This question was asked recently in “The Hindu” – India’s equivalent of the Jerusalem Post – only with a slightly larger circulation. The reasons for the Jewish State’s scientific success are an enigma to most of the world. How do they produce so many Nobel laureates?
Israeli kids don’t start a degree course at eighteen and waste their opportunity having a good time in the university bar. Those who are driving the success of the Jewish State begin university life as mature, proactive individuals in their early twenties already having had leadership and technology training and experience in one of the most challenging organisation in the world – the Israeli Defence Forces. Every week there is at least one major discovery or innovation that emanates from one or other of Israel’s eight top Universities.
Israel’s Technion is, in my opinion, a superb advertisement for the Jewish State. Click on any of these three youtube video clips to see how its scientists fine-tune the skills that will make the world a better place. First, note the cream of Israel’s tech culture currently busy building New York’s Technion Cornell Innovation Institute. Watch how the International Technion Computer Engineering (TCE) conference attracted speakers from Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, IBM, Mellanox, Microsoft and from Cambridge, Princeton, UC Berkeley, UCLA and UPenn universities. Finally, this clip highlights how the Technion’s annual “Technobrain” challenge aptly linked modern ingenuity with Israel’s historic past.
We now travel to Israel’s capital, where the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently unveiled "Innovators Way," a permanent photo exhibition showcasing 27 university researchers behind the 7000 patents and numerous commercial products that have revolutionized the fields of health, safety, environment, agriculture, computer science and nutrition. Moving onto Tel Aviv, Bar Ilan University welcomed 30 male and female undergraduate science majors from Yeshiva University in New York, who will spend seven weeks of the summer carrying out their research in Bar Ilan's state-of-the-art laboratories. It was quite apt therefore that the magazine Scientific American featured 28-year-old Israeli physicist Eldad Kepten in its “30 under 30” list of future possible Nobel Laureates. Kepten obtained his first degree at the Hebrew U and is currently embarking on a PhD at Bar Ilan. His speciality? The stochastic dynamics of chromatin (DNA) in the cellular nucleus with advanced microscopy and single particle tracking. Good luck!
The younger members of Israeli society have also been demonstrating their potential recently. We may not have won any medals at the London Olympics, but at the 2012 Maths Olympiad in Argentina, Israel’s youth team won five medals including three silvers, a bronze and one special citation. Then at the Physics Olympiad in Estonia, Israeli kids won two silvers and three bronze medals. And at the Chemistry Olympiad in Washington the four-person team took home one silver medal and three bronzes. Also in Washington, six teenagers from Yeroham in the Negev desert won $5,000 in the FLL Global Innovation competition for youth scientists by designing a “stick” that keeps the contents of a picnic basket cool. Breaking the stick causes chemicals to mix and freeze.
When these budding entrepreneurs are ready to put their ideas into commercial ventures they will be helped by equally innovative Government support, such as Tel Aviv’s first of its kind Patents Exhibition. It will place 10,000 Israeli and foreign inventors, investors, patent attorneys, mechanical engineers and computer programmers in the same room in order to turn good ideas into actual products.
So what recent innovations have Israelis been producing? How about perfect chips? Israeli technology is responsible for the Deep Ultra Violet (DUP) lasers that US based Applied Materials Inc will use to speed up the manufacturing of the world’s microprocessors. And Tel Aviv University doctorate student Elad Mentovich has designed a molecular memory transistor called C60, based on carbon molecules that can be as small as one nanometer – far too small to see. But it was failure to see runway debris that caused the crash of an Air France Concorde in July 2000. This inspired the Israeli company Xsight to develop FODetect, which uses hybrid radar and electro optical technology to detect foreign objects on runways.
But many Israelis (like me) believe that there is yet another factor responsible for the phenomenal success of the Jewish State. How has this tiny country survived against all odds to reach this stage? To win existential wars, avoid world financial chaos, discover vast energy reserves whilst simultaneously developing the ability to build a spacecraft to land on the Moon and detect the first stars formed when the universe was in its infancy?
The answer is out there, if you look for it.
Michael Ordman writes a weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.