Thursday, December 29, 2011

Letter from Technion President Peretz Lavie on NYC

December 28th, 2011

To the entire Technion family,

The selection of the joint proposal submitted by Technion and Cornell to establish a Campus for Applied Sciences and Engineering in New York City was announced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in a dramatic press conference on December 19th. The new campus, to be built on Roosevelt Island, will transform New York into a center for technological innovation.

In early January 2011, when a city representative conveyed Mayor Bloomberg’s invitation to  Technion to submit a proposal for the new campus, my first question to him was, “Why Technion?” He replied: “Mayor Bloomberg believes no other university has had such a significant impact on an entire country’s economy as Technion.”

The invitation to submit a proposal for such an illustrious undertaking reflects the international community’s perception of Technion’s prestige, excellent teaching standards, and quality research. Technion’s administration decided to accept the invitation and submitted a proposal together with Cornell University. Drafting the proposal was a learning process during which we confronted a number of potential issues at stake for Technion.

From the numerous proposals that were submitted by US-based universities, as well as by prominent universities in Canada, India, Korea and other countries, only five advanced to the final stage. The finalists included Stanford, Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, and the Technion-Cornell partnership. Technion’s successful partnership with Cornell is the result of lengthy, even grueling, negotiations, and is based on the prestige of both institutions and on Technion’s extensive experience in applied research and its immense contribution to Israel as a “start-up nation.” Throughout the negotiations, Technion remained firm on the issue of finance: Technion will commit our reputation, proven experience, and exceptional researchers, but we are not prepared to invest funds in this historic undertaking.

We repeatedly asked ourselves whether our participation would encourage “brain drain” from Israel. Extensive examination of this issue led us to the conclusion that the contrary was true: the prestigious Technion-Cornell New York City campus will serve as a bridge and encourage scientists to return to Israel. While many bright and promising Israeli scientists seek to return to Israel from their studies and training in the United States, and particularly in New York, the lack of positions available at Technion and other Israeli universities has left them to seek their futures elsewhere.

Inviting such researchers to the New York campus will be the first step in their return to Israel. Furthermore, Technion’s experience in establishing a center abroad has proved successful in Singapore. For several years now, Technion faculty have visited the center for varying periods, and this wonderful partnership has improved our ties with other universities in rapidly developing Asia.

The selection of the Technion-Cornell consortium’s proposal for the distinguished New York City campus puts Technion at the forefront of scientific, technological, and applied research globally, bringing us one step closer to realizing Technion’s vision of joining the world’s top ten research institutes.

I wish to thank everyone who labored over this complicated proposal, working tirelessly day and night throughout long negotiations with Cornell University. I would especially like to thank the senior administration team: Prof. Paul Feigin, Prof. Oded Shmueli, and Dr. Avital Stein; Deans Prof. Adam Shwartz of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Prof. Eli Biham of the Faculty of Computer Science, Prof. Pinhas Bar-Yoseph of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. Arnon Bentur of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Prof. Boaz Golany of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, Prof. Jacob Rubinstein of the Faculty of Mathematics; and Prof. Haim Gotsman from the Faculty of Computer Science, who coordinated the draft proposal.

On December 10, 2011, Distinguished Prof. Dan Shechtman of the Faculty of Materials Engineering stood on the famous “N” in Stockholm’s splendid concert hall to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from King Carl XVI Gustaf. Distinguished Prof. Shechtman joined his colleagues Distinguished Professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, from the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine (2004 Noble Prize Laureates in Chemistry) in receiving the world’s most esteemed scientific accolade. Few universities have had three of their faculty members awarded such honor in just 7 years; even fewer scientific-technical institutions have had the privilege of three Nobel Prize Laureates.

Our proposal’s selection for the New York City campus is further recognition of Technion’s excellence, which is grounded in our academic, administrative, and technical faculty and staff; for this I extend my thanks.

Professor Peretz Lavie

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Think Smart 2B Smart!

Science just got Smarter!

Win a Quasicrystal Nobel Prize Tie/Scarf!

WIN an exclusive quasicrystal tie or scarf to celebrate the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry!!!

This is your chance to get hold of a limited edition Quasicrystal tie. The tie was Commissioned by Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie for Distinguished Prof. Dan Shechtman on the occasion of his 70th birthday in January 2011. When the phonecall came from Stockholm in October 2011 informing Technion of Shechtman's receipt of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the tie was rushed into use. 

Review competition entries so far.

How to Enter

1. Go to Technion LIVE on Facebook, and 'Like' the Page - if you are not yet a friend (you will find the button at the top).
OR find us on Twitterand post your answer as a Tweet to  @TechnionLIVE with the tag #TechnionNobel.

OR if you really don't do Twitter or Facebook, post your response in the talkback below... but make sure you include your email so we can contact the winners!

2. From 25/11/2011 until 25/12/2011, the Facebook Wall will show posts of friends and the Tweets will be logged at You need to post your answer to ONE of the following:

   i) Your slogan to celebrate the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 (from 2-20 words) - i.e. "A Nobel Matter" (We could include winners in the 2012 Technion President's Report!)

   ii) Your congratulation/blessing to Prof. Shechtman on reception of the 2011 Nobel Prize.

   iii) Your answer to the following question: What would you do with your Quasicrystal Tie/Scarf? Your answer can be straight, funny, or creative. It's your neck on the block!
3. On 01/01/2012, the best answers will be selected (one from each category) and the winners will be contacted to send shipping information for the tie/scarf.

Competition Rules

1. The Competition is open to all Facebook friends from around the world, with the exclusion of Technion employees.

2. The Competition will run from 25/11/2011-25/12/2011 inclusive to Israeli time. After closure, no new entries will be accepted.

3. The entries will be judged by Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, Nobel Laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman, a panel from Technion's Division of Public Relations and Marketing Company VeReCreations.

4. The three Winners will be announced and contacted on 01/01/2012

Science just got Smarter!!!

Prime Minister of Israel Benyamin Netanyahu gets Smart
with a Technion Quasicrystal Tie.

The Quasicrystal Tie Competition is run by the Technion Division of Public Affairs and Resource Development.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Technion Excellence in Teaching - Yanai Prize Awarded

The Technion awards the Yanai Prize for the first time to 14 lecturers who see teaching as a 'calling'.

The Yanai Prize for Excellence in Academic Education awards up 100,000 shekels to each lecturer; 
Technion President: “I will continue to do everything to improve the learning environment at the Technion and make it more friendly and enjoyable”

Moshe Yanai (on the right) receiving the Distinguished Fellow of the Faculty decoration from the
Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Prof. 
Adam Shwartz. 

On Wednesday, the Yanai Awards for Excellence in Teaching will be awarded for the first time to 14 lecturers. Each lecturer will receive 100,000 shekels, as a personal award. Technion President, Prof. Peretz Lavie, said that the prize is being awarded as part of his drive to improve the learning environment at the Technion.

 “The idea of establishing the Yanai Prize emerged from my first meeting with Moshe Yanai, a graduate of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, a Distinguished Fellow of the Faculty, and a pioneer in the field of computerized data storage,” relates Prof. Lavie. “Moshe told me about his learning experience in the Technion. He said that the Technion equipped him with important and effective tools that contributed to his professional success, that the level of studies was very high, but that he does not recall his time at the Technion as enjoyable. I told him that the Technion has two completely different sides. On the one hand – it is an outstanding institution that is counted among the leaders in its field around the world and on other, it has a less positive side: it is perceived by students as a demanding institution that is not student-friendly. I told him that when I was installed as President of the Technion, I would do everything I could to improve the learning atmosphere. Thus, the Yanai Prize was born.”

The 14 prize winners were chosen by a committee headed by Technion Vice President for Academic Affairs, Prof. Moshe Sidi. The committee comprised students, faculty members and education specialists. Together, they evaluated teaching achievements and attituds of each and every candidate according to student statements, letters of recommendation sent by colleagues and position papers by the candidates in which they expressed their educational methods.

“The Yanai Awards will enable us to place the winners at the forefront so that they can serve as role models,” stresses Prof. Lavie. “I have no doubt that this prize will contribute to the learning atmosphere at the Technion.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

NYC - Technion-Cornell Cornerstone of the Future

NYC Tech Campus:
"Our greatest strength is our diversity. This is the day we really do usher in the high tech economy."

Technion President Peretz Lavie

"No more faculties but HUBS that are flexible, overlapping and interact with industry: an open very flexible system built around themes rather than traditional fields of science.

...We found a partner, and what a partner. A program of innovation. We are not going to have an extension of the Technion or Cornell but something new that will really energize this city. 

...The links between Technion and New York go back to the 1910s, with a donation from US philanthropist Jacob Schiff....

...The Technion was founded in 1912...100 years later we come to New York to close the historic circle. We are building the bridge between Israel and the US, Technion and Cornell, New York and Haifa." 

...from Jaffa oranges to semiconductors

...I just came from Stockholm... this is as exciting as a Nobel"

Cornell President David J. Skorton:

"A story of connectivity, between people and their ideas, between teachers and their students...

...Success needs technology,innovation, entrepreneurial ecosystem...

...We need to extend the talent pool... and retain them in NYC - as many as possible for as long as possible."

New campius: "An environmental standard bearer."

Mayor Bloomberg:

 "Today will be remembered as a defining moment."

"A dynamic joint submission from two world class institutions"

"The economic impact will be greater than we thought. A game changer."

"Transformative, cutting edge campus, pioneering green elements..."

The bid- "The most students, faculty, building space, environmentally sustainable"

"The element includes elements to integrate the campus with the city... "

"Unprecedented fund for start ups with high dividends"

"Technion sits at the center of an ecosystem of startups + hightech giants"

"3/4 nobel scientists in Israel came from Technion - "

 Technion - Cornell: "A tantalizing groundbreaking partnership."

"Cornell Tech campus will spin out more than 600 new companies over 30 yrs"

"The courage to expand... their success will be our success"

They are calling the Technion Israel's version of MIT. This is very flattering, but there is a difference. Technion was founded in 1912 - decades before the birth of the State of Israel. It was the inculcation of expert skills, creativity and pioneering ingenuity among young people that facilitated the birth of a nation. You can check the Technion's unique history on Wikipedia, or view it rapidly in the video below! If you want it in a different language, go to Technion Channel and take your pick!

100 years ago, the first cornerstone was laid for Israel's 1st university. So much was embodied in that cornerstone, including the realization of the hopes, dreams and genius of a people who had been disenfranchised for centuries. The original charter of the Technion was not only Zionist. It was to bring skills, education and training to people denied access to higher education in the service of all humanity.

In 2012, in the year of the Technion's cornestone centenary, a third millennium cornerstone is to be laid, on that realized the vision to be of service to all humankind. United with Cornell University - an institution unrivaled in its creativity, standards of excellence and flair for innovation, Technion will be working to establish the foundations of the global village of tomorrow - a center of higher education that will transform the New York of the coming 100 years - bringing innovation, employment and creativity, introducing tomorrows generation of medicine, life sciences, nanotechnology, software, electronics and  global entrepreneurship.

At Technion, tomorrow begins today.

The path of progress. Technion & Cornell link up
to announce the bid for NYC 'genius' tech campus

Unconstrained by geography... the Technion - Cornell link-up
to generate innovation at the heart of the global village.

Green, clean and aesthetic... artists impression of the new
campus on Roosevelt Island.

A coalition to lay the scientific and technological foundations
of tomorrow's world.

Cornell President Skorton in a video conference with
Technion President Peretz Lavie.

Stem cell research recreates blood vessels.

Read the full story at the Jerusalem Post
12/19/2011 06:42

Heart attack, stroke treatment to benefit from Israeli breakthrough.

File:Human embryonic stem cells.png
Embryonic Stem Cells. Prof. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor was
co-author of the groundbreaking paper announcing their
first cultivation... since then Technion has become a global leader in stem-cell research & tissue engineering to
harness the promise of this discovery.

Researchers at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa are the first in the world to create new blood vessels using embryonic stem cells that were programmed in advance.

The breakthrough cells were cultured in the lab in large amounts – enough to use them for treating cardiovascular diseases in patients.

The team was headed by Prof. Joseph Itskovitz- Eldor, head of the obstetrics/ gynecology department at Rambam and the stem cell lab at the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, together with Dr. Ayelet Dar-Vaknin. An article was published online in the journal Circulation over the weekend.

The research team produced cells called pericytes, which are needed to build blood vessels and to ensure their function.

They were produced during the differentiation of embryonic stem cells using markers characteristic of cell membranes.

When they were injected into mice leg muscles whose blood vessels had been almost fully blocked, the pericytes created new blood vessels and rehabilitated the muscle cells that had been harmed by the inadequate supply of oxygen.

The experiment is equivalent to treatment on harm to other vessels starved for oxygen such as after heart attacks and strokes.

The pericytes were produced from embryos whose source was fertilized eggs donated for research and from adult stem cells.

The stem cells were reprogrammed using genetic manipulations to have characteristics of embryonic stem cells, which can produce any kind of body cells. Since they can be produced from the patient himself, the pericytes are not rejected by the patient’s immune system.

Full story at

You can follow the Technion Lokey Center for Life Science & Engineering on Facebook and Twitter!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hi-tech execs helping young Arab-Israelis

Read the full story at the Jerusalem Post
12/18/2011 01:25

Company promotes training of Israeli Arab engineers, pushes back against outsourcing trend, hiring Arab manpower instead.

Some 140 Israeli Arabs have been trained as hi-tech engineers and are working at Galil Software, a company in Nazareth – providing the country with urgently needed sophisticated manpower, instead of outsourcing engineers in India and Eastern Europe.

The company was set up three years ago by Yitzhak Danziger to integrate Arabs in the industry, where networking with people from the Israel Defense Forces leads to jobs, but to which Arabs lack access.

Danziger, a Technion-Israel Institute of Technology electrical engineering graduate, spoke about this mission to help people at the Clore Foundation symposium on science and society held Thursday at the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem.

The veteran telecommunications and technology executive with 10 years of experience in board positions at non-profit organizations said there are 80,000 Jewish academics in hi-tech positions, but only about 500 Arabs in the industry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The future: knife-free non-invasive cancer surgery.

Insightec - voted a top innovator by TIME Magazine for its revolutionary ultrasound system for non-invasive surgery, is a powerhouse of Technion graduates. Here, Yoav Medan, who has taught at the department of electrical engineering at the Technion and who has graduated from there in aeronautical engineering, discusses how this patented Israeli system could soon be saving lives across the planet.

Imagine having a surgery with no knives involved. At TEDMED, surgeon Yoav Medan shares a technique that uses MRI to find trouble spots and focused ultrasound to treat such issues as brain lesions, uterine fibroids and several kinds of cancerous growths.

'TIME' honors InSightec's Focused Ultrasound

TIME magazine recently called InSightec's MR Guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) one of the 50 best inventions of the year.
"Magnetic-resonance-imaging (MRI) and ultrasound technologies are each remarkable in their own right, but combine them and you get something life-changing," the magazine wrote about InSightec's technique.
Read full story at Israel 21C

Yoav Medan

Vice President and Chief Systems Architect, Insightec

Yoav Medan, Vice President and Chief Systems Architect, is responsible for developing new platforms for the Magnetic Resonance guided Focused Ultrasound technology.
Prior to joining InSightec in 1999, Dr. Medan spent 17 years in various senior research and management positions at the IBM Research Division and was elected to the IBM Academy of Technology.
In addition to technical and managerial experience, Dr. Medan has academic experience as well, teaching at the EE department at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, in addition to serving as a lecturer for Avionic Systems at the Aeronautical Engineering faculty. He is also a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Dr. Medan has widely published and holds nine IBM as well as several other patents. He was awarded the IBM Outstanding Technical Achievement Award, the 3rd Invention Achievement Award and the Outstanding Research Division Award.
Dr. Medan received his D.Sc. and B.Sc.(Summa Cum Laude) in Aeronautical Engineering from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and a M.B.A diploma from Bradford University, UK.

The focused ultrasound beam can be seen during the treatment to ensure taht the ultrasound travels through a safe pathway to the focus. This ensures that the correct region is targeted.  Sonication parameters can be adjusted to optimize the treatment and are monitored by the physician during the treatment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Prof. Shechtman: "Don't dream of exits..."

Professor Dan Shechtman Speaks to 85 Swedish Business Leaders
“I tell my students… don’t dream of exits.”
Prof' Shechtman (center) with the panel participants
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN-- The Forum for Innovation Management (FIM), a forum within of the Karl-Adam Bonnier Foundation, hosted “Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education,” on December 6, 2011 at the historic mansion Nedre Manilla. Some 85 attendees from the Swedish academic, government and business communities listened to keynote speaker Distinguished Technion Professor Dan Shechtman, the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and expert panelists, discuss the challenges facing many countries in today’s economy ways to improve performance and growth through entrepreneurship.

Matias Bonnier, Chairman of the Karl-Adam Bonnier Foundation welcomed participants and speakers to his ancestral home.

In his introduction Mikolaj Norek, FIM Director, said that like entrepreneurs, Professor Shechtman had to fight for recognition to achieve success since the scientific community did not initially believe in his discovery.

“Entrepreneurship education is vital to the survival and growth of a country’s future especially when natural resources are being depleted at an accelerated rate,” said Prof. Shechtman.

Even as a young academic Prof. Shechtman foresaw the value in educating engineers in this area. For more than 25 years he has taught technological entrepreneurship at the Technion and counts some 10,000 graduates of this course. The course exposed students to both successful and non-successful entrepreneurs and provided training legal, business and marketing professionals who offered real-world advice.

“Israel is unique as our students have completed military service where they are already exposed to some of the most sophisticated high-tech in the world. They are also older and more mature when they start their university studies,” said Prof. Shechtman.

While this may give Israel an advantage, Prof. Shechtman believes that there are similarities in small countries such as Sweden and Israel that can create the cultural environment that can ultimately foster a start-up economy.

He also said that Israel faces the challenge of many start-ups developed with an exit strategy in mind. This does not allow for the creation of larger companies that can be impactful through the production of exportable products, and most importantly in job creation.

The panelists included Prof. Anders Flodström, Former University Chancellor and Head of the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education; Maud Olofsson, Former Swedish Minister for Enterprise and Energy, Advisor to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on female entrepreneurship; Prof. Karin Markides, President Chalmers University of Technology; and Prof. Martin Schuurmans, Founding Chairman of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Governing Board.

They echoed Prof. Shechtman’s belief that entrepreneurship should start at an early age, even at the Kindergarten level, to create a spirit of entrepreneurship. Matias Bonnier commented that younger students should be active participants in their entrepreneurial education. They should interact, talk and ask questions of their teachers. He added that entrepreneurship is a bridge between societies and nations.

They also suggested that the government take an active role in setting policies that can foster growth in this area.

Tor Bonnier, Chairman of FIM, concluded the meeting with the message that it is clear that the study of entrepreneurship is important to have in any society. “It is important to foster budding entrepreneurs based on our own culture in order to be competitive in a global economy.” he said.

The event was co-created by the Israeli Embassy in Sweden.


FORUM FOR INNOVATION MANAGEMENT (FIM) was established in 1999 as a non-profit activity within the Karl-Adam Bonnier Foundation.

FIM is currently in its twelve year, having organized 60 exclusive seminars bringing together influential representatives such as policy makers and selected representatives from financial, legal and academic institutions as well as practitioners in the corporate and entrepreneurial business sectors. FIM has also published two books in the series of “Swedish Innovation Force” – which summarizes many of the topics discussed at the seminars.

FIM maintains a high standard, attracting a selected audience through tailor made seminars with national and international speakers, and publications with support from Karl-Adam Bonniers Stiftelse (foundation), Vinnova, Företagarna, IVA, and Innovationsbron. Our mission is to increase the awareness of entrepreneurial and innovation issues in the Swedish academic and corporate environments. The forum enables people to cross-pollinate ideas on current and future policies and legislations that will be the foundation of our new national competitive strategy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nobel Banquet Speech 2011 - Transcript

"A new definition of crystal emerged, one that is beautiful and humble and open to further discoveries. A humble scientist is a good scientist."

Banquet Speech

Dan Shechtman's speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2011.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Nobel Laureates, fellow scientists, ladies and gentlemen, dear family.
On April 8, 1982, I was alone in the electron microscope room when I discovered the Icosahedral Phase that opened the field of quasi–periodic crystals. However, today I am joined by many hundreds of enthusiastic scientists worldwide. I stand here as the vanguard of the science of quasicrystals, but without these dedicated scientists the field would not be where it is today. This supreme recognition of the science we have unveiled over the last quarter century is celebrated by us all.
In the beginning there were only a handful of gifted colleagues who helped launch the field. First was Ilan Blech, at the time a Technion professor, who proposed the first icosahedral model. He demonstrated, by computer simulation, that the model could produce diffraction patterns that matched those that I had observed in the electron microscope. Together we wrote the first announcement of the discovery. Then John Cahn of the US and Denis Gratias of France coauthored with us the second, modified article that was actually published first. Other key contributions to the field were made by Roger Penrose of the UK who, years earlier, created a nonrepeating aperiodic mosaic with just two rhomboid tiles, and Alan Mackay of the UK who showed that Penrose tiles produce sharp diffraction spots. Dov Levine of Israel and Paul Steinhardt of the US made the connection between my diffraction patterns and Mackay's work. They published a theoretical paper formulating the fundamentals of quasi-crystals and coined the term. All these pioneers paved the way to the wonderful world of quasi-periodic materials.
I would like to mention two other eminent scientists who are no longer with us, whose commitment to the field was of great importance. These are Luis Michel, a prominent French mathematician, and Kehsin Kuo of China, a leader in electron microscopy, who was trained in Sweden.
We are now approaching the end of 2011, the UNESCO International Year of Chemistry, a worldwide celebration of the field. In a few weeks we will see in the New Year, 2012, the centennial of the von Laue experiment which launched the field of modern crystallography. The following year, 2013, will mark the International Year of Crystallography. The paramount recognition of the discovery of quasi-periodic crystals is, therefore, most timely.
The discovery and the ensuing progress in the field resulted in a paradigm shift in the science of crystallography. A new definition of crystal emerged, one that is beautiful and humble and open to further discoveries. A humble scientist is a good scientist.
Science is the ultimate tool to reveal the laws of nature and the one word written on its banner is TRUTH. The laws of nature are neither good nor bad. It is the way in which we apply them to our world that makes the difference.
It is therefore our duty as scientists to promote education, rational thinking and tolerance. We should also encourage our educated youth to become technological entrepreneurs. Those countries that nurture this knowhow will survive future financial and social crises. Let us advance science to create a better world for all.
I would like to thank the scientists who nominated me, the Nobel Committee, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation for bestowing on me this unparalleled honor.
Thank you.

Nobel Prize Chemistry 2011 Award Ceremony Speech


Award Ceremony Speech

Presentation Speech by Professor Sven Lidin, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, 10 December 2011
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For three millennia we have known that five-fold symmetry is incompatible with periodicity, and for almost three centuries we believed that periodicity was a prerequisite for crystallinity. The electron diffraction pattern obtained by Dan Shechtman on April 8, 1982 shows that at least one of these statements is flawed, and it has led to a revision our view of the concepts of symmetry and crystallinity alike. The objects he discovered are aperiodic, ordered structures that allow exotic symmetries and that today are known as quasicrystals. Having the courage to believe in his observations and in himself, Dan Shechtman has changed our view of what order is and has reminded us of the importance of balance between preservation and renewal, even for the most well established paradigms. Science is a theoretical construction on an empirical fundament. Observations make or break theories.
"We are like dwarves on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more clearly than they, and things at a greater distance, not by the virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, but because we are carried high and raised up by their great size." This metaphor, first used by Bernard of Chartres and later by Newton and many others, hails back to antiquity and to the blind giant Orion who carried the servant Cedalion on his shoulders in his quest for the uttermost east where the sun would heal him of his blindness. The myth illustrates the progress of science. Each generation takes knowledge a little further because it builds on the results of its forebears. The image of the amassed knowledge as a blind giant with a seeing dwarf on its shoulders is an idealisation of science at its best: A relationship of mutual trust between the bearer and the borne, between the blind and the seeing. The giant provides established truths. The dwarf strives for new insight. Like every good metaphor this one not only describes the benefits of the arrangement, it also hints at the dangers.
The relation between the dwarf and the giant is fundamentally asymmetric. The dwarf can see, but the giant decides on which road the two shall take. The dilemma of the giant is that he is at the mercy of the dwarf, but he cannot trust him blindly. The paradigms of science are challenged daily on more or less solid grounds and the difficulty is to know when to take these challenges seriously. The dwarf faces the reverse problem. He depends on the giant, and without him he gets nowhere despite the clarity of his vision. In order to make his own choices he is forced down on the ground, to walk alone without the support he enjoyed on the shoulders of the giant. This year's Chemistry Laureate was forced to do battle with the established truth. The dwarf doesn’t serve the giant by subservience but through independence. 
Coming down from the shoulders of the giant is a challenge. Not least because those that remain aloft are tempted to look down at those on the ground. The disbelief that met Dan Shechtman was appropriate and healthy. Questioning should be mutual to promote the growth of knowledge. The ridicule he suffered was, however, deeply unfair. It is far too easy for all of us to remain in our lofty positions, and with lofty disdain regard the fool who claims that we are all wrong. To be that fool on the ground takes great courage, and both he and those that spoke out on his behalf deserve great respect.
Dan Shechtman:

Your discovery of quasicrystals has created a new cross-disciplinary branch of science, drawing from, and enriching, chemistry, physics and mathematics. This is in itself of the greatest importance. It has also given us a reminder of how little we really know and perhaps even taught us some humility. That is a truly great achievement.  On behalf of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences I wish to convey our warmest congratulations, and I now ask you to step forward and receive your Prize from the hands of His Majesty the King.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Nobel Laureate of Former Disgrace

"Each time I was promoted there were colleagues fighting it..."

Distinguished Prof. Dan Shechtman displays his notebook
at the Nobel Laureate lecture: Dec. 8th, 2011. Previously,
colleagues hurled at him basic textbooks in crystallography
and told him to read them!

Israeli professor Dan Shechtman was vilified for daring to challenge scientific orthodoxy

Read the full story at the Jewish Chronicle
By Nathan Jeffay, December 9, 2011

Shechtman at the Technion in Haifa, where his eureka moment led to a new theory about the way matter is arranged

It could be the closing scene of a feel-good film. But it will happen for real, tomorrow afternoon. Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman, mocked for years for his off-the-wall theory, has not only been proved correct, but he will climb to the podium at Stockholm Concert Hall and receive the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The award is often shared by several people , but he has it all to himself.

During an interview in his Haifa office shortly before travelling to Stockholm, Shechtman recalled the initial reaction to the work that earned the prize. His research-team leader gave him a bit of a talking to. "He came to my office and put a textbook on my desk, smiling sheepishly and telling me that I should read it, as what I was saying was impossible."

Shechtman, a 70-year-old professor of materials engineering at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, is a modern-day Archimedes. While most Nobel winners receive their prize after painstakingly developing a theory or idea over years, like the ancient scholar who got into the bath and saw the water level rise, Shechtman had a eureka moment.

It was the morning of April 8, 1982 and he was on sabbatical from the Technion at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington DC. He looked through his electron microscope, and found something that defied the laws of science, as they were understood.

Each time I was promoted there were colleagues fighting it

Until then, it was believed that atoms are always arranged in solids in symmetrical patterns, in groups of two, three, four or six. But he was looking at an alloy and found that it contained atoms in groups of 10 around a single point. They made a pattern that did not repeat itself, flying in the face of received wisdom that patterns will always be repeated. These formations became known as "quasicrystals" - and now represent a branch of science studied worldwide.

The Nobel committee said when announcing the award that Shechtman had "forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter". But to get there was a long and sometimes humiliating battle. The team leader who demanded that he reread the textbook decided that he was bringing "disgrace" to his team and expelled him. Shechtman, who had dreamed of scientific accomplishment ever since his childhood, was not discouraged. "You can say it's funny or you can say it's stupid, but I showed everyone who was prepared to listen," he recalls. "I even sent Chanucah cards with the pattern on them."

When he returned from Washington in late 1983 he found many colleagues sceptical about his theory, but discovered an ally in the form of Ilan Blech, a professor in the faculty of materials science. This gave him the confidence to write an article on his findings and submit it to the Journal of Applied Physics. It came back with a rejection letter. "The editor didn't even send it for peer review," he says sadly. An improved version written with three collaborators, including Blech, was accepted by Physical Review Letters and published in 1984.

"Hell broke loose," Shechtman recalls. He started receiving letters from scientists across the world saying they had be able to replicate his experiment, but there was also a very strong critical reaction. The International Union of Crystallography and the American Chemical Society led it. In their view, the fact that quasicrystals could only be seen on electron microscopes and not x-ray microscopes undermined the findings, and they believed that he was really looking at two structures of atoms and misreading it as a single one.

Leading the opposition was the only man ever to have won two Nobel Prizes, American chemist Linus Pauling. He reportedly used to say: "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists." Even in Shechtman's own department at the Technion, "there were professors fighting against my promotion and each time I was promoted there was opposition," he says.

It was not until 1987 that his findings started to become mainstream. Two groups of scientists managed to identify quasicrystals on an x-ray microscope. He recalls going to the International Union of Crystallography after this breakthrough. "They said: 'Danny, now you're talking' and they accepted it." When Pauling died in 1994, the opposition evaporated completely.

When the call came from the Nobel committee in October, he was told to keep the news a secret for half an hour, when it would be announced. "I sat at my desk for 20 minutes just looking around and thinking: 'What does it mean?'" He was calm. "If you measured my heart rate now it is 60; I don't know if at that moment it got as high as 61." After 20 minutes he called his wife Zipora, a professor at Haifa University, "because she is always mad that I don't tell her about prizes".

He was, he says, completely unprepared for the euphoria at the Technion and his celebrity across Israel which followed. The pattern he discovered is the ultimate fashion statement at the Technion, where staff members wear ties decorated with it. Shechtman shows off a kippah with the pattern that a student crocheted for him to wear when addressing Jewish groups.

Asked what is the practical significance of his discovery, Shechtman gives a wry smile and says "very little". Quasi-crystals have been used to make strong materials for razors and non-stick pans, but for Shechtman the important thing is the correction of an erroneous assumption about the world. In his opinion, "a humble scientist is a good scientist", and by forcing a rethink on the basics, he believes he has made the scientific community more humble.

"The new definition of a crystal is a wonderful one, because it is humble," he says. "It doesn't say: 'A crystal is…' It says: 'By a crystal we mean…'"

Shechtman's personality fits his talk of humility. There is no ceremony - no waiting rooms or secretaries - when visiting his office. His hobbies confirm the impression that he is a patient man - he likes sailing and jewellery-making. He believes that there is a message for everybody in his prize. "If you find something, concentrate on it and try to see if it is real; listen to other people but if they aren't interested, don't take their words as fact. Continue to push your belief."

"Believe in your Science" ~ Official Nobel Press Conference

Official Nobel Press Conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

At the official Nobel Prize press conference this morning at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman said that his loneliness in the academic world did not break his spirit, because he believed in his science. Prof. Shechtman’s personal journey to the Nobel Prize began in 1982 when the scientific community refused to recognize his discovery of quasicrystals. Today there are books and conferences dedicated to the study of quasicrystals, and the ultimate recognition with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
“Today a new chapter to the discovery is evolving. For example, physicists are developing optics with quasiperiodic arrays whose uses and applications are unknown at the present time,” said Prof. Shechtman.                                      

In response to a question about the Technion’s success in producing three Nobel Prize winners in seven years, Prof. Shechtman said: “I have been associated with the Technion for half a century. First as a student and then as a faculty member. In the early days it was not easy to be admitted to the university, and even more difficult to be a student there. In my day, if you failed one course, you had to repeat the whole year. But our graduates know that they receive the best training in engineering and high-technology.”
He added that the quality of incoming faculty members at the highest level is also an important factor to consider. The Technion looks for those who have a chance to do great science — but global competition is fierce. To entice potential faculty to come to Haifa, the Technion provides top funding for state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment as well as highly trained graduate students.
His final point was that while is important to understand how Nobel Laureates are produced, it is also important to look at how a country educates its base. He admitted that the State of Israel faces challenges in how to best educate its young people, and he shared his plans to work to improve the situation and encourage greater governmental investment in education at all levels.

A Scientific and Technological Powerhouse

Q & A with Israel Minister of Science and Technology Professor Daniel Hershkowitz

Israel is a Universal Scientific and Technological Powerhouse

Professor Daniel Hershkowitz, formerly of the Technion Faculty of Mathematics, is in Stockholm this week together with his wife Shimona, for the Nobel Prize Festivities. This is the first time that a governmental official has been invited to join in the Nobel ceremony. The following interview reflects his thoughts about the Nobel Prize and science and technology in Israel.
Q. What does the Nobel Prize mean to Israel?
A. This is another acknowledgement of the very special status of Israel as a universal scientific and technological powerhouse. It’s also an indication of the special status of the Technion. How many universities have three Nobel Laureates in seven years, and all of them grew up in the Technion, studied there and continued to conduct research and teach there. That is remarkable.
Q. What is the impact on the worldwide Jewish Community?
A. Most Jews around the world feel that the State of Israel is their homeland. The Nobel provides them with a great sense of pride. There is naturally excitement throughout the community as this is a great honor for Eretz Yisrael and the entire Jewish world.  I feel that when I represent the State of Israel at the Nobel ceremony, I will be representing Jews around the world as well.
Q. Before becoming a Minister, you were a Professor at the Technion. How important has the Technion been for the State of Israel?
A. In the high-tech sector, some 70% of the managers and founders of companies are Technion graduates. This is dramatic.  Israel is a very young country — only 63 years old — and is an economic miracle. The Technion played a big role in this. Not only in building buildings but in establishing the whole area of technology and also in the defense of our country. Technion graduates develop the cutting-edge technologies at the Israel Aircraft Industries and Rafael, Israel’s Armament Authority.
In addition the Technion has undertaken a new program to educate the ultraorthodox community. This is a great way to integrate this segment of the population so that they may contribute to the economy in a meaningful way.
Q. How can people become part of Israel’s great success in high-technology?
A. They should come to Israel, be involved, be part of what is happening or support it. Organizations that assist Israeli institutions help maintain its status. We need the brightest scientists and innovators but we also need to find a way to fund them. Those who contribute to these efforts are true partners. They should not view their support as a “donation” but rather as a way to express their deep understanding of what is important for our country, and where it needs investment. The people who help the Technion are in effect policy makers in science and technology — and that is the future.