• Group Members


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    Liana Vella-Zarb

    Group Leader

    Liana read for a Bachelor of Pharmacy [Hons] degree at the University of Malta and worked in the pharmaceutical industry before moving to Birmingham, UK in 2004 to carry out her EPSRC-funded doctoral studies under the supervision of Dr Maryjane Tremayne. Her work was centered around the complementary use of computational crystal structures and X-ray powder diffraction data in crystal structure determination, and formed part of the CPOSS (Control and Prediction of the Organic Solid State) project (www.cposs.org.uk).


    Before joining the University of Malta's Department of Chemistry as a Lecturer, Liana held postdoctoral fellowships, also had a brief stint in an industrial setting, having worked for generic pharmaceutical companies and Heritage Malta, with whom she has formed collaborative links. During her time at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany (www.fkf.mpg.de), she worked in Prof. Dr Robert Dinnebier's group on exploring variable temperature and pressure environments in structure determination of organic and pharmaceutical compounds from high-resolution powder diffraction data. She then moved to Prof. Dr John S.O. Evans's group at the Chemistry Department, University of Durham, UK (www.dur.ac.uk) where she expanded her research to include inorganic structures and single crystal diffraction techniques, whilst maintaining a steady research output in the field of pharmaceutical crystallography and crystal engineering.


    Liana was promoted to Associate Professor in March 2018, and she is currently the Outreach Officer for the Department of Chemistry. In 2018 Liana, together with two colleagues from the University of Malta, secured a EUR 4.8M grant to set up a new Centre for Solid State Research in Malta. This has enabled the purchase of top notch instrumentation and the creation of a centre of excellence.


    When she is not in the lab, Liana is either caring for her son, or teaching classical ballet.


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    Marie Christine Scicluna

    Scientific Officer

    Marie Christine's interest in covalent organic frameworks was sparked when she joined the group as an undergraduate project student in 2014. Through her hard work she has sailed through her Bachelor and Masters studies with flying colours, and she was awarded a TESS scholarship to further her studies at a doctoral level. Marie Christine defended her PhD dissertation in February 2022, and she is currently our full-time Scientific Officer.

    Dr Hafsa Javed Ashraf

    Post Doctoral Research Associate

    Hafsa joined our group as a Post Doc in January 2022. A mum of four, Hafsa is a true example of a dedicated woman in STEM. Her experience in crystal engineering can be traced back to her PhD days in Bradford, during which she investigated cocrystallisation of primary amides and carboxylic acids. She then took up a role as a Physical Chemist with Syngenta, before taking a career break to focus on her family. Hafsa is the newest addition to our group, and she will be working on our Pharma Taxis project.

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    Luke Frendo

    PhD student

    Luke joined the group as a summer intern in 2014, and has never looked back since. His undergraduate project was an industrial collaboration sponsored by DiPharma, and his MSc work also involved the investigation of polymorphism and crystal engineering in pharmaceuticals. For his doctoral work, Luke has chosen to move away from Pharma and is instead challenging the boundaries of cocrystallisation on a cometary level.

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    Lynn Marie Barbara

    PhD student

    Lynn has shown interest in crystallography since she was a first year student on the BSc Chemistry with Materials course. She worked on polymorphism and crystal engineering of pharmaceuticals for her undergraduate project, which she completed in 2018. Lynn was awarded a TESS scholarship to further her studies, and she immediately started reading for a PhD with the group, this time focusing on materials that have the potential to exhibit negative or zero thermal expansion.

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    Lorella Spiteri

    PhD student

    Lorella joined us as a BSc project student in 2016, to work on the application of statistical techniques in the context of crystallography. Her undergraduate work, which has been published, has served as the background to her subsequent MSc project, which she has passed with Distinction. After a brief stint out in the real world, Lorella decided to deepen her understanding of the complementary use of statistics and crystallography, so she returned in October 2019 as a PhD student.

    Jake Ellul

    PhD student

    Jake's undergraduate project involved crystal engineering of a widely-used antiviral for an improvement in its physical properties. After obtaining a First Class degree, he was awarded a scholarship to further his studies at doctoral level. He is currently studying various approaches towards forming ternary cocrystals.

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    Rebecca Degabriele

    MSc student

    Having joined our group as an undergrad in 2019, Rebecca has applied crystallography principles for the understanding of a prevalent pigment in the context of cultural heritage. Her MSc research project builds upon this work and extends to another pigment that is visually similar but chemically very different to the first. Rebecca's work has attracted much attention both in the local and global heritage science scene, and has served as a platform to initiate several fruitful collaborations.


    Grace Ann Muscat

    Grace joined our group as an undergrad project student in October 2019. She worked on crystal engineering of anticancer agents, and subsequently built upon this work for her MSc research in our group, for which she was awarded a Distinction.

    Luke Sammut

    Luke worked on crystal engineering of pharmaceuticals during his undergrad project. Following a break in industry, Luke returned to further his studies at MSc level in the same area - a project for which he was awarded a Distinction. He currently teaches science at a local secondary school and is furthering his education in Teaching.

    Kyle Bonnici

    Kyle joined as an undergraduate project student to look into the solid state behaviour of a prominent pharmaceutical agent.

    Marie Camilleri

    For both her MSc and BSc projects, Marie looked at the solid state behaviour of pigments under different conditions. She focused on ochres in particular as these were used to decorate the oracle room at the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Marie now works for Heritage Malta, where she can combine her scientific background with her love for cultural heritage.

    Chelsey Vella

    A Materials Chemist by training, Chelsey's pathway to all things pharma started off at undergrad level, when she looked at polymorphism of a vasopressin receptor antagonist. She then moved onto crystal engineering of a potent anti-cancer agent for her MSc project. Chelsey currently works in the QC division of Combino Pharm, and is collaborating with us on a number of publications.

    Andreas Fier

    Andreas took a break from his studies in Munster to spend an Erasmus stage in our group, during which he worked on the synthesis of Covalent Organic Framework materials.

    Matthew Agius

    Matthew's undergrad work on antivirals has led to the filing of a patent. He currently works for Baxter.

    Sebastian Rosenbaum

    Sebastian was an Erasmus exchange student from Munster who worked on polymorph screens of pharmaceuticals.

    Amy Cachia

    Amy joined our group for her MSc project, during which she worked on synthesis of covalent organic framework materials. When she is not teaching Chemistry at San Andrea School, you will find Amy at the Crossfit Studio.

    Antonia Bonello

    Antonia's early work on beclomethasone cocrystals has been patented, and has paved the way for our more recent crystal engineering projects. Following her BSc, Antonia went on to studying medicine.