The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Additional government funding leads to University of Malta backing 11 new research projects

Albert Galea Tuesday, 5 May 2020, 12:26 Last update: about 24 days ago

€600,000 in additional government funding has led to the University of Malta being able to give its backing to 11 new research projects, over and above another four projects which it has already given its support to.

University of Malta Rector Alfred Vella described the increase in research budget as a “watershed” moment for the University.

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He said that previously, the University’s funding was hard-stretched to cover its expenses such as salaries and infrastructural costs, meaning that research funding directly provided by the University is something which is generally on the backfoot. 

Vella said that this is a shift from the past, when the University received no such funding from the government for research, and augured that it continues in the future.

Education Minister Owen Bonnici meanwhile said that research is a crucial part of any University’s work. “A university which only teaches is not a university - it is a school; a glorified school. A University is such because of the research it carries out and the solutions that come out of that research”, he said.

He said that more than being a gift, the funding is being seen by the government as an investment. 

He said that in this way, the relevance of the University of Malta can be increased through the solutions its researchers find, and its international prestige can increase as well.

The projects and researchers receiving support as part of the University’s Research Excellence funding are as follows.

Dr. Adnan Hadziselimovic will be looking into the serious use of virtual reality to introduce audiences to digital virtual journeys such as science projects, architecture simulations, artist installations and performances.

Dr. Ing. John Charles Betts will be investigating the fabric and material of Punic roman potteries in found in selected Maltese sites.

Prof. Ing. Michael Saliba will be delving into how robots can help the elderly in their homes.

Prof. Tonio Sant will be extending the FLASC project by optimising the design of a storage device for offshore intermittent energy sources, such as windfarms, and for which the University of Malta has already secured patents in many important markets.

Prof. Georgios Yannakakis will be studying and reframing advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms with applications in digital games, philosophy, cultural heritage and the arts. 

Prof. Giuseppe Di Giovanni will be conducting pre-clinical studies on the use of an FDA approved drug for obesity to be repurposed for epilepsy.

Dr. Stephanie Bezzina Wettinger will be looking to confirm two genetic causes of glaucoma which can lead to blindness with the aim of identifying novel drugs to treat that disease.

Dr. Ruben Cauchi will be using an innovative approach to identify and bring to market a cure for motor neuron diseases such as ALS.

Prof. Mauro Cassia will be looking to show a link between microbiota in the gut and the development of autism with ultimate aim of preventing the disease.

Prof Andre Xuereb meanwhile will be developing a system for the early detection of earthquakes using telecommunication optic fibres and trialling that system between Malta and Sicily.

Dr Liana Vella Zarb finally will be investigating novel nano-materials that can deliver drugs very accurately to where they are needed in the body.

The Pro-Rector responsible for Research and Knowledge transfer at the University of Malta Prof. Ing. Saviour Zammit expressed gratitude for the increased funding, which means that more projects can be chosen for backing out of the 60 to 80 applications that the University receives.

Each of the 11 projects will receive 55,000.

They join another four projects which received 250,000 between them from the University’s research excellence funds.  A further 250 researchers received 2,000 in support from the University per year, Zammit observed.

Zammit said that he hoped this funding would continue, as it helps the University see to it that some fantastic project ideas are not lost because only a limited number of choices can be made.

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