On a science journey

Jan Mertens and Marta Falzon are setting pan traps where the plastic plates are painted yellow to attract the bees to the traps. Photo: Eline Paulus

Jan Mertens and Marta Falzon are setting pan traps where the plastic plates are painted yellow to attract the bees to the traps. Photo: Eline Paulus

Whether you’re a science student, graduate, academic or simply interested in the local flora and fauna, one can easily take part in collecting data. This is exciting news for science enthusiasts who would like to contribute to updating the national red list.  The national red list of threatened species (IUCN Red List also known as the Red Data List) is the world’s inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. One of Malta Biodiversity Monitoring’s goals is to continuously update this list.

Projects like ECOLOGICA envision to collect biological data on the islands. Such projects have already collected data about bees and reptiles. Another project is set to start later this year, where a research team will work on a fungi survey around the islands. One of the participants says that “…such opportunities are beneficial not only for research and monitoring but also for any aspiring biodiversity conservationists who gain experience and fieldwork skills during the project”. This baseline is essential for comparing as well as preserving the myriad biodiversity that exists on our islands.

Projects like ‘Lichen it’ and Stejjer Imfewħa take the participants on a whirlwind journey of emotions. Stejjer Imfewħa connects culture, art and conservation by highlighting human experiences and stories through the use of flowers, herbs and spices that are part of our heritage. In Stejjer Imfewħa, different age groups, ethnicity, cultural and religious backgrounds helped create a multi-disciplinary exhibition where different forms of expression were used among which were photography, performances and installation art. Research was presented differently in a way that diverse audiences could be captured by the creativity of these inspired pieces marrying science and art.

Lichens are composite organisms made of fungi and algae living together and can be found on rocks. One activity included making crochet designs that were put on trees. In this way, participants who are not interested in data collection can still involve themselves if they are interested in science.

Project coordinator Simone Cutajar emphasises that “this is an ongoing monitoring project” where future research projects about the fresh-water crab (Il-Qabru), lichens and orchids will be carried out. Another participant says that “many people complain about the lack of interest and will to conserve our wildlife. This is a chance to quit the talking and do the walking”. Such projects empower participants to protect our environment, enhancing engagement with citizens through informal learning.

These projects could not have been possible without the collaboration of various environmental  and social NGOs Mcast Applied Sciences and Centre for Agriculture, Aquatics and Animal Sciences, the Department of Biology at the University of Malta and STEAM at the Centre of Entrepreneurship and Business Incubation at the University of Malta.

If you are interested in joining any project or have been intrigued by some of these projects, e-mail [email protected] for more details.

Did you know!

• Water can boil and freeze at the same time – this is called the triple point. This occurs at exactly 0.01°C and a partial vapour pressure of 611.657 Pascals.

• Betelgeuse is a supergiant star and even though it lies some 430 light-years from earth, it is one of the brightest stars in the earth’s sky. Unfortunately, this means it is at the end of its lifetime.

• Cats always land on their feet, thanks to physics – cats actually use the two halves of their bodies separately to ensure rapid rotation

• There are 6,000 to 8,000 species of insects that can be found in Malta, with more to be discovered.

• Lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution, and so are used by scientists as indicators of the problem.

For more trivia see:

Sound bites

• Social media used to help researchers in their work about Auroras. Liz MacDonald, now at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelthas, has seen auroras more than five times in her life, but this was not the thing she was mostly affected by. During the evening of October 24, 2011, MacDonald was amazed by the number of aurora-related tweets posted. She then went on to found the project Aurorasaurus, where users have documented some of the biggest and recent aurora displays. Citizens can use Aurorasaurus by submitting sightings directly to or use the free Aurorasaurus mobile apps. The observations submitted are displayed on a global map that shows real-time auroral visibility.

• Through playing online quantum games, researchers could discover a kind of ‘atlas of human thoughts’. This game, called Quantum Moves, has been played 400,000 times by lay people and has provided the researchers with a deeper insight into the human brain’s ability to solve problems. Users have to move atoms on the screen and score points for finding the best solution possible. One player with the knowledge of ninth-grade physics was able to solve a quantum physics problem for which one would normally need a PhD in physics simply to understand. This game has proven to be very effective to show the human thought process.

• Citizens help in the conservation and management of fox squirrels in Florida. Bob McCleery, an associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, said that while data collected by citizens has an amount of biases it still fares well compared to data gathered by trained professionals. Citizen-collected data provided reliable predictions of fox squirrel occurrence which aided in understanding fox squirrel habitat relationships. Citizen scientists as well as professional ecologists could post on the website whether Sherman fox squirrels where spotted.

• For more soundbites listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta 2 every Monday at 1pm and Friday at 6pm

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