The Building Blocks of the Future Defy Logic
A new logic-defying mathematical model could lead to materials for better skin grafts and new smart materials
Wake up in the morning and stretch; your midsection narrows. Pull on a piece of plastic at separate ends; it becomes thinner. So does a rubber band. One might assume that when a force is applied along an axis, materials will always stretch and become thinner. Wrong. Thanks to their peculiar internal geometry, auxetic materials grow wider when stretched. After confounding scientists for decades, University of Malta researchers are now developing mathematical models to explain the unusual behaviour of these logic-defying materials, unlocking a plethora of applications that could change the way we envision the future forever.
Auxetic materials have the amazing property of a negative Poisson’s ratio, becoming fatter when stretched. This comes from its structure which in the Malta-developed model is represented by a series of connected squares, technically called rigid, rotating subunits. When the subunits turn relative to one another, the material’s density lowers but its thickness increases.
Auxetics caused such colossal confusion among researchers that it went ignored for years. It was only in the 1980s that auxetics were picked up again as practical application resurfaced. Recent advances are unlocking this material’s potential.
In a paper published last week in Nature Publishing Group’s journal Scientific Reports, mechanical
metamaterials, chemistry professor Joseph N Grima, together with his team at the University of Malta, have presented a mathematical model of auxetic behaviour using hierarchical rotating unit systems.
These systems take advantage of the enhanced properties provided by a negative Poisson’s ratio but also use a hierarchical system whereby the complex structures are created from the simpler units, thus creating a hierarchical auxetic metamaterials that are more versatile in terms of their mechanical properties, with experts being able to control and alter them.
Emeritus Professor Anselm C Griffin (Georgia Institute of Technology, US), notes how Grima’s work “represents a huge step forward in the conceptualization and design of a new class of metamaterials.” “With the realistic prospect of tailorable auxetic mechanical properties as described in this paper, the potential for applications of these new metamaterial structures particularly in biomedicine and catalysis is quite exciting," he added.
Materials Chemistry Professor at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Andrew Goodwin, notes its “exciting [applications], how fractal-like assemblies of simple [shapes] might find application in smart medical stents and ultralight responsive supports.” In principle, he said, the ideas Grima and his team are working on could also be applied to atomic-scale assemblies as they do in life-size structures. Chemists and engineers will be working closer together to develop the smart materials of the future, he added.
For Grima and his team, this innovative approach has one main application: healthcare, and more specifically skin grafts. This procedure involves the removal of a patient’s undamaged skin and using it to treat another severely damaged area, as in the case of burns. “Current methods don’t allow for the skin to be used as optimally as possible, which is not ideal when larger skin sections are needed. Our work potentially could reduce the amount of good skin needed to treat the injured area,” remarks Grima.
The mathematical model is a solid foundation, but the real world material could always vary. To test that out, the team is 3D printing the designs. Grima said that they are already “managing to approach the ideal systems in a very cost-effective manner.”
Despite the present success and the great potential it has unlocked for the future, the journey ahead for Grima and his team remains a long one. The next step is to further develop the auxetic structures then manufacture the materials industrially. “We see a future where real-life applications of auxetics will be rife”, states Grima.
While these materials seem illogical, their path into the mainstream seems fairly straightforward. The ultimate aim? To improve people’s lives. Logically.
The academic article can be found here.
This work has been funded through the Malta Council for Science and Technology through the R&I-2011-024 Project (Smart Stents) and R&I-2012-061 (SMESH). The authors would like to thanks the University of Malta and the partners involved in these projects, Halmann Vella Group, Tek-Moulds Precision Engineering Limited and Mater Dei Hospital.
26 February 2015
ACCOBAMS Training Course in Cetacean Conservation at the University of Malta
A training course in cetacean conservation will be organised by ACCOBAMS (www.accobams.org
) at the University of Malta and will be accredited by the University’s Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). This Unit is designed for countries parties to ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area) which is one of the agreements under the Bonn Convention/ Convention for Migratory Species. This course is particularly relevant for people working in this sector, science students and marine enthusiasts.
The training course covers the following topics: species of cetaceans, threats to cetaceans, study skills and the legislative framework on the conservation of cetaceans. Lectures will be delivered by ACCOBAMS experts and marine biologists. The training course in the conservation of cetaceans has been provided to more than 300 University students in five ACCOBAMS Parties.
To follow this course, students should have a prior knowledge of biology and/or environmental conservation. The course is spread over 5 days from the 16-20 March and consists of 28 hours of lectures delivered by world renowned experts. Applications are being received through an online form available at www.um.edu.mt/clas/accobams.
Deadline for applying is Monday 9 March. The course fee is €50. Late applications will be received until Thursday 12 March with a €20 late application fee.
This training course will be accredited by the Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and will be considered as part of the Programme in the Liberal Arts and Sciences (PLAS). The 4 ECTS credits obtained for this Unit will be valid towards a PLAS award.
27 February 2015
University of Malta Signs Agreement with Aurobindo Pharma Ltd
The Rector of the University of Malta, Professor Juanito Camilleri, has signed a collaborative agreement between the Department of Pharmacy, within the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, and Aurobindo Pharma Ltd. Aurobindo is a pharmaceutical company that was established in Hal Far and undertakes quality testing and release of medicinal products to the European market.
The two year agreement covers support towards the teaching and research activities in the Department of Pharmacy especially aspects of pharmaceutical technology. Through this agreement Aurobindo Pharma will sponsor the award for best Pharmaceutical Technology Student Presentation during the Annual Pharmacy Symposium. The course leading to a degree of Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Technology is a three year programme that provides students with a scientific approach to skills required in the development, manufacturing, testing, distribution and safe use of medicines. Through this agreement academic internships carried out by students reading for a pharmacy or pharmaceutical technology degree at Aurobindo are formalised.
Students following the course leading to a degree in Pharmaceutical Technology follow an 8 week internship every year of the course. Through placements at Aurobindo, the students gain hands-on experience in the quality control of medications for chemical and microbiological testing, and quality assurance processes in the handling of medications.
Pharmaceutical Technology graduates are taking job positions in the pharmaceutical industry, in medicine distribution, medical representation and pharmaceutical regulatory affairs. Aurobindo is developing its plant technical facilities and it is expected that this will open up a large number of opportunities for pharmaceutical technology graduates.
Aurobindo Pharma will also collaborate with the Department of Pharmacy in the co-ordination of the publication of a Drug Information Bulletin. The Drug Information Bulletin is a publication which disseminates information on new up-and-coming drugs as well as newly acquired information, such as side-effects, on already-established drugs.
Photos show (left to right): Prof. Lilian Azzopardi, Head of Dept. Pharmacy, Rector Prof. Juanito Camilleri, Mr Frederick Schembri, Managing Director, Aurobindo, and Mr Jonathan Farrugia, Head of Quality, Aurobindo.
24 February 2015
ALIVE2015 - Cycling Challenge for Cancer goes for the Gold Ribbon
Following the success of the previous two cycling challenges which altogether raised over €135,000 for breast cancer research at the University of Malta, ALIVE Charity Foundation will be taking up the task of raising funds for the gold ribbon, which is the official ribbon of children with cancer.
“This year, following various talks with the Research Trust (RIDT) of the University of Malta and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the University, an urgent need was felt to start conducting research in two other common cancers found in Malta, especially in children - leukaemia and brain tumour. ALIVE2015, in collaboration with Puttinu Cares, will be raising funds for the gold ribbon,” said Nicky Camilleri, Chairperson ALIVE Charity Foundation.
Held at Mater Dei Hospital, the press conference was attended by the President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the Parliamentary Secretary for research, innovation, youth and sport Chris Agius and the Shadow Minister for the family and the rights of children, the elderly and persons with a disability Robert Cutajar, as well as the Pro-Rector for Research and Innovation Professor Richard Muscat, Senior Lecturer within the Department of Anatomy Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer, and Consultant Paediatric Oncologist and President of Puttinu Cares Children’s Cancer Support Group Dr Victor Calvagna.
“The most common cancers in children are acute leukaemias and lymphomas, brain tumours, the various sarcomas, and the embryonal tumours particular to children,” said Dr Victor Calvagna. “Cancer in Malta affects around 10 children under the age of 14 years every year. A third of these suffer from leukaemia and another third will have a brain tumour. Therefore it is the duty of Puttinu Cares to support initiatives that support research in the treatment of these conditions and it is the aim of ALIVE2015 to collect funds for this cause.
ALIVE 2015 - Cycling Challenge for Cancer will be held from the 9th to 18th July 2015 – in seven days - across seven countries. Forty-five (45) cyclists are training and preparing for a physically and mentally tough ride. The group will cycle approximately 150 km every day from the Alps to Sutton in the UK. The route will see the cyclists starting from Liechtenstein, crossing the Alps and Switzerland and heading into Germany. After crossing the Black Forest and the Alsace region of France as well as the Vosges Mountains, they will head into Luxembourg and cycle to Belgium. Crossing the English Channel to Dover, the cyclists will then finish the challenge at the Puttinu Cares Residence in Sutton.
To date 41 of the 45 places available have been filled and fund-raising activities are already being organised.
The raised funds will go towards scientific research in childrem’s cancer at the University of Malta. Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer will be conducting the research together with a team of researchers in collaboration with Mater Dei Hospital.
“Much of the research already funded by ALIVE is aimed at better understanding the cancer’s genetic background in Malta and how to best tackle it. This year, they will be funding research into actually treating cancers. And for this we are very thankful,” said Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer.
“Once a cancer has spread, there are three things which can go round the body and damage the harmful cells all over the body. These are chemicals in the blood, as well as viruses and the immune system itself. The anatomy department studies all three of these methodologies in order to target cancers, primarily in young people and children. Differentiation therapy uses non –toxic chemicals to make cancer cells grow old and die whilst using safe viruses and the body’s own immune system together can help attack cancer which has spread and is not amenable to operation,” explained Dr Schembri Wismayer
“For the third time, members of ALIVE Charity Foundation will be providing a new source of funding for our University research drive. The University needs to expand its scientific research endeavours in paediatric cancer,” said Prof Richard Muscat. “Private initiatives, such as ALIVE2015 are definitely to be commended and it is hoped that such will be emulated by others so that we will be able to continue expanding our research capabilities.”
ALIVE2015 – Cycling Challenge for Cancer is being powered by Valletta Cruise Port, Made Good, Wurth and Garmin and being sponsored by Owner's Best, Ricetti, Pavi Supermarkets and Springbox media.
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca discussing a point with Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer (2nd left), and ALIVE organising committee in the presence of Dr Victor Calvagna (2nd right) and RIDT CEO Wilfred Kenely (1st right)
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca surrounded by the cyclists of the ALIVE Charity Foundation.
Senior Lecturer within the Department of Anatomy Dr Pierre Schembri Wismayer highlighting the studies on cancer being carried out at University of Malta during the launch of ALIVE 2015 – Cycling Challenge for Cancer.
24 February 2015
Open Day at Junior College
The University Junior College organised its Open day, 'Next Stop…Junior College' on Friday 20 February. The aim of this activity was to give the public a glimpse of what the College has to offer. The College is committed to providing quality education to students, helping them gain the necessary qualifications to pursue their studies at the University of Malta or other institutions.
Groups of students from secondary schools participated in morning tours of the College during the week. On Friday evening the College opened its doors to the public, mainly parents and prospective students. They had the opportunity to see the facilities offered, attend brief talks by the Principal and Vice-Principal, meet the subject co-ordinators and lecturers to discuss individual requirements and ask questions to the career and guidance officers.
27 February 2015
Scholarships for M.Sc. in Applied Oceanography (Malta)
In October 2015, the Physical Oceanography Unit at the University of Malta will be again offering a Master course in Applied Oceanography. This will be open to both local and foreign students with a post-graduate degree. An international faculty of experts will be participating in delivering the course.
Scholarships to attend this course are also available for foreign students with high academic records relevant to the course.
Application deadlines for scholarships: 15 April 2015.
Further information about the course can be found here.
Click here to learn more about the scholarships offered.
12 February 2015
Short Course on Photoshop for Photography (13-28 Apr.)
The Department of Digital Arts, within the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences (MaKS), is offering a short course entitled Photoshop for Photography. The course will be held between the 13 and 28 April 2015 in Room 101, MaKS Building. Lectures commence at 1800hrs for duration of 2 hours.
The course is open to the general public and covers the following topics:
- Image properties, the camera sensor and working with Raw and jpeg images.
- The histogram – what it means and how to understand it
- The concept and workflow of digital processing
- Basic Photoshop tools
- Working with Layers
- Working with masks and layer selections
- Dodging and Burning
- Painting with masks
- Blending modes
- The luminosity channel
Black and white processing
Printing calibration and technology
For further information contact Mr Elton Mamo on +356 2340 2417 or send an email
30 January 2015
Courses at Malta University Consulting
Malta University Consulting (MUC) Ltd at the Malta University holding Company (MUHC) is offering the following courses
This workshop will be held on 7 April 2015 from 1500hrs to 1900hrs. During the workshop the notion of conflict will be defined and analysed, which conflict management skills to best adopt and the skills to overcome a deadlock, how to diffuse conflict and find acceptable solutions and the dispute resolution methods will be dealt with.
for more details.
Lectures will be held from 23 February to 13 April, 2015 from 1715hrs to 2015hrs at the Malta University Residence in Lija. This course seeks into providing an insight to the emerging field of Neuromarketing research techniques. Prospective students will be given an insight of how the brain works and how it demonstrates the current state of the being. Moreover, ethical considerations, tools, good practices and skills for neuromarket research will be covered.
for more details.
Mediation: learn the whole mediation process
This course which will be held from 13 to 17 April 2105, provides participants with an introduction to the tools necessary for the conflict management and dispute resolution process in different areas of application. The course introduces the participants to basic theoretical and methodological skills.
for more details.
The Art of Public Speaking
This 20-hour course scheduled to start on Monday 5 October till Monday 30 November 2015 will be held between 1730hrs and 2000hrs.
For further information call on +356 2124 0746/ +356 9982 9244 or send
30 January 2015
Jobs Connect - New Job Opportunity
A new job opportunity is available on the website Jobs Connect. Click here
Jobs Connect is intended for students who are looking for a work placement, a part-time job, a summer job or a job when they graduate. It is meant for University of Malta alumni who have entered or are entering the world of work. It is also aimed at employers wishing to find talented, committed and motivated students and graduates with skills that fit the job or a placement that they can offer.
16 July 2014
1 March 2015