The University of Malta recently launched a new pilot programme to award four prospective research projects by university researchers, a total of €60,000 each over two years. The funds will cover expenses and costs such as those for research assistants, data gathering and surveys, software, consumables, conferences, dissemination and outreach etc.
The projects will be financed through additional funds allocated for this purpose to the University Research Fund. A total of 108 applications were received and these were allocated to four themes namely BioMedical & Life Sciences, Engineering & ICT, Arts & Social Sciences and Basic Natural Sciences.
The adjudication process involved external experts from the four categories, who selected the best project in each area according to criteria that included research quality, feasibility, relevance and longer-term implications. The winning projects were announced in March and the awarded researchers were invited to a congratulatory meeting with rector, Professor Alfred J. Vella, in the presence of Professor Saviour Zammit, who is the chairperson of the Research Funds Committee.
The winner of the BioMedical & Life Sciences category was Professor Neville Vassallo from the Department of Physiology & Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine & Surgery, with a project entitled Bioengineering Robust Mitochondrial Membranes to combat Neurodegenerative Disorders. The research aims to identify a new class of compounds that can recharge mitochondria and prevent neurodegeneration. The proposed research project will hopefully bring relief to patients suffering from degenerative diseases of the brain, like Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD), which afflict tens of millions of people around the world.
The Engineering & ICT category was won by Professor Dr Ing. Cyril Spiteri Staines from the Department of Electrical Power Conversion, Faculty of Engineering, with a project entitled Electrical Energy System Optimisation for the More Electric Aircraft. The More Electric Aircraft concept provides for the utilization of electric power for all non-propulsive systems and proposed research will focus on the simulation of a power system for such an aircraft, to determine the optimal configuration in power generation, distribution and end use. The study will analyse the aircraft’s electrical power operation for different flight mission scenarios with the aim to achieve stable and efficient operation while meeting the relevant power quality standards.
Dr Marie Briguglio from the Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy, was the winner of the Arts & Social Sciences category. Her project is entitled The Determinants of Environmental Practices in Maltese Households and Firms: A Behavioural Economic Perspective. The aim of the project is to analyse the various drivers and barriers of pro-environmental behaviours in domestic and business contexts in Malta. This makes it possible to build an integrated framework of the key determinants of environmental choices and, in turn, design interventions that are effective in encouraging better environmental quality, informed by behavioural economics.
In the Basic Natural Sciences category, the winner was Dr Ruben Gatt from the Metamaterials Unit, Faculty of Science, with his project entitled Smart Muscles Using Paramagnetic Nanorods and Soft Electromagnetic Systems. The research will endeavour to design a novel way to produce “artificial muscles”, which mimic the vast range of functions of natural muscles, ranging from the very fine and precise movements to the ability to hold relatively large loads. In order to achieve this, they will construct microbiologically stable thin fibres, through the use of smart and multifunctional materials, which although individually weak, will have high compliance and peak power when grouped together in a hierarchical manner.