The teaching of science at the University of Malta has had a chequered history and prehistory dating back to the foundation of a Chair of Mathematics in 1655 at the Collegium Melitense (a college of tertiary education founded by the Jesuits in 1592, when Malta was under the rule of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta). The validity of the teaching at that time is, perhaps, best gauged by the quality of the product. For example, the Cospicua-born medical doctor Giuseppe Demarco wrote treatises on Plane Trigonometry, on Arithmetic, and on Hydrostatics, whilst Giuseppe Zahra (Demarco's contemporary) pursued further studies in St Peterburgh's with Euler, and then made his way back south via Paris to Catania, where he became Professor of Geometry in 1786 and was reckoned 'il più valido matematico che fosse in Sicila'.
In 1768 Grand Master Pinto transformed the Jesuit’s Collegium Melitense to a public university (Universitas Studiorum, now the University of Malta) and invited several European eminent scientists of the day to join this newly founded institution. Among these were Roberto Maria Costaguti, a Florentine mathematician and P. Giuseppe Piazzi who was a renowned astronomer. At this point, the full university course, lasting eight years and leading to the traditional professional courses of Theology, Jurisprudence and Medicine, was divided into two parts with the first triennium leading to a Master of Arts degree in subjects, including science and mathematics, common to all three faculties. The situation remained practically unchanged till the end of the Order's rule in 1798, when Napoleon abolished the University. Fortunately, shortly after the French were forced to leave, the University of Malta (and hence the teaching of science) was re-instituted by Sir. Alexander Ball in 1800.
Amongst Maltese academics of the nineteenth century, we encounter the brilliant Maltese mathematician Napoleon Tagliaferro (based initially at the Sorbonne) whose research led to some important publications on transcendental numbers and presented various papers at international conferences (e.g. Paris, 1878). Tagliaferro contributed to several branches of learning including Mathematics, Archaeology, Natural Sciences and the Maltese Language. He was eventually appointed rector of the University of Malta in 1896 and one of his early achievements was to divide the Faculty of Arts, till then known as the Faculty of Literature and Science, into two separate areas of study - arts and sciences. The formal split into three distinct faculties, ‘Arts’, ‘Science’, ‘Engineering and Architecture’ came during the next rectorship of Edoardo Magro (1904-1920). The first Faculty of Science board meeting was held on Friday the 17th September 1915 and attended by Prof. W.F. Nixon (Maths), Prof. R.V. Galea (L.S.A.) and Prof. Sir Themisocles Zammit (Chemistry, see left). The first two undergraduate degrees (B.Sc.) were conferred by the university in 1916. The international standing of Professor Themistocles Zammit (rector between 1920-1926) helped to consolidate the achievements of the Faculty of Science.
The Faculty of Science has continued ever since (apart from a brief interlude in the early 1980’s when the Faculty of Science was dissolved) to fulfil its primary roles of teaching and research by producing some excellent Maltese and international science graduates, and numerous high calibre research publications.
Prof. Stanley Fiorini / Prof. Joseph N. Grima