January 14, 2012 Technion Engineer and Co-founder of Israel’s National Hockey Team: We Need Engineers with a Social Conscience

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news_id126Reported in the Winnipeg Jewish Review

by Rhonda Spivak, posted January 14, 2011

Next time Mark Telesnick, who is an engaging speaker comes to speak in Winnipeg, we need to make sure we get him to bring his skates, and buy him a ticket to a Jets game.

The 51 year old Talesnick isn’t only a world class engineer who established a chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Born in Toronto but raised in Kingston, Ontario Talesnick decided to make aliyah in 1982, Talesnick co- founded Israel’s national ice hockey team.

I lost to Wayne Gretsky  Talesnick told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, when he played in Kingston, noting that the team he assembled for Israel was made up of a lot of ex-pat Canadians and a few sabras too. In Israel, the team trained at Canada Centre in Metulla on the border with Lebanon, the only ice rink in the country.

Talesnick said he hasn’t been playing hockey  for a while now, although he probably still has some gear. [the Israeli team he co-founded got killed in its first game, against Spain, losing 23-4. The Israelis then beat the Turks and the Greeks in the next games, making them feel just a little like the ancient Maccabees.]

While Talesnick isn’t focusing anymore on building team spirit in hockey, he is infusing his students with a social conscience and an innovative spirit to enable them to handle global challenges of improving the quality of life of disadvantaged populations throughout the world.

As Talesnick explained when in Winnipeg in November 2011, bringing engineering solutions which enable people to improve their lives and are also designed in a way that the community itself can maintain the infrastructure is what is needed to effect major change,  which can often be done with a relatively small budget. 

As Telesnick said, It’s not enough to teach our students how to to crunch numbers We need to be training our graduate engineers as leaders in society. 

According to Talesnick, university engineering courses,  are currently designed to meet only the needs of 10 percent of the world’s population  living in technologically advanced countries, but not the other 90 percent of the world  where such basics as clean water, and sustainable energy are lacking.

Engineers need to be thinking of solutions to address these problems,  Talesnick said, noting that many engineers lacked hands-on experience and know-how. 

Talesnick spoke of how the Technion EWB team of some 25 Israeli and American students applied their know-how to help the Bedouin village of Kochle in the Negev, whose single generator provided a limited unstable supply of energy.

Talesnick heard from a Bedouin whose brother was sick in a hospital and could not be released home unless his medications were refrigerated round the clock.

The village did not have proper refrigeration,  said Talesnick, who explained how his students came up with a practical solution, a small cooler connected to a battery charged through solar panels. 

Telesnick spoke of his team’s remarkable work in a rural village in Nepal of about 1000 people, landlocked between India and China where there is no access to gas or kerosene. Old-growth forests are being cut down by the villagers as wood serves as the main energy source for cooking and heating.

Children spend several hours a day carrying wood,  noted Talesnick, instead of being able to be in school or doing other productive activity.

Women do the cooking by standing over wood stoves in huts  with little or no ventilation and end up with respiratory problems. The community’s water from the nearby river, is polluted with human and animal manure and as a result Diarrhea is widespread. 

The solution Talesnick’s Technion team came up with to solve these problems was a bio reactor. It was constructed in an earth pit about 4.5 feet deep and 8 feet across, and topped by a concrete dome.

As Telesnick outlined, when a reactor is finished, animal and human waste and food compost can be fed through an inlet into the digester compartment. There bacteria transform this waste into clean methane gas.

Although bio reactors were already widespread in Nepal and India, most were built by child labor and in a labor intensive and often dangerous lengthy process.

Talesnick’s team designed an igloo-like aluminum framework, which can be easily assembled, dismantled and reused. Twelve composite surfboard-shaped slices made from a laminate of styrofoam and fibreglass were assembled on the aluminum igloo- like frame to provide the template on which concrete was cast

That styrofoam has now been replaced by locally grown bamboo,  Talesnick said, which means that the villagers will be able to construct and maintain these bio-reactors on their own, even after his team left Nepal.

Each bio-reactor supplies a family with five hours of odor-free cooking gas a day,  said Talesnick. So far, 60 have been built.

It’s a win-win situation all around,  Talesnick emphasized.

The villagers get gas for cooking and heating, and the residue is used as concentrated fertilizer for organic farming. Fewer trees will be cut down for fuel, and the rivers aren’t pollutes with manure. This has drastically cutting down on widespread diarrhea.

Moreover, as Telsnick emphasized the cost of building one reactor comes to about $440. (not including travel expenses of the team)

A major purpose of the program is to teach professional and future engineers that beyond technology they must consider the social, economic and health problems of non-Western societies,  Talesnick added.

He spoke of a project in Mauritania in Africa where a well-intentioned engineering team installed pipes to carry water to individual homes. However, within a week, local women sabotaged the system by cutting the pipes.

The women enjoyed gathering at the village’s water pump. This was the only time they got a chance to go out, Talesnick said, in explaining their motivation to sabotage the new system.

In July, 2010,Talesnick introduced an accredited summer program for international and Israeli students at the Technion, on Engineering for Developing Communities.  Students assess the needs within the community, and after conducting laboratory work, implement their projects.

Talesnick noted that other universities around the world are showing interest in introducing similar programs in their engineering faculties.

Talesnick, who spoke before University of Manitoba engineering students said that in the future he hoped to meet with Manitoba Minister of Water stewardship and Manitoba’s special representative to Israel for economic and community relations Mel Lazareck.

The Canadian Technion Society provides support to the Haifa-based Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is ranked among the world’s leading science and technology universities.

Hershel Recht, National Development Director, noted that Five of Israel’s ten Nobel Prize winners have been Technion graduates.