State school wins science contest with Red Palm Weevil project
A project entitled 'Alien species invasion: the Red Palm Weevil in Malta' by a team of Form 2 students from Maria Regina College's Boys' Junior Lyceum, St Venera, won this year's national school contest for young scientists. It was the first time a state school has ever won the competition since it was first organised by the National Students Travel Foundation (NSTF) over 10 years ago.
The project analysed the palm tree parasite's impact on the Maltese islands. The study found that the weevil's preferred species of palm tree is the Phoenix canariensis and that the insect's activity was not being slowed down during winter because temperatures were not cold enough. It conluded that more workers needed to be employed to catch up with the backload of palm trees waiting to be cut down or sprayed with insecticide.
The research also predicted that if no cure is found in future and the Red Palm Weevil killed all the island's Phoenix canariensis species, the insect would go on to attack other types of palm trees.
Most of the research involved fieldwork study in a Balzan residential area. The team of students visited the site three times, taking measurements and photos of each palm tree in the area to try and spot the parasite, and study its spread over time. Using these measurements, and with the assistance of Emanuel Piscopo of Piscopo Gardens Ltd, the students estimated the financial loss if all palm trees in the area were to be infected.
The students also visited and interviewed local authorities responsible for monitoring the Red Palm Weevil to better understand the problem the parasite was causing. These included Marica Gatt, director of the Plant Health Department Surveillance and Inspectorate Unit at the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.
Chris Ganado gave the students a tour of the Plant Biotechnology Centre in Lija, while David Mallia from the Entomology laboratory at the Agricultural Research and Development Centre at Għammieri, supplied them with information about the insect's anatomy and helped them preserve the samples they collected.
About 30 scientific projects were exhibited at the NSTF School Contest for Young Scientists by 10 Church, independent and state secondary schools and junior lyceums. Other areas of science were tackled by other projects whose titles ranged from 'A simple electro-mechanical wind vane' to 'Nothing can beat healthy teeth'. Some projects were experiments entitled 'Gel electrophoresis' or 'Quicksand madness', while another comprised a study on Maltese honey.
The contest formed part of Science Week, which was held during the first week of March at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Valletta. It was the climax of months of work on science-related activities involving both students and teachers.
The Science Week included the concluding session of the Malta Student Science Forum that was held on the theme 'Climate change'. During the session, students from St Aloysius' College Sixth Form and the University of Malta's Faculty of Science presented research and discussed the subjects 'The greenhouse effect and global warming - an approaching apocalypse?' and 'Climate change in Malta'.
David Spiteri Gingell, chairman of the Malta's climate change committee, delivered the keynote on the island's climate change strategy and renewable technologies that could enable the country to attain its emission targets as agreed with the EU.
Visiting secondary school students were also took part in the climate debate by participating in the Youth Climate Change National Workshops held during Science Week. Their concerns and opinions will also be heard at the official UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen scheduled for December, through NSTF's involvement in the Youth Climate Conferences in collaboration with the Danish Youth Association of Science and the European branch of the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology (MILSET).
The week featured a 'Little Scientists' Village' set up by the NSTF in collaboration with the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (Mcast) Institute for Art and Design, where many younger attendees took part in interactive workshops which showed them how star viewers, sundials, windmills and wind measuring instruments worked, and how to build them.
NSTF also displayed 50 of the best artworks submitted by pupils on various themes such as 'Our changing world', 'Frogs', 'Looking at the night sky', and 'Our global garden'. Over 300 entries were received from children at 25 schools, and the organisers said it was not easy to choose which ones to exhibit, as many of the children had expressed themselves in an interesting artistic manner and had showed a sound understanding of the scientific themes proposed.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was among the people visiting the Science Week, and he spent a considerable amount of time discussing the various projects with the students present and met with pupils taking part in the interactive workshops.
Mariella Pia Tabone, NSTF head of educational and cultural affairs said that every year the foundation was managing to bring hundreds of students closer to science and science-related subjects through its various projects. "This is our mission at NSTF to give added value to our education systems, and promote learning through fun activities and travel opportunities".
Ms Tabone said NSTF was aware of the great importance Science had and she urged more local companies to support such initiatives as they build the human resources they would eventually be needing in future.
More often than not the week provides the participating students a new understanding and appreciation of science. "Weeks after this year's Science Week students are still feeling the effects of the science bug, and it seems contagious", was the way one of the teachers involved in described the NSTF Science programmes' effect on students.
Appropriately, the Science Week was this year opened during the launch of the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, which aims to promote creative and innovative approaches in different sectors of human activity and help equip society for the challenges ahead in a globalised world, the same objectives shared by the various NSTF Science programmes.
The Ministry of Education appointed the NSTF as the national organiser of the EU Contest for Young Scientists in 1997, and the Science Week also serves to select the projects that represent Malta at this annual EU contest.
During the week, another two original research and technological projects presented by teams of students from Mcast's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and the Institute of Information and Communications Technology, and from St Aloysius' College Sixth Form were chosen to participate the 2009 edition of the contest which will be held in September in Paris.