Researchers at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have developed an innovative rapid imaging technology and demonstrated its performance in reconstructing the movement of a minute animal. Published in Nature Communications, the development project was headed by Professor Amir Rosenthal, doctoral student Evgeny Hahamovich, and master’s student Sagi Monin of the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The research team’s technology is based on the innovative SPI (single-pixel imaging) concept – the production of high-quality images using a device equipped with only a single detector. This concept, which enables photographs to be taken without a camera, has vast potential for diverse applications, such as the development of components of warning systems in autonomous vehicles or enhanced image depth in microscopy of biological tissues.
SPI is based on the illumination of an object with encoded light patterns, generally by means of a projector. Based on the properties of the light reflected and propagated by the object, the image of the object can be produced using reconstruction algorithms. The problem is that to date, these systems have been hampered by significant limitations, one of them being the slow image acquisition rate, which is the result of the fact that the projectors themselves are slow. This has, until now,limited use of the systems to photographing stationary objects.
The Technion research team broke through this limitation by applying a new method for spatially encoding light at unprecedented frequencies – 2.4 MHz as opposed to 22 kHz, which is the maximum frequency currently available in SPI technology. This represents an improvement of more than a hundredfold in projection rates and image acquisition rates. By using a rotating device fitted with a coding mask, the researchers created a completely new illumination pattern and an SPI microscope with unprecedented capabilities.
To demonstrate the system’s capabilities, the research group produced videos with a frame rate of 72 FPS (frames per second). The films accurately depict the complex movement of the nematode worm, C. elegans, an impossible achievement using currently available SPI technology.
The study was funded by the Ollendorf Minerva Center.
H2OLL, an innovative Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) technology developed at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, has won the prestigious Water Europe Innovation Award for SMEs. The award was announced in June at the Water Innovation Europe 2021 Conference. Water Europe (WE) is a European technology platform for collaboration between research institutes, companies, and water utilities. The Water Europe platform was initiated by the European Commission in 2004, and now encompasses more than 200 commercial businesses, academic and research bodies, and water supply companies whose collective goal is to build a water-smart economy in Europe.
More than 10% of the world’s population, over 670 million people, presently have no access to clean drinking water, which significantly impacts numerous aspects of their lives, including health, education, and gender equality. H2OLL’s Atmospheric Moisture Harvesting (AMH) technology is capable of extracting moisture from the air even in arid and desert regions, and is highly relevant to many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including the rights of every person for clean water, good health, and well-being, climate action, quality education, and gender equality (in many places in the world, children – girls in particular – are required to provide water to the family at the expense of attending classes at school).
The H2OLL technology was developed by Professors David Broday and Eran Friedler from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering and was patented by the Technion. The development team is headed by Mr. Ilan Katz (M.Sc.) as CTO, Mr. Oded Distel who leads the business development, and Dr. Khaled Gommed from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.
The Technion research team built a prototype at the Technion’s Environmental Technologies Yard, which has been producing potable water since the winter of 2019-2020 (i.e. throughout the COVID-19 pandemic) and serves as a proof of concept (POC; www.H2Oll.com). H2OLL is in route to becoming a company and to commercializing the technology, with Mr. Ilan Katz as its CEO and Mr. Oded Distel as VP for business development.
Technion Makes Dramatic Move: On October 1, 2021, Purchases of Disposables Will Be Discontinued
In less than three months, on October 1, 2021, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology will stop buying disposable utensils. The decision by Technion Executive Vice President & Director General Professor Boaz Golany came after a lengthy research study and a thorough review of the alternatives.
In 2019, the Technion bought more than 2.3 million disposable cups, almost one million disposable teaspoons, and hundreds of thousands of other single-use items. Disposable utensils currently account for approximately 9% of waste on campus, and the present move is intended to reduce the amount of waste and reduce associated expenses.
In parallel to the CEO’s decision, the Technion will be providing its faculties and units with information on relevant and more environmentally friendly alternatives. Until adequate alternatives are found, the decision excludes cafeterias and small events held in the faculties. It is important to note, however, that even in these cases, the Technion will encourage a shift to reusable plates, cups, and cutlery.
“This is a comprehensive move that encompasses the Technion as a whole, and its implications are far-reaching,” said Prof. Golany. “In the past few years, the Technion has shifted into high gear in all aspects touching upon sustainability. Two important milestones that preceded the present move are the approval of Technion’s Strategic Plan of 2016 and the Technion Comptroller’s Report of 2019, which led to important recommendations related to sustainability. Our handling of these issues integrates research, teachings, and practices, which means that we will be placing special emphasis on promoting additional science-based steps that have the potential to bring about dramatic positive change.”
The move is being led by the Technion’s Sustainability Hub under the academic guidance of Professor Daniel Orenstein, who has authored important research on the issue of sustainability at universities, and the Hub’s coordinator, Dr. Ronit Cohen Seffer.
“Our view of sustainability and material consumption is holistic, and encompasses all potential responses: reduce, reuse and recycle,” said Prof. Orenstein. “There is no doubt that recycling is important, but reuse and reduction are especially important goals because they prevent pollution already in the production phase.” The production phase of disposable utensils is accompanied by emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases, and the transportation of the goods is also the source of a great deal of pollution.
“Before making this decision, we studied every aspect of the alternative – the use of reusable utensils – and we recognize that in addition to discontinuing the use of disposables, we must provide instructions on the right way to reduce the environmental impact of the alternative, too,” added Prof. Orenstein. “It is important to place consumption habits in a much broader context, which is the attempt to minimize damage to the environment on all fronts: energy, waste, land pollution, water and air pollution, and others.”
Fast charging is considered to be a key requirement for widespread economic success of electric vehicles. Current lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) offer high energy density, but while they enable sufficient driving range, they take considerably longer to recharge than traditional vehicles. Multiple properties of the applied anode, cathode, and electrolyte materials influence the fast-charging ability of a battery cell.
In a review published this month in the high impact Journal Advanced Energy Materials, an international team of researchers considers in detail the physicochemical basics of different material combinations, and identify the transport of lithium inside the electrodes as the crucial rate-limiting steps for fast-charging. The group* headed by Professor Yair Ein-Eli and graduate student Ms. Natasha Ronit Levy from the Technion Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Professor Jürgen Janek and Dr. Manuel Weiss from Giessen University (Institute of Chemical Physics, Germany), identified that lithium-ion diffusion and migration within the active materials inherently slows down the charging process and impose high resistivity.
In addition, concentration polarization by a slow lithium-ion transport within the electrolyte phase in the porous electrodes also limits the charging rate. Both kinetic effects are responsible for lithium plating observed on the graphite anodes. Such plating of metallic lithium may lead to a dangerous thermal runaway, resulting in explosion and fire. The conclusions drawn by the researchers from potential and concentration profiles within LIB cells are complemented by extensive literature surveys on anode, cathode, and electrolyte materials. They analyzed advantages and disadvantages of typical LIB materials and offered suggestions for optimum properties on the material and electrode level for fast-charging applications.
* The research groups that took part in the review work were part of the 4th German-Israel Batteries School held in Berlin in 2019: from Israel – Prof. Yair Ein-Eli [Technion] and Prof. Doron Aurbach [Bar-Ilan University]; From Germany – Prof. Jürgen Janek [Giessen University], Prof. Martin Winter [Münster University], and Prof. Margaret Wohlfahrt-Mehrens [Energy Research Center, Ulm]. Financial support was provided by the following entities and foundations: the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) within GIBS 4 bi-national workshop, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Planning & Budgeting Committee/Israel Council for Higher Education (CHE), and Fuel Choice Initiative (Prime Minister Office) within the framework of “Israel National Research Center for Electrochemical Propulsion” (INREP 2) and by the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP).
Click here for the paper in Advanced Energy Materials
Research: Cells Expressing Tendon Markers Fuse into Muscles
Researchers at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have made a breakthrough discovery that muscle fibers are of hybrid origins, and their tips have a “fibroblastic, tendon-like property” that arises from fibroblasts’ fusion. The researchers’ findings highlight a mechanism that enables a smooth transition from muscle fiber characteristics towards tendon features that is essential for forming robust muscle tendon junctions (MTJs). The researchwas recently published in Nature Communications.
Using innovative techniques for analyzing single cells (scRNAseq), Professor Peleg Hasson and doctoral student Wesal Yaseen Badarneh reexamined the classical view of distinct identities for the tissues composing the musculoskeletal system. They identified a novel cluster of cells, which they termed dual identity cells. These dual identity cells are fibroblast-derived, yet express myogenic transcriptional programs and fuse into the tips of the developing muscle fibers along the muscle tendon junctions, facilitating the introduction of fibroblast-specific transcripts into the elongating myofibers.
Tendons are the connective tissues that connect between the muscles and bones. Consequently, the tendons’ mechanical properties are crucial in order for humans and other vertebrates to bear varying pressures and perform essential movements. When the development of MTJs is damaged, it may result in clinical phenomena including multiple types of muscle diseases. Therefore, understanding the molecular mechanism underlying MTJ development is very important.
Although vertebrate muscles and tendons are derived from distinct embryonic origins, they must interact in order to enable muscle contraction and body movements. It is still not understood how these two distinct tissues, each with its own biophysical and biochemical properties, form robust junctions that are able to withstand contraction forces. Prof. Hasson and his team identified fibroblasts that have switched on a myogenic program facilitating a seamless transition from a muscle fiber characteristic into a tendon-like structure. Their findings suggest that dual characteristics of junctional cells could be a common mechanism for generating stable interactions between tissues throughout the musculoskeletal system.
The research was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. It was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the Rappaport Family Institute at Technion, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Your Chance of Finding Quality Scientific Information on Google Depends on the Language You Search In
There is a saying that all the world’s knowledge is available at our fingertips – just a quick Google search away. But what happens when users search for information in their own language? For example, when searching for a scientific term, do search engines provide English-, Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking students with the same level of access to quality scientific information? This question is addressed by a new study, conducted at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and recently published in Public Understanding of Science.
The study found that search results for terms in English are of better quality than those provided for equivalent terms in Hebrew and Arabic. Additionally, most of the differences between the languages pertained to pedagogical aspects of quality, that is, the extent to which the content was geared towards young users, rather than the scientific aspects, such as the accuracy of the content. Some of the largest differences between the languages were found for terms related to nutrition and metabolism, such as “carbohydrate,” “protein,” “enzyme,” and “metabolism.”
These findings are based on the top Google Search results presented to users in Israel for 30 basic scientific terms in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The terms pertained to three scientific domains: biology, chemistry, and physics. Each search result’s overall quality was determined using scientific criteria, such as content accuracy, the author’s authority, and the use of sources; pedagogical criteria, such as references to everyday life and the quality of audiovisual materials; and criteria specific to online content, such as recency and interactivity.
According to Kawther Zoubi, who conducted the study as part of her masters’ thesis in the Technion’s Faculty of Education in Science and Technology, “these findings help us understand the digital divide and the social factors that affect our ability to develop science literacy. Our understanding of science depends on the environment we live in and the extent to which we have access to quality scientific information. This depends on our proficiency in different languages.”
Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari of the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology, who oversaw the study, added that, “The scientific and educational communities must act to mitigate the digital divide. We all have the right to access quality scientific information in our language.”
Click here for the paper in Public Understanding of Science.
Researchers develop conductive biopolymers using proteins
The polymers are based on recycled by-products of the food industry
The journal Advanced Materials has reported on the success of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology researchers in creating conductors that are relevant to solar energy generation, biomedical engineering, and more using by-products of the food industry that would otherwise be discarded as waste. The technology demonstrated in the article allows for the simple, fast, cost effective, and environmentally friendly production of biopolymers, which include application for electrophysiological signal sensing.
The study was conducted in the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry under the leadership of Assistant Professor Nadav Amdursky, Head of the Biopolymers and Bioelectronics Laboratory, and doctoral students Ramesh Nandi and Yuval Agam. According to Prof. Amdursky, “The current global green trend has not bypassed industry, and numerous groups worldwide are working on new solutions that will limit the pollution caused by the production of synthetic materials and by their very presence. One of the options is, of course, the use of natural materials, and the big challenge is to adapt them to meet needs.”
The two main approaches in environmentally conscious chemistry are environmental chemistry – the creation of environmentally friendly materials; and sustainable chemistry – production based on available degradable materials and energy-efficient processes. The present research integrates the two approaches in an environmentally friendly production process that yields environmentally friendly products in the context of conductive polymers.
Polymers are long chains made up of thousands of building blocks called monomers. Silk, wool and cotton fibers are examples of natural polymers, whereas nylon and PVC are synthetic polymers. Conductive polymers are a subgroup of polymers, and they serve for a vast variety of applications: electronics, energy storage, fuel cells, medicine, and others. These polymers are currently produced using processes that are costly and cause pollution due to the use of derivatives of oil, gas, and fossil fuel.
The alternative proposed by the Technion research team is protein polymers – molecules that are present in different biological tissues such as silk and wool fibers, spider webs, hair, and nails. Here, as mentioned, they are by-products of the food industry that would otherwise be discarded as waste. According to Prof. Amdursky, “The inspiration to use proteins to create conductive polymers originated in the unique function of proteins in nature – they are exclusively responsible for transporting various charge carriers in flora and fauna; for example, in cellular respiration or in photosynthesis in plants.”
The researchers created transparent polymer films with high conductivity. This film is suitable for biological and biomedical applications since it is non-toxic. It is biodegradable in the human body, and can be stretched to approximately 400% of its original length, without significantly impairing its electrical properties. Its conductivity is among the highest detected in biological materials.
According to Prof. Amdursky, “The production of the film in our research was a one-pot process, spontaneous, inexpensive, fast, energy efficient, and nonpolluting. In the article, we demonstrate the use of the film as ‘artificial skin’ that noninvasively monitors electrophysiological signals. These signals play a meaningful part in brain and muscle activity, and therefore their external monitoring is a highly important challenge.”
Prof. Amdursky emphasizes that since this technology is designed for application and commercialization, “the economic consideration is key, and consequently, it is most important to lower the costs of production processes so that they will yield a product that is competitive, also in terms of price, with petroleum-based polymers, and happily, we have succeeded. This is in addition to the reduction in environmental damage in the production phase as well as during use. The new polymer is fully biodegradable in less than 48 hours, as opposed to synthetic polymers, which are not biodegradable and as result, pollute our planet.”
The research was sponsored by the Gutwirth Fund (Ramesh Nandi was awarded a scholarship), the United States – Israel Binational Science Foundation, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and a PhosAgro/UNESCO/IUPAC green chemistry research grant. The researchers thank the Nancy and Stephen Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP) for its financial support through the NEVET program, and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute (RBNI) for the use of the Institute’s research infrastructure.
The Heart of the Matter: Deep Learning in Medicine
Technion researchers laid down the principles for a clinically viable way to develop AI-based tools for medicine, and demonstrated how to use them to develop practical systems for the cardiology discipline
In recent years, meteoric progress has been made in the world of deep learning, but at the present time, there are virtually no medical products on the shelf that use this technology. Consequently, doctors continue to employ the same tools used in previous decades.
To find a solution to this problem, the research group of Professor Yael Yaniv of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering joined forces with the research groups of Professors Alex Bronstein and Assaf Schuster of the Taub Faculty of Computer Science. Now, under their joint supervision, research by doctoral students Yonatan Elul and Aviv Rosenberg has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). In the article, the authors demonstrate an AI-based system that automatically detects disease on the basis of hundreds of electrocardiograms, which are currently the most widespread technology employed for the diagnosis of cardiac pathology.
The new system automatically analyzes the electrocardiograms (ECGs) using augmented neural networks – the most prominent tool in deep learning today. These networks learn different patterns by training on a large number of samples, and the system developed by the researchers was trained on more than 1.5 million ECG segments sampled from hundreds of patients in hospitals in different countries.
The electrocardiogram, developed more than a century ago, provides important information on conditions affecting the heart, and does so quickly and non-invasively. The problem is that the printouts are presently interpreted by a human cardiologist, and thus, their interpretation is, by necessity, pervaded by subjective elements. As a result, numerous research groups worldwide are working on the development of systems that will automatically interpret the printouts efficiently and accurately. Moreover, these systems are able to identify pathological conditions that human cardiologists, regardless of their experience, will not be able to detect.
The system developed by the Technion researchers was built according to requirements defined by cardiologists, and its output includes an uncertainty estimation of the results, indication of suspicious areas on the ECG wave, and alerts regarding inconclusive results and increased risk of pathology not observed in the ECG signal itself. The system demonstrates sufficient sensitivity in providing alerts regarding patients at risk of arrhythmia even when the arrhythmia is not demonstrated in the ECG printout, and the rate of false alarms is negligible. Moreover, the new system explains its decisions using the accepted cardiology terminology.
The researchers hope this system can be used for cross-population scanning for the early detection of those who are at risk of arrhythmia. Without this early diagnosis, these people have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The study was headed by Prof. Yael Yaniv, director of the Bioelectric and Bio-energetic Systems Laboratory at the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion; Prof. Alex Bronstein, director of the VISTA Laboratory at the Taub Faculty of Computer Science; Prof. Assaf Schuster of the Learning at Scale Laboratory (MLL) at the Taub Faculty of Computer Science and co-director of the MLIS Center (Machine Learning & Intelligent Systems); Yonatan Elul, a doctoral student in the laboratories of Professors Bronstein, Yaniv, and Schuster who completed his bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and his master’s degree at the Faculty of Computer Science at the Technion; and Aviv Rosenberg, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Professors Bronstein and Yaniv who completed his B.Sc. at the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering and his M.Sc. at the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering.
The project was sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Technion Hiroshi Fujiwara Cyber Security Research Center and the Israel Cyber Directorate.
Technion Researchers Use Laser “Tweezers” to Study Structure and Dynamics of Chromatin
A study conducted in the Technion Faculty of Biology sheds light on the structure and dynamics of chromatosomes. Published in the journal Molecular Cell, the study was conducted by Dr. Sergei Rudnizky under the supervision of Professors Ariel Kaplan and Philippa Melamed
Each one of the cells in our body contains DNA, which provides the instructions required for our development and function. Astoundingly, a total of two meters of DNA is packaged in each cell’s nucleus, just tens of microns in size, a feat accomplished by packaging the DNA into a compact structure called chromatin. The basic level of chromatin organization is provided by wrapping the DNA around proteins called histones in a spool-like structure that resembles “beads on a string.” Then, more complex structures called chromatosomes are formed with the help of a special histone, known as a “linker histone,” which connects the “strings.”
Packaging of the genome is essential in order for it to fit into the cell, but it also reduces the accessibility to the cellular machines that read the DNA and transcribe the genes. Thus, the distinct packaging at a particular gene will have a huge impact on its expression, in ways that are only beginning to be unraveled. In particular, linker histones are known to play a key role in this organization of the genome, and their malfunctions can lead to serious diseases including cancer and autism, but the most basic questions of how they bind DNA are still unanswered.
The lack of understanding of these crucial processes stems from the dynamic nature of linker histones, which makes it challenging to investigate them using conventional methods based on sampling a huge number of molecules simultaneously. In order to overcome this problem, Prof. Kaplan’s lab developed a unique method based on “optical tweezers,” an approach that allows researchers to capture individual chromatin molecules and exert forces on them with the help of a focused laser beam. In these experiments, one strand of DNA is slowly detached from its complementary strand in a manner similar to a zipper being unzipped, through the entire structure of a chromatosome. The principle of the measurement is simple: at points where a histone makes contact with the DNA, even in the weakest way, the zipper gets stuck, and more force needs to be applied to overcome the histone-DNA contact and advance into the structure.
Using this approach, Dr. Rudnizky and his coworkers discovered that contacts between histones and DNA are far more extensive than previously known, and that chromatosomes are, in fact, much larger than previously thought. Moreover, they found a surprising flexibility in the structure of linker histones, as two different chromatosome shapes exist: one symmetric and compact, and the second asymmetric and more relaxed. Remarkably, transition between these shapes in an individual molecule can be externally controlled by the transcription machinery itself. This suggests that the cell utilizes the transition between stable and unstable forms of a chromatosome to regulate access to the DNA in a controlled manner. Given the key role played by chromatosomes in maintaining proper expression of our genome, these findings add an important layer to our understanding of the role of chromatin architecture in health and disease.
The Technion’s efforts to advance the field of artificial intelligence have positioned it among the world’s leaders in AI research and development. CSRankings, the leading metrics-based ranking of top computer science institutions around the world, has ranked the Technion #1 in the field of artificial intelligence in Europe (and of course, in Israel), and 15th worldwide. In the subfield of machine learning, the Technion is ranked 11th worldwide. The data used to compile the rankings is from 2016 to 2021.
Today, 46 Technion researchers are engaged in core AI research areas, and more than 100 researchers are in AI-related fields: health and medicine, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, industrial robotics, cybersecurity, natural language processing, FinTech, human-machine interaction, and others. Two leading AI researchers co-direct MLIS: Professor Shie Mannor of the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Professor Assaf Schuster of the Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science.
According to Prof. Mannor, “for years the Technion has maintained its position as the leading research institute in Israel and Europe in core AI areas. The Technion has a unique ecosystem that includes tens of researchers from various faculties, research centers, and a number of undergraduate and graduate programs in the field.”
“All fields of science, technology, and engineering at the Technion have been upgraded in recent years, applying Technion knowledge in AI fields,” said Prof. Schuster, “Most include components based on information processing and machine learning. Furthermore, the Technion views the dissemination of its acquired knowledge as a mission of national importance for commercial sector. In that regard, the Technion operates in close cooperation with the technology sector in Northern Israel and within its partnership with the prestigious EuroTech Universities Alliance. These partnerships in Israel and worldwide link AI research at the Technion to the vanguard of activity in this field.”
The MLIS center strives toward four main goals: (1) establishing the Technion as a top-5 university in the field of AI worldwide; (2) pooling resources, recruiting researchers, and students from all Technion departments to advance and conduct joint research in the field; (3) connecting Technion researchers with relevant parties in the industry, especially technology companies and other organizations that generate Big Data; (4) Establishing close research collaboration with other prominent research institutes in the AI field in Israel and worldwide.
In May 2021, the Technion entered a long-term collaboration with American software giant PTC, under which the company will transfer its Haifa research campus to the Technion, to advance joint research in AI and manufacturing technology. PTC joins several other organizations that collaborate with the Technion in these fields, among them the technological universities of Lausanne (Switzerland), Eindhoven (Netherlands), Munich (Germany), and the Paris Polytechnique (France) in Europe, as well as Cornell Tech, home of the Jacobs Technion-Corrnell Institute, Waterloo University, and Carnegie Mellon University, which operates the largest center for AI and robotics in the United States.
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