lobbying, petitions, and  marching in the streets, or by joining sustainable organisations. 

The Microscopic World in Sharp Focus

The Leica Thunder Imaging System not only lives up to its grandiose name, it also exceeds it in its purpose. At first glance, the system looks just like your traditional microscope with a flatscreen monitor connected to it. THINK finds itself in the Motor Neuron Disease laboratory at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Biobanking at the University of Malta. The dim lighting around the setup creates an impressive atmosphere. Images flash on the attached screen, and the sophisticated high-tech features of this specialised microscope become clearer. ‘There is no other microscope like this,’ says Mr Zachary Muscat, Accounts Manager at Evolve Ltd. — suppliers of this equipment to the University. 

While traditional microscopes have no issue focusing on normal cells, they tend to struggle with tissue samples. Tissue samples are somewhat thicker, and a typical microscope causes blurring at the centre of the projected image. Clarity and sharpness are critical in a field that requires precise analysis of samples, and the distortions caused by such image processing can severely limit the researcher. 

Being only one out of a hundred currently in use worldwide, the Leica Thunder Imaging System is capable of removing this blurring in real-time. Prof. Ruben J Cauchi, who leads the laboratory, explains the concept behind this piece of technology. ‘It looks like a normal microscope,’ he says. ‘The difference is that it has a tower with a powerful processor, and this is its core facility.’ Its high processing power, combined with technology typically used for gaming, allows for the enhancement of images beyond the capabilities of a standard microscope. While traditional microscopes use natural light, the Leica Thunder Imaging System splits natural light into different wavelengths to excite different fluorescent stains, and the processor captures the illumination of these stains independently, while the software compiles the images to produce razor-sharp results.

The laboratory’s primary research focuses on motor neuron diseases such as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), by utilising fruit flies as specimens under the microscope’s powerful lens. These insects serve as a model organism of ALS by removing genes causing the disease. ALS flies typically end up with weakness of the muscles used for flight. Prof. Cauchi emphasises the impact of the Thunder microscope for such research. ‘What we can do now is dissect the organism and see what is actually happening at a molecular level in the neurons and muscles. Previously, that was difficult to do.’

Muscles of a fruit fly stained for motor neuron terminals using the Leica Thunder Imager

Besides ALS, the laboratory is also focusing on projects concerning COVID-19. Research is being conducted on the ACE2 receptor, that same receptor which coronavirus particles bind themselves to before entering human cells. ‘So with the microscope, we are also looking at the location of this receptor and how we can actually find therapeutic approaches that decrease the levels of this receptor.’ In the long run, this will have a significant impact on the health sector by providing it with crucial information for the creation of specific drugs which can be used not only for COVID-19 but also potentially for future pandemics.

Equipment supplied by Evolve Ltd. through collaboration with the University of Malta, and made possible with funding from the Malta Council for Science & Technology COVID-19 R&D Fund (Project COV.RD.2020–22).