To Touch and to Smell – a Nature Experience that Creates Happiness

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To Touch and to Smell –

a Nature Experience that Creates Happiness

A study by three Technion researchers has revealed that simply spending time in nature isn’t enough: to be happy, we need to get really close to it, to touch it and smell it. And surprise: there’s no need to turn off your phone

During the first COVID-19-related lockdown, everyone baked sourdough bread. In the second lockdown, the trend was home gardening, and social media was flooded with a plethora of photos of pot plants and close-ups of colorful succulents. According to researchers, the change in trend can be explained by the fact that the second lockdown found Israelis in lower spirits that even carbs would find it hard to lift. The forced stay that kept entire families indoors turned even the brightest, most beautiful homes into traps that created a sense of being closed in, and their residents tried to mitigate its impacts with a little greenery on which they could feast their eyes and spirits.

Numerous research studies have supported this intuitive choice, demonstrating the importance of nature and green spaces to people’s emotional and physical wellbeing, but a new study has shown that “feasting one’s eyes on greenery” is merely the tip of the iceberg. In order to benefit emotional wellbeing, humans must get close up and physically touch natural elements. In a research study published in Conservation Biology, Technion researchers found that interaction with nature alone is not enough. In order for tangible benefits to be derived, they found it is important that planners design green spaces that positive and close interaction with nature. The effect of interaction of this kind occurs in two stages, In the first, “cues of close psychological distance,” such as smelling and touching natural elements, increase the state of nature relatedness. This state in turn intensifies the pleasure derived by participants.

The researchers, Professor Assaf Shwartz and Dr. Agathe Colléony of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, and Dr. Liat Levontin of the William Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, explain that closeness to nature improves wellbeing more than passive exposure or simply looking at the green landscape. Based on a survey of 1,023 visitors at Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park, they found that the closer the interaction with nature (for example, interaction that included touching natural elements or smelling flowers), the more the positive affect of visitors was enhanced following the visit to the nature reserve, compared to other visitors who experienced nature from a greater distance (for example, by simply taking a walk).

“Our research has shown that people who have an emotional affinity for nature are generally happier and derive greater benefit from visits to green spaces or nature reserves,” explained Prof. Shwartz.

Following these findings, the researchers conducted an experiment among 303 Technion students. All participants spent half an hour outdoors on campus, with each assigned one of nine different cues-to-experience to perform while walking. These included smelling flowers, taking photographs of nature, touching natural elements, or turning off their phones. The findings showed that participants assigned cues of close psychological distance from nature (smelling and touching natural elements) indeed felt closer to nature and felt better after the walk than the control group (with no cues). Contrary to the prevailing opinion that it is important to experience nature undisturbed, participants who were asked to turn off their phones during the walk interacted less with nature, and reported both an increase in their negative feelings and a decrease in positive feelings after the walk was recorded. According to Dr. Levontin, “Turning off the phone may possibly cause people to think about it more and lead to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and does not enable significant interaction with nature.”

“People today are increasingly alienated from nature, and this has negative implications on their health and wellbeing and on the importance they attribute to the world of nature,” said Prof. Shwartz. “It’s important to plan green spaces that enable significant interactions with nature to improve our affinity to nature and emotional wellbeing.”

“I think we all felt it in the recent lockdowns,” added Dr. Levontin. “But it’s possible that as a result of our growing alienation from nature, planning green spaces is not enough to create a significant nature experience and contribute to quality of life. So thought must be given to how to encourage people to go outdoors and enhance their nature experience.”

“This is precisely where our research comes in,” Prof. Shwartz explained. “In the experiment, we demonstrated that with the help of minor cues, which we called “cues-to-experience,” people can be brought closer to nature. We also found that it is possible to enhance the nature experience among visitors, as well as its positive effect after the visit. Even smartphones can be used to create meaningful nature experiences for all of us in parks, gardens, and nature reserves. At the same time, it is important to make sure to also protect biodiversity and not to encourage interaction that is liable to be harmful to nature, such as picking flowers. Landscape architects and environmental planners need to think about solutions that will encourage the creation of interactions with nature, whose negative impact on biodiversity is minimal and positive impact is strong.”

The paper in Conservation Biology can be accessed READ MORE

Mathematical Conjectures: The Ramanujan Machine

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The Ramanujan Machine

 Using AI and computer automation, Technion researchers have developed a “conjecture generator” that creates mathematical conjectures, which are considered to be the starting point for developing mathematical theorems. They have already used it to generate a number of previously unknown formulas. The study, which was published in the journal Nature, was carried out by undergraduates from different faculties under the tutelage of Assistant Professor Ido Kaminer of the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Technion.

The project deals with one of the most fundamental elements of mathematics – mathematical constants. A mathematical constant is a number with a fixed value that emerges naturally from different mathematical calculations and mathematical structures in different fields. Many mathematical constants are of great importance in mathematics, but also in disciplines that are external to mathematics, including biology, physics, and ecology. The golden ratio and Euler’s number are examples of such fundamental constants. Perhaps the most famous constant is pi, which was studied in ancient times in the context of the circumference of a circle. Today, pi appears in numerous formulas in all branches of science, with many math aficionados competing over who can recall more digits after the decimal point: 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303820…

The Technion researchers proposed and examined a new idea: The use of computer algorithms to automatically generate mathematical conjectures that appear in the form of formulas for mathematical constants.

A conjecture is a mathematical conclusion or proposition that has not been proved; once the conjecture is proved, it becomes a theorem. Discovery of a mathematical conjecture on fundamental constants is relatively rare, and its source often lies in mathematical genius and exceptional human intuition. Newton, Riemann, Goldbach, Gauss, Euler, and Ramanujan are examples of such genius, and the new approach presented in the paper is named after Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician born in 1887, grew up in a poor family, yet managed to arrive in Cambridge at the age of 26 at the initiative of British mathematicians Godfrey Hardy and John Littlewood. Within a few years he fell ill and returned to India, where he died at the age of 32. During his brief life he accomplished great achievements in the world of mathematics. One of Ramanujan’s rare capabilities was the intuitive formulation of unproven mathematical formulas. The Technion research team therefore decided to name their algorithm “the Ramanujan Machine,” as it generates conjectures without proving them, by “imitating” intuition using AI and considerable computer automation.

According to Prof. Kaminer, “Our results are impressive because the computer doesn’t care if proving the formula is easy or difficult, and doesn’t base the new results on any prior mathematical knowledge, but only on the numbers in mathematical constants. To a large degree, our algorithms work in the same way as Ramanujan himself, who presented results without proof. It’s important to point out that the algorithm itself is incapable of proving the conjectures it found – at this point, the task is left to be resolved by human mathematicians.”

The conjectures generated by the Technion’s Ramanujan Machine have delivered new formulas for well-known mathematical constants such as pi, Euler’s number (e), Apéry’s constant (which is related to the Riemann zeta function), and the Catalan constant. Surprisingly, the algorithms developed by the Technion researchers succeeded not only in creating known formulas for these famous constants, but in discovering several conjectures that were heretofore unknown. The researchers estimate this algorithm will be able to significantly expedite the generation of mathematical conjectures on fundamental constants and help to identify new relationships between these constants.

As mentioned, until now, these conjectures were based on rare genius. This is why in hundreds of years of research, only a few dozens of formulas were found. It took the Technion’s Ramanujan Machine just a few hours to discover all the formulas for pi discovered by Gauss, the “Prince of Mathematics,” during a lifetime of work, along with dozens of new formulas that were unknown to Gauss.

According to the researchers, “Similar ideas can in the future lead to the development of mathematical conjectures in all areas of mathematics, and in this way provide a meaningful tool for mathematical research.”

The research team has launched a website, RamanujanMachine.com, which is intended to inspire the public to be more involved in the advancement of mathematical research by providing algorithmic tools that will be available to mathematicians and the public at large. Even before the article was published, hundreds of students, experts, and amateur mathematicians had signed up to the website.

The research study started out as an undergraduate project in the Rothschild Scholars Technion Program for Excellence with the participation of Gal Raayoni and George Pisha, and continued as part of the research projects conducted in the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering with the participation of Shahar Gottlieb, Yoav Harris, and Doron Haviv. This is also where the most significant breakthrough was made – by an algorithm developed by Shahar Gottlieb – which led to the article’s publication in Nature. Prof. Kaminer adds that the most interesting mathematical discovery made by the Ramanujan Machine’s algorithms to date relates to a new algebraic structure concealed within a Catalan constant. The structure was discovered by high school student Yahel Manor, who participated in the project as part of the Alpha Program for science-oriented youth. Prof. Kaminer added that, “Industry colleagues Uri Mendlovic and Yaron Hadad also participated in the study, and contributed greatly to the mathematical and algorithmic concepts that form the foundation for the Ramanujan Machine. It is important to emphasize that the entire project was executed on a voluntary basis, received no funding, and participants joined the team out of pure scientific curiosity.”

Prof. Ido Kaminer is the head of the Robert and Ruth Magid Electron Beam Quantum Dynamics Laboratory. He is a faculty member in the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering and the Solid State Institute. Kaminer is affiliated with the Helen Diller Quantum Center and the Russell Berrie Nanotechology Institute.

Click here for the paper in Nature

World Cancer Day: New Pathway for Attacking Cancer Cells

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Technion Researchers Discover New Pathway for Attacking Cancer Cells

When treating cancer, researchers are always searching for ways to remove cancer cells

Prof. Tomer Shlomi

while minimizing damage to the rest of the body. One possible approach is 

to find processes unique to cancer cells, and which would allow specific targeting. If such a process can be disrupted, only those cells would be affected.

A process (or absence thereof) can be unique to some types of cancer, and not be present in others. In such a case, we would want a simple way to recognize whether a particular tumor possesses the unique trait or not. The implication of this question is whether the tumor would respond to this or that treatment, allowing us to match a treatment to the patient who is likely to be helped by it, rather than going by trial and error.

Professor Tomer Shlomi’s research group discovered just such a process – one that may be targeted in cancer cells without causing damage to healthy ones, findings that have been published in Cell Metabolism.

The folate cycle is a process essential to DNA and RNA production. As a result, it is highly important to both cancer cells and healthy cells. Because DNA production is a critical stage in cell division, and thus in tumor growth, the folate cycle is a common target for chemotherapy. However, for the very same reason, there are significant side effects to attacking it.

There are, in fact, two folate cycles – one happening in the mitochondria (an organelle inside the cell), and one in the cytosol (the fluid that fills the cell). A healthy cell can switch from one to the other. A variety of tumor cells, Professor Shlomi’s group discovered, rely on the cytosolic pathway exclusively. The implication is, if treatment were to target the cytosolic folate cycle, healthy cells would switch to the mitochondrial cycle and would not be harmed, leaving tumor cells to die.

It remains to recognize whether a particular tumor is indeed one in which the mitochondrial folate cycle is non-functional, and here too Shlomi’s team provided. RFC is a transporter protein that regulates intracellular folate levels. Low RFC – low folate. Low folate, the group discovered, is devastating to the mitochondrial cycle. So low RFC tumors are the ones that would be affected by cytosolic cycle-blocking treatments.

Both the pathway that may be attacked, and the way to recognize which tumors the attack would be effective against have thus been found.

For the full article on Cell Metabolism click here.

Cancer Breakthroughs from Technion

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WORLD CANCER DAY

Technion researchers and alumni are revolutionizing diagnostics and treatments for cancer patients around the world. Less invasive testing, targeted therapies and personalized treatment options will maximize health outcomes for those living with cancer.  February 4th is World Cancer Day and we are proud to share the most recent cancer breakthroughs from the Technion.

DESTROYING BRAIN TUMOURS

Technion alumni-founded Insightec is partnering with California-based SonALAsense and the Ivy Brain Tumor Center in Arizona to test a promising non-invasive treatment to effectively and safely destroy deadly brain tumors. Insightec founder and vice chairman of the board Dr. Kobi Vortman is a Technion alumnus.

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PRECISION CANCER TREATMENT

Nobel Laureate and Technion Distinguished Professor Aaron Ciechanover discusses Israeli startup OncoHost’s PROphet system, which combines life-science research and advanced machine-learning technology to develop personalized strategies to maximize the success of cancer therapy. OncoHost was founded in 2017 following more than a decade of academic research led by chief scientific adviser Technion Professor Yuval Shaked, head of the Rappaport Technion Integrated Cancer Center. Prof. Ciechanover is also on OncoHost’s board of scientific directors.

 

NOVOCURE’S VALUE RISES ON THE NYSE

Image result for nyse

Novocure, whose FDA-approved Optune system is used for treating glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, now has the highest valuation of any Israeli health care company on the New York Stock Exchange. The product was approved by Israel in 2020 for the treatment of mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer caused by asbestos. According to the company, the technology could also theoretically be effective in treating pancreatic, ovarian, lung and other difficult to treat cancer types. Novocure was founded in 2000 by Technion Professor emeritus Yoram Palti.

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MORE ACCURATE RADIOLOGY 

Co-Founder and CTO Yitzi Pfeffer and Aviel Blumenfeld, CEO, at IMedis Medical.

Israeli medical system company IMedis has received approval from the EU for its AI-based quality control system for radiology departments. The system can accurately identify findings that would require follow-ups and may have been missed by the radiologist in an initial reading, and help discover early findings without symptoms that could lead to cancer. IMedis Medical CEO and Co-founder Aviel Blumenfeld is a Technion alumnus.

 

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CANCER SENSING TOILET SEAT

An early screening unit that uses AI , computer vision algorithms, and multispectral optical sensors might one day help prevent many of the 700,000 yearly global deaths from colorectal cancer. The OutSense IoT sensor clips onto the toilet and operates automatically, non-invasively, discreetly and without active user intervention. The sensor “knows” who is sitting on the toilet based on the closest smartphone, as well as other ways to identify the user. Real-time analysis is conducted in the cloud, and notification of any abnormal results is sent immediately to the smartphone of the user or caregiver. OutSense Chairman and Founder Ishay Attar is a Technion alumnus.

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BETTER BIOPSIES

Limaca Medical says it has developed a medical device to perform endoscopic ultrasound-guided biopsies that promise 'ten times' greater procedural efficiency (Courtesy)

Israeli startup Limaca Medical has developed a medical device to perform endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)-guided biopsies that promise “ten times” greater procedural efficiency with less trauma than the commonly used endoscope. Limaca’s Precision biopsy device gives surgeons more control and enables them to precisely reach the area of interest in the organ and offers a vast improvement over current EUS methods. Limaca Founder and Medical Director Iyad Khamasi is an assistant professor at the Technion, and the director of the Invasive Endoscopy Unit at the Rambam Health Care Campus.

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mRNA Formulates Its Instructions to Ribosomes

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Dynamic, Sophisticated, and Environmentally Sensitive:

This is How mRNA Formulates Its Instructions to Ribosomes

Yoav Arava and Ofri Levi

Technion researchers have discovered a new mechanism in the control of protein synthesis by ribosomes: an enzyme that edits mRNA and regulates its activity according to the organism’s needs. Their recent article describes similar gene editing processes to those used by Pfizer and Moderna in developing the new mRNA vaccines

Technion researchers have discovered an unknown mechanism that controls protein synthesis in the cell. The mechanism uses chemical modifications on mRNA to influence the rate of protein production by the ribosome, the cellular protein machine. The researchers, Professor Yoav Arava and doctoral student Ofri Levi of the Faculty of Biology, published news of the discovery in Nucleic Acids Research.

Gene expression control is responsible for translating the genetic code (written in DNA) into proteins that are adapted for their purpose in the specific tissue, taking changing environmental conditions into account. “If DNA is the cookbook,” said Ofri Levi, “then the chef is the ribosome – the cellular protein machine. The main mediator in the process is the mRNA molecule, which carries the recipe from the DNA to the ribosome. The right interaction between mRNA and the ribosome is vital to the normalcy and quality of the proteins.”

For some years, it has been known that mRNA does not carry the instructions from DNA in their original form, but undergoes numerous modifications on the way. These chemical changes recently made headlines in the context of the COVID-19 vaccines; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on the introduction of synthetic mRNA into the body to create immunological proteins inside our cells. However, since the cell treats mRNA as a foreign body, it tends to attack it, and the rapid mRNA breakdown does not leave it with enough time to manufacture the essential proteins.

To overcome this challenge, the two companies integrated modifications that mimic natural changes that occur in the body into their mRNA molecules. These modifications indeed enable the synthetic molecule to survive and to work long enough to create the protein from the virus.

According to Prof. Arava, “The connection between mRNA and the production of proteins is a process that has occupied us for some years, and we are focusing on the effect of mRNA on building the proteins and on their stability. We are trying to understand the ‘conversation’ in which mRNA tells the ribosome what to manufacture for the cell. We are conducting the basic research on Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a budding yeast that we know as baking or brewing yeast, and we have a solid basis to assume that what happens in the yeast is highly relevant to what happens in the human body.”

In a previous article published in PLoS Biology in July 2019, Mr. Levi and Prof. Arava presented a new role for certain enzymes prevalent in all kingdoms of life. The researchers discovered that these enzymes serve as significant control elements in protein production – a role that was unknown before the article was published. To perform this function, these enzymes bind to the mRNA and regulate the quantity of mRNA molecules available to the ribosome.

In the present study, Mr. Levi and Prof. Arava thoroughly explored the question as to how those enzymes identify mRNA among the medley of cellular components. They discovered that the answer lies in a unique chemical modification occurring in mRNA. This modification, known as pseudouridine, is created in various locations on mRNA; control elements identify the change and time ribosome activity accordingly.

To prove the importance of this modification, the researchers developed a method based on CRISPR/Cas9, which enabled them to “surgically” remove the psuedouridine without causing any other damage to the cells. Indeed, in the absence of psuedouridine, control of protein production was lost. According to Mr. Levi, “Like many scientists in the world, we too owe a huge thank you to Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and Professor Jennifer Doudna for the dramatic breakthrough they achieved in the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.”

Profs. Charpentier and Doudna were awarded the Technion Harvey Prize on November 3, 2019, and one year later, on December 10, 2020, they received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of the revolutionary technology for editing, repairing, and rewriting DNA. Thanks to this technology, Mr. Levi said, “we have been able to make progress in our research with unprecedented speed and accuracy.”

The Technion researchers estimate this is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism that exists across the animal kingdom. Since the mechanism is sensitive to environmental changes, it provides mRNA molecules with instructions tailored to environmental conditions, thus directing the ribosomes to optimal protein production.

As mentioned, one of the most important tasks faced by Pfizer and Moderna was to improve the activity of artificial mRNA in the human body, so they introduced a modification to the “immunological” mRNA that is very similar to pseudouridine. “We don’t yet know if the control elements we discovered are also able to detect the modification in synthetic mRNA,” said Prof. Arava. “If they are, this may open up further possibilities to improve mRNA activity and produce larger quantities of proteins.”

Beyond the present research and its implications, said Prof. Arava, “our discovery illustrates the importance of basic research in the development of sophisticated medical treatments and innovative vaccines. The public and the media are mainly hungry for publications about developments and applied science, but without a strong, broad infrastructure of basic science – in directions in which the applied horizon is not always clear – we would not witness such dramatic breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment, and vaccines, as well as in areas of life outside the world of medicine.”

The research was funded by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). Ofri Levi is the winner of the Jacobs Scholarship for Outstanding Students.

Click here for the complete article in Nucleic Acids Research.

Get Close to Nature

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Prof. Assaf Shwartz

To Touch and to Smell – a Nature Experience that Creates Happiness

 A study by three Technion researchers has revealed that simply spending time in nature isn’t enough: to be happy, we need to get really close to it, to touch it and smell it. And surprise: there’s no need to turn off your phone

During the first COVID-19-related lockdown, everyone baked sourdough bread. In the second lockdown, the trend was home gardening, and social media was flooded with a plethora of photos of pot plants and close-ups of colorful succulents. According to researchers, the change in trend can be explained by the fact that the second lockdown found Israelis in lower spirits that even carbs would find it hard to lift. The forced stay that kept entire families indoors turned even the brightest, most beautiful homes into traps that created a sense of being closed in, and their residents tried to mitigate its impacts with a little greenery on which they could feast their eyes and spirits.

Numerous research studies have supported this intuitive choice, demonstrating the importance of nature and green spaces to people’s emotional and physical wellbeing, but a new study has shown that “feasting one’s eyes on greenery” is merely the tip of the iceberg. In order to benefit emotional wellbeing, humans must get close up and physically touch natural elements. In a research study published in Conservation Biology, Technion researchers found that interaction with nature alone is not enough. In order for tangible benefits to be derived, they found it is important that planners design green spaces that positive and close interaction with nature. The effect of interaction of this kind occurs in two stages, In the first, “cues of close psychological distance,” such as smelling and touching natural elements, increase the state of nature relatedness. This state in turn intensifies the pleasure derived by participants.

The researchers, Professor Assaf Shwartz and Dr. Agathe Colléony of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, and Dr. Liat Levontin of the William Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, explain that closeness to nature improves wellbeing more than passive exposure or simply looking at the green landscape. Based on a survey of 1,023 visitors at Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park, they found that the closer the interaction with nature (for example, interaction that included touching natural elements or smelling flowers), the more the positive affect of visitors was enhanced following the visit to the nature reserve, compared to other visitors who experienced nature from a greater distance (for example, by simply taking a walk).

“Our research has shown that people who have an emotional affinity for nature are generally happier and derive greater benefit from visits to green spaces or nature reserves,” explained Prof. Shwartz.

Following these findings, the researchers conducted an experiment among 303 Technion students. All participants spent half an hour outdoors on campus, with each assigned one of nine different cues-to-experience to perform while walking. These included smelling flowers, taking photographs of nature, touching natural elements, or turning off their phones. The findings showed that participants assigned cues of close psychological distance from nature (smelling and touching natural elements) indeed felt closer to nature and felt better after the walk than the control group (with no cues). Contrary to the prevailing opinion that it is important to experience nature undisturbed, participants who were asked to turn off their phones during the walk interacted less with nature, and reported both an increase in their negative feelings and a decrease in positive feelings after the walk was recorded. According to Dr. Levontin, “Turning off the phone may possibly cause people to think about it more and lead to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and does not enable significant interaction with nature.”

“People today are increasingly alienated from nature, and this has negative implications on their health and wellbeing and on the importance they attribute to the world of nature,” said Prof. Shwartz. “It’s important to plan green spaces that enable significant interactions with nature to improve our affinity to nature and emotional wellbeing.”

“I think we all felt it in the recent lockdowns,” added Dr. Levontin. “But it’s possible that as a result of our growing alienation from nature, planning green spaces is not enough to create a significant nature experience and contribute to quality of life. So thought must be given to how to encourage people to go outdoors and enhance their nature experience.”

“This is precisely where our research comes in,” Prof. Shwartz explained. “In the experiment, we demonstrated that with the help of minor cues, which we called “cues-to-experience,” people can be brought closer to nature. We also found that it is possible to enhance the nature experience among visitors, as well as its positive effect after the visit. Even smartphones can be used to create meaningful nature experiences for all of us in parks, gardens, and nature reserves. At the same time, it is important to make sure to also protect biodiversity and not to encourage interaction that is liable to be harmful to nature, such as picking flowers. Landscape architects and environmental planners need to think about solutions that will encourage the creation of interactions with nature, whose negative impact on biodiversity is minimal and positive impact is strong.”

The paper in Conservation Biology can be accessed here

Rapid COVID Tests on Campus

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Technion President Professor Uri Sivan and Professor Naama Geva-Zatorsky

First in Israel – a COVID-19 test developed at Technion offers rapid testing on campus to prevent chains of infection

While Israel undergoes a mass vaccination program, the ongoing window of risk is being closed at Technion through an innovative system of rapid testing for COVID-19. The Technion announced the extensive testing operation as a fundamental protective measure for dormitory residents. The “NaorCov19” test being used in Haifa was developed in April 2020 by Professor Naama Geva-Zatorsky of the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.

“To protect the health of campus visitors and residents, to lead as normal a lifestyle as possible, and to return to routine life during the pandemic, it is necessary to break the chain of infection rapidly, through effective monitoring and diagnosis,” said Technion President, Professor Uri Sivan. “Living alongside COVID-19 is an enormous challenge for all the population, and I hope and believe the rapid implementation of the novel technologies developed by Technion researchers will assist us in arresting the spread of the virus, and that it will serve as a model for other places across the country.”

The technology has been commercialized by the Technion for further development by Rapid Diagnostic Systems ltd., which is developing the molecular diagnostic platform under the name “Naor.” (www.naordia.com). The technology had been field tested and developed in collaboration with multiple institutions and researchers including MAFAT (the R&D arm of the Israeli Ministry of Defence) and the Rambam Health Care Campus.

The NaorCov19 test rapidly detects the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is based on a saliva sample and a short isothermal process that can be done on-premises. The process takes less than an hour if done on site, and dozens or even hundreds of samples can be processed simultaneously. Technion students and staff leave saliva samples at stations around campus and use their phones to record it. They are then electronically notified about the results within a few hours of the sample collection. The Technion community members are encouraged to be tested at least once a week, in order to reduce the risk of campus infection.

Thanks to its simplicity, the NaorCov19 is suitable for rapid testing on campuses and schools, at workplaces, airports and even onboard airplanes. It is also scheduled for self-testing at home.
The on-campus Naor tests are being performed as part of a study that has received the approval of the local institutional review board (IRB).

At the start of the 2020-21 academic year, the Technion administration announced the “Creating an Open and Safe Campus” initiative, which offers multi-layered protection of campus visitors.

The First Layer is strict adherence to the “purple badge” rules: wearing a mask, hygiene, and social distancing.

The Second Layer involves the monitoring of the campus sewage system using novel technology developed at Technion by Professor Eran Friedler of the Department of Environmental and Water Engineering. Sewage testing supports the monitoring of a large population, effectively and rapidly locating cases without the need to reach each individual. It has already effectively disrupted potential chains of coronavirus infection.

The soon to be implemented Third Layer is the Technion-developed “NaorCov19” test. This individual, rapid, and non-invasive system will help track and diagnose cases on campus.

The Fourth Layer involves regular PCR tests for those who have relevant symptoms or who test positive on the “NaorCov19” test. Since the “NaorCov19” test is still waiting for the approval of Israel’s Ministry of Health, persons who test positive go on to take a regular PCR test for confirmation.

The “Creating an Open and Safe Campus” project is led by Executive Vice President for Research Professor Koby Rubinstein, Professor Avigdor Gal of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering & Management and Professor Danny Raz of the Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science.

Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla to receive Technion Honorary Doctorate

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Technion to Award Honorary Doctorate to Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla

Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla

The President of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Professor Uri Sivan announced that the Technion will award an honorary doctorate to Pfizer CEO and Chairman Dr. Albert Bourla, for his extraordinary achievement in leading the record time development of the novel vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine, which is helping to end the coronavirus crisis, is expected to serve a model for the development of a wide range of future mRNA-based treatments.

“As Chairman of the Board of Pfizer Inc., Dr. Bourla headed the trailblazing effort to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus,” explained Technion President Sivan. “In his 27 years with Pfizer, Dr. Bourla promoted multiple areas within the company, among them technological innovation. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine is an extraordinary biotechnological achievement that exemplifies the importance of science and multidisciplinary research. The vaccine, and similar ones, will bring healing to all of humanity and will rescue the world from the crisis that began at the end of 2019, with the epidemic outbreak. Dr. Bourla’s family history, as a son of Holocaust survivors from Thessaloniki, is a symbol of the remarkable vitality of the Jewish people, their liveliness, and their renewal capacity in the wake of the Holocaust.”

“I am moved by the news and honored to receive a degree from such an important and historical institution as the Technion,” Dr. Bourla said to President Sivan during a phone conversation informing him of being awarded the degree. “In my youth, I considered studying at the Technion; this is an emotional closure for me.”

Dr. Albert Bourla was born in Thessaloniki in 1961 to a Jewish family, part of which perished in the Holocaust. His family, who arrived in Greece from Spain following the Alhambra Decree, dealt in jewelry and diamonds, and their business spread across many countries. The Thessaloniki Jewish community, once the largest in Greece, had a population of approximately 80,000 in the 1930s. Approximately two-thirds of them perished in the Holocaust.

Dr. Bourla completed all of his academic degrees at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and holds a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine and reproductive biotechnology. In 1993 he joined Pfizer, one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, where he went on to hold a series of positions. He oversaw antibody development and served as Group President of Pfizer’s Global Vaccines, Oncology, and Consumer Healthcare business. In 2018 he was appointed Chief Operating Officer, and in 2020 he became the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

In recent years Dr. Bourla has led Pfizer in strengthening ties with technology companies and in adopting technologies such as artificial intelligence. At the beginning of 2020, following the global outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, he harnessed most of the company’s resources to develop a vaccine, meeting challenging schedules. Throughout the process, Dr. Bourla promised there would be no compromise with regard to the safety of the vaccine, and approval was obtained after an extensive study that included more than 40,000 subjects.

The honorary doctorate will be conferred on Dr. Bourla during the next annual Technion Board of Governors meeting in November 2021.

Distinguished Prof. wins Prestigious Award

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Dist. Prof. Nitzan Zohar

Distinguished Professor Yitzhak Apeloig of the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry has been awarded the 2021 Schrödinger Medal of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC). Past recipients of this honour include four Chemistry Nobel Prize winners and many of the pioneers of computational quantum chemistry.

The prestigious medal is awarded each year to a single scientist whose contribution to theoretical and computational chemistry is particularly outstanding. Professor Apeloig’s selection was based on his seminal contributions to the chemistry of organosilicon compounds and to organic chemistry, and for the impressive combination of experimentation, computations, and theory in his research.

Professor Apeloig joined the Technion faculty in 1976 and served as President of the university from 2001 to 2009. He pioneered the use of computational tools based on quantum theory to predict molecular characteristics and molecular reactions, as well as organosilicon chemistry. He has received a plethora of important awards, including the Taub Award for academic excellence, the Distinguished Teacher Award from the Technion, the Humboldt Prize, the award of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the gold medal of the Israel Chemical Society, the Wacker Silicone Award, and the ACS Kipping Award in Silicon Chemistry. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the European Academy of Sciences, holds an honorary doctorate of science from the Berlin Institute of Technology, has been awarded the Order of Merit of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, and is an honorary citizen of Haifa, Israel.

The World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC) aims to promote the field of theoretical and computational chemistry and to advance the interactions between scientists working in this field worldwide. Its most recent congress was attended by 1,500 scientists from all around the world.

The Schrödinger Medal is named after the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics and a Nobel Prize laureate who developed a wave equation named after him – the Schrödinger equation.  Some WATOC members work on developing mathematical methods and computer programs to solve the equation. Others, including Prof. Apeloig, apply these methods to study and predict the characteristics and reactions of various compounds. Prof. Apeloig was one of the first experimental chemists in the world to realise the potential of computational methods and applied them in his research already in the 1970s.

Today, many chemistry studies in the academy and in the industry (such as the development of new compounds, new medicines, etc.) are performed using computational methods, most commonly in a collaborative effort between experimenting and calculating research groups. One of the unique features of Prof. Apeloig’s research is that the experimental and computational research are usually performed by the same student, who acquires knowledge in both disciplines, an important factor in his/her scientific development.

A Canadian take on the Technion

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Q & A with Corey Kamen, a medical student at the Technion American Medical School.

Medical Student, Corey Kamen
  1. Why did you decide to attend Medical School at the  Technion?

I am from Thornhill, Ontario and I am currently in my second year at The Technion American Medical School. After finishing my undergrad and graduate work in Canada, I applied broadly to Medical School in Canada, the US, and Israel.  I chose the Technion knowing that I would  receive a very high calibre education and be well prepared for professional practice.  The school is also very well regarded internationally. So far, my experience at the Technion has been incredibly positive.

  1. How has being a Canadian at Technion shaped your experience? Do you bring a different perspective as a Canadian and what unique experience have you gained by studying in Israel?

There are 25-30 students per year in the Technion American School; the majority of each class is American.  As a Canadian, I bring a different perspective about health care, in that Canadians see universal access to health care as a right instead of a privilege.

I also believe there is a lot to gain by studying somewhere that is not your home country – where there is a different environment and language.  With Canada being so multi-cultural, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the experience of individuals who come from different cultures and countries, and the challenges they may encounter navigating through systems and languages that are different than what they know.  Living and studying in Israel also imparts a sense of chutzpah, resilience and a willingness to think outside the box.

  1. How has COVID-19 challenged you or impacted your experience as a Technion student?

The challenges of COVID-19 are not unique to being a student at the Technion, as education the world over has had to be altered. We are part of a global community of medical students and this is a common experience that we are all going through.  The Technion has worked hard to adapt the delivery of education by teaching on-line and providing additional supports for students throughout the pandemic. 

Being away from my family in Canada during this time has been a challenge, but it has made me appreciate them even more, as well as those that immediately surround me in the wonderful student community we are blessed to have here. 

  1. What else would you like to share?

As much as Israel is our home as Jews, it is not easy to leave one’s native country and family. However, with time, you really do see that all of Israel is family – from the hospital staff, to taxi drivers, to cashiers in grocery stores.  

When one comes here to study, one may be distant from their immediate family, but they are getting introduced to their broader family – that is Israel.