TECHNION’S SHECHTMAN BECOMES NATION’S
10TH NOBEL LAUREATE
Jerusalem Post, October 6, 2011
Israel’s 10th Nobel Prize—and fourth in chemistry—was awarded [last] Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to Prof. Dan Shechtman, a materials science scientist at Haifa’s Technion—Israel Institute of Technology.
His discovery in 1982 that atoms in rigid crystals can be packed together in unusual ways led to the development of extremely strong materials from metal surgical tools and razor blades to diesel engines, and as protective coatings and metal alloys. What became known as quasiperiodic or quasicrystals do not rust or become oxidized and have almost no surface friction.
The Tel Aviv-born scientist, who is also an associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and a professor at Iowa State University, found that atoms in crystals could be structured in an unrepeatable pattern that looked like the Arab-style floor mosaics. The structure was described by the Nobel committee as “the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms.”
As scientists all believed until then that crystal patterns had to be repetitious to be crystals, Shechtman was ridiculed and treated with hostility for his ideas for years, even by his friends and colleagues. Weizmann Institute of Science Prof. Ada Yonath, who won for Israel a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2009, was similarly the butt of jokes for her pioneering work on the structure on ribosomes in the cell.…
Upon hearing the announcement, Shechtman was forthcoming in sharing the honor. “I think this is a great day for me, of course, but also a great day for the country,” he said at a press conference. The prize does not belong to him alone, he continued. “There are thousands of scientists that research the subject I developed, and I’m sure they all see the prize as an achievement for themselves as well, and indeed they deserve it.…”
The 70-year-old Shechtman, married and the father of four, earned his three degrees at the Technion. He was on sabbatical almost three decades ago at the US National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC, when he discovered the icosahedral phase, which opened the new field of quasiperiodic crystals.
After receiving his doctorate, Shechtman was an NRC fellow at the Aerospace Research Laboratories at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where for three years he studied the microstructure and physical metallurgy of titanium aluminides.
He joined the Technion’s department of materials engineering in 1975. During his sabbatical in the early 1980s at Johns Hopkins University, he discovered the icosahedral phase. He was amazed to discover in an electron microscope that the new crystal he had discovered was symmetrical and could be turned around five times without looking different; this was considered “impossible” according to existing theory.
Shechtman was turned down by the Journal of Applied Physics, which claimed that his discovery “would not interest physicists”; he sent it to Metallurgical Transactions, which accepted his paper, but its editors said it would take a year to publish. He refused to wait, but instead, wrote a more abbreviated article for Physical Review Letters, along with three colleagues, that was published within a few weeks and aroused much interest and controversy among physicists and then chemists and mathematicians.
Today, hundreds of synthetic materials with the unusual structure have been produced. Conferences on the subject are held annually, and more than 40 scientific volumes have been published in the field.
Among the numerous Israeli and international prizes he has received are the Israel Prize, the Wolf Prize, the EMET Prize, the European Materials Research Society 25th Anniversary Award, the Gregori Aminoff Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Weizmann Science Award and the Rothschild Prize.
President Shimon Peres called Shechtman to congratulate him. “Your win is promising and gives hope. There are not many nations who have won so many Nobel Prizes. You have given the State of Israel a wonderful gift,” he said. “This is a big day for Haifa, a big day for the Technion and for the State of Israel. The State of Israel needs your Nobel Prize; you are the 10th [Israeli] to achieve this.…”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked Shechtman in the name of all Israeli citizens, saying that the win “reflects the intellect of our people. Every citizen in Israel is happy today and every Jew in the world is proud.…”
HIGH-TECH BRAINPOWER FROM ISRAEL
Nation Post, October 6, 2011
Israel, as is well known, is regularly treated with disdain by many reporters and columnists in the international media. Yet this small state continues to make astonishing contributions to the worlds of art, literature, and particularly to classical music, medicine and science.
This week, yet another Israeli won a Nobel Prize, when Daniel Shechtman of Israel’s Technion institute in Haifa was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystals. Another Israeli, Ada Yonath, won the 2009 Nobel Prize for chemistry. Two Israelis, Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, won the 2004 Nobel Prize for chemistry (which they shared with Californian-Jewish scientist Irwin Rose). In the past, Israelis have also won nobel prizes for economics, literature and peace.
American and Canadian Jews with relatives in Israel also won yesterday’s Nobel prizes for physics and for physiology or medicine. Saul Perlmutter, whose grandfather was the renowned Yiddish teacher and scholar Samuel Davidson, won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics with Adam Riess, who grew up in a Jewish family in New Jersey. And Ralph Steinman, a Canadian immunologist and cell biologist at Rockefeller University in New York, won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for “his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity.” Unfortunately, Steinman died on Sept. 30, three days before the announcement was made.
Many international media, determined to paint Israel in a negative light, regularly downplay the extraordinary impact Israelis and Israeli companies continue to make to a whole range of medical, scientific and technological advances. For example, to the development of Microsoft and Apple computers and other products. Noting the contribution, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer remarked in 2008 that “Microsoft is now an Israeli company almost as much as it is American.”
In spite of (or perhaps because they are jealous of) Israeli scientific advances, many anti-Israeli activists in Western countries continue to call for a boycott of Israeli academia.
TIME IS ON ISRAEL’S SIDE
Israel Hayom, October 2, 2011
Time is running in Israel’s favor, in contrast to conventional wisdom, as evidenced by the “global economic walk” and irrespective of the “global political talk.”
At the outset of the Jewish New Year 5772, Israel’s gross domestic product is $240 billion, and the country has a 3 percent deficit, 5.7% unemployment, 3% interest rate and 3% inflation—compared with $38 billion GDP in 1990 and $1 billion in 1949. Israel’s credit rating has been recently upgraded by Standard & Poor, ranking it among the top OECD economies.
In 1948, Israel had no sifgnificant exports, compared with a $6.7 billion current account (mostly trade balance) surplus in 2010, with the U.S., Europe and India as the chief trading partners. Notwithstanding disturbing Turkish statements, Israel-Turkey trade volume has surged 140% since the Islamic AKP party assumed power in 2002—$3.45 billion in 2010 compared with $1.4 billion in 2002. Irrespective of political tensions, the first quarter of 2011 features a 40% increase in the mutually beneficial Israel-Turkey trade from the first quarter of 2010.
In 2011, Israel takes pride in robust exports, despite the global economic meltdown, due to its highly specialized lines of exports, which correspond to vital global needs in the areas of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biomed, agriculture, water technologies, energy alternatives, software, laptop computers, telecommunications and defense industries. The latter features Israel as the fifth largest global defense exporter. The New York-based “Trading Economics” reported a $1 billion Israeli current account surplus in the first quarter of 2011.
Recently, the Houston-based Noble Energy company discovered proven offshore natural gas reserves, which will transform Israel by 2014 from nearly total reliance on imported energy to a major exporter of natural gas. The Jewish state is “a shining high-tech city on a hill,” attracting leading global companies, venture capitalists and investment banks, which seek unique manpower and cutting-edge innovative technologies. The European Community appoints Israelis to head its high-technology commissions.
Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, calls Microsoft as much an Israeli company as an American company because of the importance of its Israeli technologies, such as the Kinect gaming motion-sensor interface, the fastest-growing consumer electronic product in history. The same applies, increasingly, to Google, Cisco and eBay, and Apple’s memory systems for its iPhones, iPods and iPads. According to Intel’s CEO, Intel would have been devastated by the competition, if not for its four research and development centers and two manufacturing plants in Israel, which developed its most advanced microprocessors, Pentium, Sandbridge, Atom and Centrino.
Leading American venture capital funds Sequoia, Greylock, Accel and Orbimed have become frequent investors in Israel, and some 400 global high-tech companies have established a research and manufacturing presence in Israel. IBM and Computers Associates just made their ninth and 10th acquisitions of Israeli companies respectively. Overseas investments in Israel’s high-tech exceed any single European country and France and Germany combined.
The American defense industry has been a major beneficiary of Israel’s unique technological and battle capabilities. Thus, the current generation of the F-16 features more than 600 modifications, introduced by Israel, making it a global success and enhancing the American employment, research and development and export infrastructures. Northrop Grumman’s robotics division’s cooperation with, and sales to, Israel have dramatically upgraded the quality of its products, as has been the case with hundreds of U.S. defense systems employed by Israel.
In retrospect, Arab wars and terrorism, geopolitical constraints and limited natural resources have been nothing but bumps on the path of an unprecedented Israeli economic, technological, educational and defense surge, which has benefited humanity at large.
BOYCOTTING ISRAEL—A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
Jerusalem Post, October 5, 2011
Considering Israel’s accomplishments in science, agriculture, irrigation, pharmaceuticals and more, boycotting Israel is a crime against humanity. Israel, with all its problems is still a good country to live in and one to be proud of.
These aren’t easy days and it wasn’t an easy year. The Arab spring is turning out to be a bumpy ride for those who staged it and for those hoping it will bring about change. The social protest in Israel, the largest the country has ever seen, exposed gaps and social grievances and led to high expectations of change that will likely not come to fruition. Israel’s diplomatic isolation is increasing and every speech Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes is met with a long list of columnists and commentators denouncing him as a warmonger.
This is the background to a visit from our friends, a middle class family from a large city in France, with good jobs and a nice apartment. They visit Israel every year, and by now have picked up some Hebrew. Last month they decided that the time had come to move to Israel. “Are you crazy?,” I asked them, and they answered “not at all.” Sometimes you need to listen to them and to others like them to understand that despite social concerns, diplomatic isolation, the declining education system and the political impasses, Israel is still a good place to live.…
Israel’s income per capita is reasonable, though we still have a way to go. We are 28th in the world in terms of power purchasing power (our $29,602 is much higher than Saudi Arabia, for example). In terms of life expectancy we are making progress and are currently eighth in the world (behind Sweden) with a life expectancy of nearly 81. Despite all our troubles, we live longer than the French, Norwegians, Dutch, Italian and most western countries. This is an amazing accomplishment considering Israel’s population is made of immigrants from dozens of countries mainly from Eastern Europe and Arab countries where life expectancy was and remains much lower.
When it comes to the happiness index we are in a place we would never dared dream of years ago. In general, quantifying happiness is a tricky business and some polls contradict each other. The more reliable Gallup company came out with research spanning four years (2005—2009) polling thousands of people in 155 countries. At the top of their list of happiest countries were Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Holland. I’m guessing you haven’t fallen off your chair reading that since those countries are considered leaders in quality of life. But here comes the surprise: Israel is ranked eighth in that poll.… Israel is ranked higher than Australia, the United States and all of Europe.…
International academic tests paint a pretty dismal picture of Israeli students. But somehow…the same students achieve amazing results in the fields of research and development in hi-tech and science. For that reason Israel has 1.8 scientific papers published per 1000 people (2006 statistics).… This record puts Israel in good company, behind Switzerland with 3 publications per 1000 people, Sweden with 2; in the same place as the UK and Norway and before the USA and France with 1.1 or Germany with 1.2.
The Israeli story receives more support when checking the list of young scientists awarded prestigious scholarships. One of the world’s most important organizations granting these scholarships is the European Research Council, which receives thousands of applications a year. According to a recent finding, 4080 scholarship requests were made, of which 480 young scientists were selected. The leading countries are the UK (population 62 million) with 124 scholarships, Germany (81 million)—64, France (65 million)—57, Holland (17 million)—47. Israel, with its population of 7.4 million, received 22 scholarships, which means that per capita, Israel is the leader. Previous years’ data show the same trend.…
I’ve written in the past about Israeli achievements in many areas. It seems things are only getting better. Milk production of Israeli cows is the highest in the world (10,208 liters per cow per year vs. 6,139 liters in the EU). Israel also leads the world in agricultural output in several fields, and in developing new pest resilient strains of crops (for example, one kilogram of “summer sun” tomato seeds produced by Hazera Genetics sells for $350,000, roughly 7 times the price of gold). The same company also developed new tomato seeds which are projected to reach a 40 percent share of the European tomato market.
In the past few years the water industry, too, has seen a lot of development. Already, Israel holds the world record in recycling treated water, 75%, well ahead of second place Spain (20%). Irrigation techniques developed in Israel enable farmers to produce the largest quantity of produce per water unit. The desalination plant in Ashkelon is the world’s largest and most advanced, producing water at the lowest cost per cubic meter.
Israel’s achievements in the fields of hi-tech, pharmaceuticals and advanced technologies are well known. When the boycott idea was being discussed in Britain, a British blogger, Barry Shore, requested that boycotters treat all Israeli products the same. He asked every Brit to check how much of his computer’s hardware and software were developed in Israel and then to open the medicine cabinet and check how many of the medicines are based on research conducted in Israel. As the time goes on more inventions and developments are added to the list, and Israel is now the world leader in heart surgery stents. Are any boycotters willing to give all these developments up?
Farms based on advanced Israeli irrigation techniques and know-how are established in many third world countries and are saving millions from hunger. Do the boycott backers want to ban this knowledge from mankind? Are the boycotters humanists or just hatemongers? I know these facts won’t persuade “professional” Israel haters but it is our duty to show these people the long list of achievements and facts, and to explain that boycotting Israel is really a crime against humanity.…
The gap between vibrant, researching, developing and contributing Israel and the country portrayed in the media and in academic papers is vast. We must also admit that we here in Israel also tend to ignore the real Israel…but sometimes we are also allowed to look at the half-full cup. We love internal and external criticism , but sometimes we need a little reminder that there are things we should be proud of.