Published on September 6th, 2012 | by Andrea Gonzi0
‘You can download knowledge, but you can’t download creativity’
Malta is a small country. Scratch that, Malta is a microscopic country. It is therefore somewhat of a natural instinct of ours to be in awe of any fellow citizen who manages to make a name for himself away from our shores. This was the case with eighteen year old Melvin Zammit, and his placement among the top 15 competitors in this year’s Google science fair competition. Andrea Gonzi sat down with the young scientist to talk about this thrilling experience.
An eighteen year old ranking amongst the world’s top new inventors? One would expect a somewhat aloof attitude, yet upon entering the common room, Melvin’s bearing shifted more towards modesty than pretension. When asked to describe himself, he confessed that he is a bit of a geek but he has always been enticed by the ply of engineering. ‘I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like science. When I was young I used to dismantle the plugs from the wall…’ On inventing, he stated that ‘…it’s not like a history subject [inventing], you don’t learn the subject by heart and then repeat it. You must always be innovative and create new things’.
When inquired on how he got the idea for his invention he simply explained that, ‘…about 3 years ago I was studying for my Chemistry O-level and I saw this salt crystal lattice. Now, basically the crystal lattice is divided into layers. The idea came from that, and it (the structure) can be applied to screens or through them’. On this point he emphasises that ‘thinking outside the box’ is the only prerequisite trait one really needs in order to be a good inventor.
For the sake of a non-scientific student (such as myself), Melvin went on to explain, in the most simplistic manner possible, how his 3D display works: ‘Basically, I created a display that utilises several layers after each other to display all of the data. In fact, some people might get headaches when looking at stereoscopic displays, because the images become too focused.’ This description woke up the inner geek inside me, as I queried as to whether any science fiction movies influenced the initial design of the display. ‘In fact it’s the first thing that came in mind when I had come up with the idea,’ Melvin smiles. ‘It’s not that similar to what we see in movies today, but it can be used more in precision work; hospitals, air traffic control, games, even in movies.’
Melvin’s experience in Google’s science fair competition could not go unmentioned. The 18 year old explained how he had merely chanced upon an ad for the said competition, and with the concept of the invention already compete, it was merely a menial task of creating a website and uploading a video. ‘To be honest I wasn’t determined to win it… No, I wasn’t expecting to get as far as I went. Maybe my aim might have been to be a regional finalist,’ Melvin confessed.
This year’s theme for Google’s competition was ‘Geniuses are not always grade A students, all you need is an idea’. Was this, in Melvin’s opinion, accurate? ‘To be honest I’m not a grade A student myself,’ he admits. ‘What’s most important is that you are interested in inventing, and love doing it’.
Tech-savvy Melvin explains his opinion on knowledge and creativity thus: ‘You can download knowledge, but you can’t download creativity…’, asserting that beyond hard facts, a creative mind is essential in creating something new. He explained how in order to do what you love the most you need to go to great lengths, in his case, even making his own circuits from scratch. He suggested that in the future a proper lab should be set up on a national level so as to help future inventors, such as himself.
As our interview drew to a close, Melvin explained that whilst he will be studying engineering at University next year, he dreams of inventing more things and someday opening a company focused on research and innovation. Just as we were about to part, Melvin remembers something and hurries back to us. The one thing that had struck him when abroad was that the main difference between the foreign students and himself, the lone Maltese participant, was that back home he had a fervent ‘support team’, and that although not entirely a winner the Maltese public acted as a ‘big family’ for the young inventor, offering constant support.