Monday, July 2, 2012

Technion at 100.

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Speech for the Opening of the 2012 Board of Governors’ Annual Meeting, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie.

One hundred years ago we started from scratch: no foundations, no buildings, no funding for salaries or equipment, no faculty members, almost no engineers, and no reason to believe that this grandiose vision would ever materialize. Stone by stone, the historical building of the Technion started to arise. A well was dug on site – a source of water to be used not only by the Technion’s laboratories and visitors, but by the local community of Haifa as well.

The Technion’s slow and torturous development took place during the era of the two world wars and the establishment of the State of Israel. During the decades since – and in the face of so many wars – the Technion stuck to its vision: striving for peace through scientific activities and collaborations, as well as caring for the advancement, health and security of the State of Israel and the whole of humanity.

What is the Technion today, one hundred years later? Those who look for the answer to this question would have to go around campus wearing a magic gown that would make them invisible, allowing them to enter classrooms, labs, offices and even hospital rooms, without disturbing the usual course of events.  

A good starting point would be the heart of campus, where you could join young students sitting on the grass and enjoying a sunny afternoon, holding laptops and talking, drinking coffee, and discussing the latest lecture on computer science, physics or mathematics. If you listen closely, you will hear a mixture of languages – Hebrew (as well as Hebrew with a Russian accent!), Arabic, English (as well as English with a Canadian accent!) – and see couples bent over their computers, speaking Chinese as though they were the only people in the world.
Sitting on the benches at the edges of the lawn, you could see a Frisbee flying from one end of the lawn to another in a skillful Californian style.

Later, you are welcome to tiptoe into the classrooms of the Ullmann building. There you can see hundreds of glittering eyes staring at the young lecturer in front of them, who is writing a complicated equation on the blackboard while students are trying to absorb each and every word. Not a long way from there are the smaller classrooms, where students are absorbed in heated discussions about the right design for an engineering model, or about the right location for a green belt in a new community.  

Now you’d be ready for a visit to the research labs, where you could immediately feel the excitement in the air, when a professor and his or her students are waiting anxiously for the results of an important experiment they had been planning for months. Their joyful calls echo throughout the building when the laser beam hits the target, just as they had predicted. You are welcome to join them when they celebrate the successful experiment at the Junta Bar, located in the new Zielony Student Union Building.

If no one is sitting in front of the gigantic Titan, and nobody is working in the cleanrooms at the Zisapel nanotechnology building, you could sneak a peak into the enormous microscope, and even pretend to be Nobel Prize winner Distinguished Professor Danny Shechtman and call out “Eureka”, when you see the atoms twirl and form into a scientific creation never seen before.  
But this is not all. If you could sneak into the workshops or the offices of the Technion’s faculties, or the offices at the Senate Building, you could meet our excellent technical and administrative staff members, whose contribution to the Technion’s everyday operation is priceless. On the eastern slopes of the campus hill, at the Center for Pre-University Education, hundreds of youngsters are getting a second chance to become Technion students. On the western slopes of the hill, in the late afternoons, you could join groups of toddlers playing in the sandboxes of the Zielony Graduate Student Village, while their mothers are sitting on a nearby bench, studying for tomorrow’s physics or chemistry test. Later, you could visit patients lying in their beds in Haifa’s hospitals and in other hospitals across the country, where students of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine are taking their first cautious steps in medical diagnosis and treatment, or you could explore the Sohnis Family Research Laboratory for Cardiac Electrophysiology and Regenerative Medicine, where you could admire a process that re-programs a patient’s skin cells into heart cells, thus paving the way to a completely new field of medicine.
These are the many aspects of the Technion’s everyday life, its multifaceted reality.

Seventy thousand graduates and millions of scientists, students, entrepreneurs and civilians around the world  have been inspired by the Technion’s work. Since the engineering of that first well in Haifa, the minds of Technion graduates and faculty members have given forth a flow of inventions, new products and innovative services: portable memory devices; the Lempel-Ziv algorithm for information compression; Azilect – a medicine for treating early stages of Parkinson's and other diseases; the deciphering of the ubiquitin mechanism, which is responsible for protein decomposition in cells; the fascinating world of quasiperiodic crystals; and more.

This year was one of the most wondrous years in the Technion’s history: The Technion has reached its hundredth anniversary with a new Nobel Prize winner – the third Technion scientist in seven years to receive this greatest of honors. At the end of 2011 we received the dramatic announcement that Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose the Technion and Cornell University to establish the new innovation institute in New York City. We could not have wished for better gifts for our 100th anniversary.  

All these wonderful achievements could not have been possible without the support of our dedicated and committed friends in Israel and abroad. This group of remarkable individuals, who we honor today with Honorary Fellowships, is a wonderful example of the worldwide Technion family of supporters. They come from Israel, the United States, Germany, Brazil and Britain. Each and every one of them deserves our deepest gratitude, for their long-lasting love and unwavering support of the Technion.

This year, I joined a group of Israeli students who visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It was a touching experience that affected me more deeply. Together with those talented youngsters – brilliant minds of the future – we stood in that remote place, where thousands of other brilliant minds were annihilated, and we feel and say, “It’s all right. In the end, we won.. We triumphed by the power of justice.”

We, at the Technion, have had a significant role in that triumph.


  1. Great news. Thanks for sharing.

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