April 4, 2011 Raising chutzpah

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Jameson Berkow,  Financial Post

Published:  Monday, April 04, 2011

Professor Peretz Lavie is a serial entrepreneur and president of The Technion: Israel Institute of Technology. He was in Toronto last week to speak to the Economic Club of Canada about Israel’s thriving high-tech startup economy. Financial Post technology reporter Jameson Berkow had a chance to sit down with Prof. Lavie to discuss the origins of that booming industry and how Canada might be able to replicate some of that success. The following is an edited transcription of their conversation.

Q  Your institution notes that Israel is home to about 4,000 high-tech startups, the equivalent to the entire European continent in absolute numbers. What do you believe accounts for that?

A  There is something about Israel, the combination of excellent education plus some attributes that are unique to Israel that make it such an innovative society.

Israeli Professor Peretz Lavie says one of the secrets to success in innovation is to not give up on the young. Tim Fraser / National Post
Israeli Professor Peretz Lavie says one of the secrets to success in innovation is to not give up on the young.
Tim Fraser / National Post

Q  What are some examples of those attributes?

A  There are Israeli characteristics. If you are [here] and you give a talk to students and you ask questions, the fear of the hierarchy is so embedded in the culture that the fear of being embarrassed in public is a major issue. For Israelis, the hierarchy is very weak. They challenge you whether you are a professor, whether you are a CEO, whether you are a politician, they constantly challenge you so there is no fear of failure, we call it chutzpah. It is part of the spirit and I think the characteristic of the Israeli culture; the ability to find solutions where everybody says there is no solution; the resilience, you fail? that is part of the game, we’ll do it again.

Q  Is it Israeli chutzpah that has attracted large technology firms such as Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. to open research centres in Israel?

A  Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, every major company has an R&D centre in Israel. Many of the microchips for [Intel Corp.] were developed in Haifa. I was in the U.S. and I visited several of these companies in Silicon Valley three weeks ago and I asked them what brought you to Israel? They said if we have a problem that cannot be solved, we know that the centre that will do it is in Israel. It is like the elite troops that [Israel] has and they have 30 centres all over the world. But if they need something that is tough where there is no other solution, they know the only place where it can be done is in Israel.

Q  Canadians are not exactly known for their chutzpah. Quite the opposite in fact, we are known for being shy and non-confrontational. Do those characteristics represent a barrier to fostering the same entrepreneurial drive and passion?

A  I believe so. I think that to really invest in innovative technologies you must take risks, you must have this chutzpah. In the book Startup Nation the authors describe a scenario in which somebody is buying an Israeli company and when he met the employees for one second he wasn’t so sure who was buying who because of the way they asked him questions and talked about the company. So I think you need a society that encourages shorter distances between different hierarchies.

Q  You mentioned that Israel went from being a Jaffaoranges economy to one based on semi-conductors in recent decades. What else might account for that transformation?

A  We had an influx of one million people from the former Soviet Union. They were highly educated, highly talented, with an inclination toward the natural sciences. So the number of engineers and scientists in Israel, mostly because of the Russian immigration, is the largest in the world per capita. I also should credit the government. It is interesting and very few people know that during the 1960s when Levi Eshkol was prime minister, he established in every ministry a chief scientist position and the chief scientist was given a budget for research and development. It helped to generate some of these companies, and then there was a community of venture capitalists that developed and continued to fuel this trend.

Q  That is a stark contrast to Canada, which is currently facing a serious labour shortage for technology-related positions. Do you have any advice for how Canada can encourage more students to study math and science?

A  The philosophy is you have to encourage these children at the age of 8 or 9, otherwise don’t invest. That is wrong, it can be done and it is incredible. We have something called the ‘pre-academic centre’ in which we take 700 youth a year after their army service and they come to the centre for six to 18 months depending on how much they need to complete the course. Out of this 700, two thirds are accepted to the Technion. So one of the keys is not to give up on the young people who drop out and facilitate some education that will allow them to catch up and join university and professional schools. I see it as a national mission.

jberkow@nationalpost.com

October 21, 2010 Medical Students Take Part in Exchange Program

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news_id105Medical Students Take Part in Exchange Program

By Laura Strickler, Staff Reporter
Thursday, 21 October 2010

TORONTO  – The first two medical students to participate in an exchange between University of Toronto and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology recently shared their experiences at a dinner celebrating the inauguration of the program.

Rana Halloumee of Israel and Daniel Pincus, a Toronto student, were the first participants in the CREMS (Comprehensive Research Experience for Medical Students) Program between Toronto and Israel. Halloumee spent her two months on exchange researching heart rate-dependent electrical remodelling. This was her first time in North America, and one of the first things she noticed about Toronto was its multiculturalism.

“I was very impressed to see how people [in Toronto] respect each other and treat each other well no matter what their nationality or homeland is,” the third-year medical student (equivalent to first year in Canada) said.

Pincus spent his three months in Israel researching hip fractures and bone imaging at Carmel Medical Center in Haifa. When asked about his experience on exchange, he said he would definitely recommend that others should participate.

“It’s good to get some really productive research done, and on the other hand, have an experience that is usually not offered to medical students in first and second year.

“I am humbled and privileged that I was able to participate,” he added.

The CREMS Program, established in 2005, allows first- and second-year medical students from the University of Toronto to participate in research-based exchanges at medical schools all over the world.

The idea to start a Toronto-Israel exchange came from Dr. George Fantus, associate dean of research in the faculty of medicine at U of T. He was familiar with schools in Israel – his daughter went to medical school there, a nephew attended the Technion and his son spent some time at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

One of the largest hurdles, Fantus said, was getting money to fund the students. After approximately a year of negotiating, the Canadian Technion Society approached with a proposal to support the exchange program. Gary Goldberg, national president of the society, has been very supportive, he said. In all, it took about 2-1/2 years to get this exchange off the ground.

At the dinner, Judith Wolfson, vice-president of university relations, discussed the importance of students appreciating and being aware of the world beyond where they live.

“[There is a] huge interest in all students at all levels to ‘internationalize’ their experience and ensure a broader understanding of their field in the world,” Wolfson said.

Catharine Whiteside, dean of the U of T faculty of medicine, was excited by both the potential of the Israel branch of CREMS and that of the program in general.

“We’re very keen to partner with the best in the world, and this opportunity with Technion exemplifies that for us,” she said.

“It’s a great opportunity for our students to experience another institution in another country and learn about health and about medical sciences from a different perspective, but still have an experience that’s beyond just learning about science.

“These types of experiences have a lifetime impact on the students. I think we’ll probably see this program grow.”

For Fantus, the importance of the exchange program is threefold: it furthers medical research, creates global citizens and promotes peace in the world.

“It’s important for people everywhere to have different experiences and be exposed to different cultures,” he said.

“Only with common goals and understanding can we create a better life for everybody.”

October 21, 2010 Israeli Nanotech Experts Exploring Canadian Collaborations

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news_id106Israeli Nanotech Experts Exploring Canadian Collaborations

By Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf, Staff Reporter
Thursday, 21 October 2010

TORONTO – Three Israeli nanotechnology experts recently made visits to Ottawa and Toronto on a mission to make contact with Canadian counterparts and lay the groundwork for possible future collaborations between both countries.

Scientists Baruch Fischer, and Dov Sherman – a professor and associate professor respectively at the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) – and Eylon Yavin, a researcher with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s faculty of medicine, met with peers at a two-day Carleton University nanotechnology workshop on Oct. 4 and 5.

They then made their way to Toronto to make the acquaintance of other researchers at the Ontario Centre of Excellence before heading back to Israel.

Israeli ambassador to Canada, Miriam Ziv, lauded the meetings.

“Israeli research and innovation is world renowned, and the potential benefits of an exchange of knowledge between Canada and Israel will be extremely valuable,” she said in a statement prior to the workshop.

Carleton University vice-president Kim Matheson said her researchers looked forward to “sharing our work with top scientists from Israel and [to] co-operative ventures and initiatives that could result from these discussions.”

Though no official agreements or projects resulted from the meetings, the Israeli researchers said they were excited at the opportunity to meet new colleagues and work with Canadians in the future and hoped both countries would find ways to free up grant money for collaborations in the future.

“It’s difficult for us [to secure financing]. We need the help of industry to do this,” Fischer said. “Universities in Canada are problem-solvers, and we want to collaborate on basic science and research. We are here to open windows and do more collaborating” with Canada.

Sherman expressed enthusiasm for his field and said that nanotechnology, while impressive for the layman, is still only in its infancy.

“This is an enthusiastic field. Things you could only imagine [before] are now possible,” he said. But he cautioned that nanotechnology also has its limits in terms of applications in semiconductor technology.

“We can only shrink so much. We’re getting to the limits of the semi-conductor,” he said, adding that in his opinion, in about 15 or 20 years scientists will have to “find other ways” to go smaller in scale.

For his part, Yavin, the lone nanobiologist of the three, said his research is currently focusing on improving ways of drug delivery in the body as well as “finding ways to get molecules to where you want them in the body.”

All three experts expressed their eagerness to reciprocate Israeli hospitality to sector representatives at the NanoIsrael 2010 Conference in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8 and 9.

June 9, 2010 Technion – Back to the Future

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What would Albert Einstein think if he visited Technion today?

Technion City in the 3rd millennium, a world renowned research university pursuing teaching and research in the sciences, engineering, management, medicine, and architecture… a powerhouse of pure thought where the decision makers, researchers and great minds of today are charting the future.

February 8, 2010 A Nano-Delivery System that Leads Anticancer Drugs Directly to Cancerous Cells.

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Technion researchers have developed a nano-delivery system made up of a chemical connection between a polysugar, produced from the cypress tree, with folic acid and an anticancer drug. The delivery system leads the drug directly to the cancerous cell and releases it inside the cell. Thus the cancerous cell is destroyed without causing any damage to the healthy cells around it.

“We looked for a polymer that would easily dissolve in water and we found as most appropriate the polymer produced from the cypress tree,” explains Dr. Yoav Livney of the Technion’s Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute. “The cancerous cell produces receptors that absorb the folic acid in much larger quantities than the healthy cell. The cancerous cell needs this acid in order to divide quickly and grow,” adds Dr. Livney. “After the folic acid connects to the receptor, a process, called endocytosis, is renewed. This is a process in which the cell membrane peels inward creating a depression that turns into a bubble called an endosome. It unites with another bubble called a lysosome, which contains enzymes that digest the contents of the bubbles (a kind of cell digestive system). When the PH measure decreases, the receptor releases the folic acid.”

Technion scientists Prof. Yehuda Assaraf from the Faculty of Biology and Dr. Livney attach the drug to a polysugar by a section of protein (peptide) that is dissolved by the enzymes secreted by the lysosome. The drug is released only in the lysosome because there are no enzymes in the blood that know how to break down this specific peptide.

The Technion development is especially efficient against ovarian, kidney and uterine cancer, which is characterized by folic acid receptors.

September 9, 2009 American Chemical Society Prize To Be Awarded To Technion President Prof. Yitzhak Apeloig

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news_id95The Frederic Stanley Kipping Award of the American Chemical Society is to be awarded to Technion President Prof. Yitzhak Apeloig. This is the first time that an Israeli chemist has won this prize, which is considered the most important prize in the world in silicon chemistry and is awarded once every two years. The American Chemical Society, with some 200,000 members, is the largest and most important organization in the world in the field of chemistry. The prize is to be awarded to the Technion President in March 2010, during the Society’s semi-annual conference, which will take place in San Francisco.

The prize was awarded to Prof. Apeloig, a member of the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry,   for “his groundbreaking achievements, experimental and theoretical, in researching the chemistry of silicon, and especially for his contribution to preparing and understanding the behavior of multi-bonded silicon materials (double and triple connections).” Many believed that these materials could not exist. Prof. Apeloig was one the first to predict in theory the possibility of their existence and afterwards – to synthesize and research their properties

In addition, Prof. Apeloig made a central contribution towards researching the chemistry of silicon-containing, intermediary materials with high activity. The special integration in his research of experimental and theoretical methodologies based on quantum theory led to a deeper understanding of the tremendous and surprising differences in the properties and behavior of carbon and silicon compounds (elements belonging to the same family in the Periodic Table of elements according to which, it was anticipated they would behave similarly). Prof. Apeloig’s research broke ground for new fields and many groups in the world today are researching areas he pioneered.

Two years ago, Prof. Apeloig won the Wacker Silicone Award, the second most prestigious and important prize in silicon chemistry next to the Kipping Award. He won the prize for “his pioneering and groundbreaking achievements in understanding the structure, properties and behavior of organosilicon compounds.”

Organosilicon compounds are not found in nature and are completely man-made. The first compounds from this family were initially produced in the laboratory some 70 years ago for purely academic reasons, by Frederic Stanley Kipping, the pioneer in this field. But almost from the start, as soon as their interesting properties were discovered, they also aroused great interest in industry. Silicones, one of the most important organosilicon materials, have important and unique properties. They are extremely waterproof and therefore are used in preserving structures and as insulation. They do not evoke reactions when in contact with the human body and therefore are commonly used in cosmetic products and various implantations as well as in materials inserted into the body such as catheters and infusions. They also hold up exceptionally well under severe weather conditions and drastic temperature changes. For example, the boots worn by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, were made of silicon rubber, which is the only material known to man that can stand up under the extreme conditions on the moon’s surface.

September 9, 2009 International School of Engineering Opens At Technion

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The Technion’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering has launched an International Program in Infrastructure and Environmental Engineering. The program will be conducted in English and is intended for students from abroad. This year, the first class will begin with 23 students and will be, in the words of Prof. Arnon Bentur, dean of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering: “the nucleus for attaining a vision of setting up an international school in all engineering fields at the Technion, within whose framework, within a decade, will be studying 1,000 students from all corners of the globe.”

The four women students and 19 males come from 14 countries on five continents – North America (the US and Canada), South America (Uruguay and Peru), Europe (Italy, Denmark, France, Spain and Albania), Africa (South Africa, Ghana and Guinea) and Asia (China and India). 30% of the students are from developing countries.

The goals of the new International School are:

  • Training students from abroad in those fields of engineering in which the Technion and Israel lead and have an international reputation.
  • Training graduates from developed and developing countries that will serve as “ambassadors of goodwill” for Israel and will give a boost to Israeli industry in the global market.
  • The Zionist aspect of attracting talented Jewish youth to a program integrating Zionism and engineering studies on an international academic level.
  • An infrastructure for absorbing students from universities abroad for short-term study periods in the framework of various student exchanges.
  • Creating contact between Israeli students and those from abroad with the aim of exposing Israeli students to how things work in the global world.
  • Attracting outstanding students from all over the world as potential candidates for advanced degree studies.

“The curriculum is identical to the Hebrew one in the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering,” added Prof. Bentur. “The field in which we deal – building and infrastructure – is a global one. Many Israeli companies in this field operate abroad. We believe that upon completion of their studies our students will be ambassadors of goodwill for Israel in their countries and some will even be representatives of Israeli companies abroad.” He stressed the reputation and multidisciplinary character of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which enables training engineers on the cutting edge of science and technology in order to answer to needs of the 21st century in infrastructure and environment.

The School’s administrative director, Prof. Amnon Katz, says that, at first, the students will study in a four-month preparatory program, in which they will also learn Hebrew. “We are talking about a bidirectional process. On one hand, we will export the tremendous amount of knowledge accumulated in the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering and in Israel in infrastructure and water and will turn graduates of a program into leaders in their field and ambassadors of goodwill for Israel. On the other hand, our students will benefit from meeting talented students from all over the world.”

The School’s operative manager, Ariel Geva, cited the success in recruiting students, which is a result of the Technion’s international reputation and extensive marketing efforts that included, among other things, visiting leading high schools in the US and Europe, visiting international study fairs and exposure on the Internet. “To all these, we have to add the commitment of the Technion administration to leading this strategic process,” he added. “The students in the International School will receive special attention that will include individualized mentoring in academic and social areas and a social/experience program that will include getting to know Israeli society and the country.”

July 9, 2009 A Tiny Robot Invented to Crawl Through Your Veins

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news_id92Scientists at  Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology have created a tiny robot able to crawl through a person’s veins in order to diagnose and potentially treat artery blockage and cancer. The world’s smallest robot, with a diameter of one millimetre, it is powered by an external magnetic field allowing it to be controlled for an unlimited amount of time during medical procedures.

Oded Salomon, a research engineer in the Technion Faculty of Mechanical Engineering’s Kahn Medical Robotics Laboratory, conceived the tiny robot together with Prof. Moshe Shoham and Dr Nir Schwalb, Technion alum of the lab and now a lecturer at the  Ariel  University  Center. Their miniature “submarine” can negotiate the inner walls of blood vessels using tiny arms which will allow it to withstand blood pressure. The robot is powered by an external magnetic field allowing it to be controlled for an unlimited amount of time during medical procedures.

Known as the ViRob, it is an autonomous crawling micro-robot with possible medical applications in:

Neurosurgery – possible treatment of post-hemorrhagic hydrocephalus in preterm infants.

Brachytherapy – a relatively new approach of providing anti-cancer therapy directly to the afflicted region. ViRob may help administer radiotherapy or chemotherapy, directly to the lung or to the prostate.

Imaging – a camera attached to ViRob can travel inside the spinal canal, ureters or bronchi to a given point, and may produce video images for diagnosis.

However, Prof.Shoham explains that a final product will not be ready for several years. A small enough camera needs to be developed, and an actuation device that will steer the robot once inside the body needs to be perfected. Animal trials are being performed, but human trials are about two years away.

July 5, 2009 A Drug to Treat Heart Disease is Developed at CardiAmit, the first company established by the Alfred Mann Institute at Technion

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The Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Development at the Technion (AMIT) has established its first company – CardiAmit, which is developing a new drug to protect the heart muscle.

The drug is based on a new cardioprotective molecule that has the ability to protect heart cells against damage and death resulting from ischemia – for example, damage caused by heart attacks. The potential world market for this drug is estimated to be billions of dollars annually.

The development of the molecule as a drug protecting heart muscle started in 2004 and was carried out by Prof. Ofer Binah, Prof. Moussa Youdim (who together with Prof. John Finberg developed Teva’s drug for treating Parkinson’s disease), Prof. Zaid Abassi and Dr. Yaron Barac, all of whom are from the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. Two years ago, the project joined the Alfred Mann Institute at the Technion and since then, has progressed significantly.

The drug’s efficacy was demonstrated in a number of animal models, among them models that simulate heart attacks with or without catheterization, cardiac congestion heart failure and cardiac damage caused by chemotherapy. In all the models that were tested, the molecule demonstrated impressive results and decreased the cardiac damage by tens of percentages. In safety tests carried out in the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine and in other labs and institutes in Israel and abroad, specializing in such tests, no side effects or damages were observed.

June 17, 2009 Prestigious Frontiers of Knowledge Prize Awarded To Prof. Jacob Ziv of the Technion

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Professor Jacob Ziv
Professor Jacob Ziv

Prof. Jacob Ziv won the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Information and Communication Technologies for 2008. “Prof. Jacob Ziv’s groundbreaking innovations in data compression have had a deep and lasting impact on both the theory and practice of communications and information technology,” said the Foundation’s judges in their decision. “Ubiquitous in everyday life, Prof. Ziv’s contributions enable efficient storage and transmission of text, data, images, and video. Data compression technologies in computer memories, modems, software distribution and file compression techniques all rely on Prof. Ziv’s ideas and inventions. His seminal contributions to information theory have inspired generations of researchers and practitioners alike… This award recognizes the fundamental role of his work in creating technologies that widely and deeply impact on the information age.”

Lossless compression (compression without losing information), which was developed by Prof. Jacob Ziv and Prof. Abraham Lempel of the Technion, enables reproducing in its entirety information that has been transmitted or saved, thus ensuring that its quality is identical to that of the original. The Lempel-Ziv technique is the most widespread method of this kind of compression and is found in popular compression formats such as GZIP, GIF and TIFF.

Prof. Ziv, a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus in the Technion’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering, is a former President of the Israel Academy of Sciences, a member of the leading American and European scientific societies, the most important of which are the US National Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Engineering and the US Society of Philosophy. He is also a recipient of the International Marconi Award, named after the inventor of the radio.

Watch Prof. Jacob Ziv now: