Cooperation Between the Doral Energy and the Technion

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Cooperation Between the Doral Energy and the Technion

Doral Energy-Tech Ventures (Doral-Tech), Doral Energy Group’s innovation and investment arm, will invest in Technion projects in the fields of renewable energy, energy storage, and climate studies. Technion researchers will enjoy access to the Doral Group’s sites in Israel and around the world for the purpose of developing and promoting the technologies

The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Doral have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for strategic cooperation. Under the MOU, both parties will promote research, development, and commercialization on a range of issues, and work towards identifying and realizing joint business opportunities – in response to global challenges in the fields of energy, climate, and the environment.

Doral Energy-Tech Ventures (Doral-Tech), the innovation and investment arm of Doral Energy Group, will invest in various technological projects, including renewable energy, energy storage, agro-solar (integration of agriculture and solar energy), hydrogen production, carbon capture, waste treatment, water, and environmental infrastructure, as well as supporting the Nancy and Stephen Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP).

As part of the collaboration, Doral-Tech will promote the Technion DRIVE Accelerator – the Technion’s accelerator program, while building a mechanism for joint investments and partnering with startups to join the track. In addition, the company will fund advanced applied research and receive initial exposure to invest in renewable energy technologies from the Technion Technology Transfer Unit (T3).

The researchers will have access to Doral’s testing facilities in order to advance selected projects and exposure to markets in Israel and abroad. As part of the agreement, Doral will award scholarships to Technion graduate students.

Roee Furman, CEO of Doral Energy-Tech Ventures

Roee Furman, CEO of Doral Energy-Tech Ventures:  “We are excited and proud of this strategic cooperation with the Technion. This is of commercial and national importance in the development and promotion of the local ecosystem of startups and innovation in the fields of renewable energy, climate, and environmental infrastructure. The Technion has world-renowned researchers, as well as some of the most advanced laboratory infrastructure in the world. Doral will strengthen academic-industrial ties and provide a platform for researchers to move from laboratory research to Doral’s testing sites and applications in diverse projects in Israel and around the world. This engagement with the Technion will provide Doral with additional and unique opportunities for entrepreneurship, locating and investing in breakthrough technologies, and strengthening its position as a pioneer and leader in its field.” 

Technion Vice President for Research Professor Koby Rubinstein

Technion Vice President for Research Professor Koby Rubinstein: “The Technion works in many ways to strengthen research ties with the industry, and with the energy sector in particular. We welcome the collaboration with Doral, which will lead to many important research and application achievements.”



Technion Executive Vice President and Director General Professor Boaz Golany

Technion Executive Vice President and Director General Professor Boaz Golany: “The agreement with Doral is, in our view, the first step in establishing a broader network of cooperation with energy companies and government bodies engaged in the field. The Technion has established, in large part thanks to generous donors such as the Grand Family, a unique research infrastructure for various energy projects, and now it strives to reach its full potential through collaborations with key players in this sector.


How Unwanted Immune Responses are Prevented

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How Unwanted Immune Responses are Prevented

Technion researchers have discovered a mechanism that may prevent the immune system from “going haywire” following a false alarm

Researchers in the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine have deciphered a mechanism that plays a key role in control of the immune system, preventing it from “going haywire” following a false alarm. The study was published in the Journal of Immunology, and was recommended by the editorial board as a top read.

Authors Assistant Professor Debbie Yablonski and doctoral student Enas Hallumi focused on the role of the adaptor protein Gads in controlling the activity of T cells, which are an essential part of the immune system. Their main finding was that this protein serves as a kind of gate or barrier that prevents the immune system from launching an unnecessary attack. T cells are the “foot soldiers of the immune system.” When the body is attacked by an infection, tumor, etc., these cells multiply rapidly, attack the invader, and even mobilize other cells in the body to help them in the attack.

T cell function can be impaired in two main ways: as a result of hypoactivity or hyperactivity. As the term implies, hypoactivity causes a situation in which the body fails to attack the invader, and thus, development of the disease will not be prevented. By contrast, hyperactivity is liable to lead to a chain reaction that is harmful to the body, for example by creating an autoimmune disease or a cytokine storm – a term that rose to prominence during the current pandemic.

The researchers found evidence that an adaptor protein called Gads may be able to prevent a chain reaction of this kind from being initiated. In this sense, Gads serves as a gate that prevents an immune response for as long as the T cells have not been activated. The researchers also found that when the cells are activated by an invader – a virus, tumor, etc. – Gads is “tagged” by the addition of a certain chemical group. This occurs only when two other proteins (LAT and SLP-76) bind to Gads simultaneously to form a multimolecular complex. This binding action opens the gate and activates a T cell so that it may attack the invader. If, on the other hand, only one of the two proteins binds with Gads, the attack will not be launched. According to Prof. Yablonski, “In the present study, we discovered a mechanism that developed in the course of evolution to prevent false alarms, meaning a situation in which the body’s immune response spirals out of control and is liable to harm the organism itself by creating inflammation and other disorders.”

 About the authors:

Dr. Debbie Yablonski is a faculty member at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine (preclinical staff) and a member of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion. She was born in the U.S. and completed her bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at San Francisco.

Enas Hallumi grew up in Kafr Manda, completed her bachelor’s degree at Ben-Gurion University and her master’s degree at the Technion, under Dr. Yablonski’s supervision. Dr. Yablonski is also Enas’s supervisor as a Ph.D. student.

The article was sponsored by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), the Colleck Research Fund, the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion, the Volkswagen Foundation, and the United States – Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF).

Click here for the paper in Journal of Immunology

Orr Zohar named 2021 Knight-Hennessy Scholar

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Orr Zohar named 2021 Knight-Hennessy Scholar

 The scholarship will fund Orr Zohar’s PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where he hopes to develop biomedical imaging tools for neuroscience/neurosurgical navigation

Orr Zohar, who is currently completing his master’s degree in the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Technion, has been selected to continue his studies at Stanford University after being accepted to the prestigious Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. Zohar, 26, is the first Technion student to win the scholarship and is the first Israeli to be accepted to the program in the engineering discipline. He will use the scholarship to fund his PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where he hopes to develop biomedical imaging tools for neuroscience/neurosurgical navigation.

“My interest inis not coincidental”, he says. “Throughout my childhood, my father has undergone several successful neurosurgical procedures. Unfortunately, about two years ago, our luck ran out and he suffered significant motor-speech impairments. The contrast between the outcomes of his past surgeries and this one highlighted for me the importance of building better tools for surgical navigation.” At the end of this summer, Zohar will be leaving to begin his doctorate at Stanford, where he will focus on the connection between computational photography – a technique that enhances or extends digital photography capabilities through the use of digital computation – and biomedical imaging.

Zohar began his studies at the Technion’s Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering, where, already in the first semester, he became actively involved in research in the university’s laboratories and was thus exposed to a wide variety of research fields. Moreover, he authored and published scientific articles while still studying for his bachelor’s degree – quite a rare achievement – and continued to do so during his graduate studies.

As an undergraduate, Zohar spent a summer at Stanford, working in the laboratory of Technion alumnus Professor Adam de la Zerda, where, for the first time, he was exposed to the connection between image processing, optics, and medical research. “The time I spent at Stanford,” he says, “profoundly impacted my interests – for the first time, I was exposed to research in the fields of biomedical imaging and image processing, which greatly influenced my academic direction.” Thus, while still completing his bachelor’s degree, Zohar began studying towards his master’s, majoring in signal processing, image processing, and machine learning. In parallel, he worked as a researcher in the Laboratory of Nanomaterial-based Devices, led by Professor Hossam Haick of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering, where he developed flexible electronics and nanomaterial-based sensors for medical applications.

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program aims to develop a community of emerging leaders capable of working across disciplines and cultures while preparing them to address the world’s challenges through innovation and collaboration. The scholarship is considered one of the world’s most prestigious graduate-level scholarships, where outstanding students and promising leaders can pursue the graduate degree of their choice at Stanford. Funding includes tuition and associated fees, a living stipend, and is awarded to up to one hundred candidates from all over the world every year.

Second Israeli in Space will Take Three Technion Experiments to the ISS

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Second Israeli in Space will Take Three Technion Experiments to the ISS

The experiments were carefully selected by a scientific-technological committee appointed by the Ramon Foundation and the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology; Eytan Stibbe is set to fly to the International Space Station in early 2022

Three Technion projects will be tested onboard the International Space Station, as part of the Ramon Foundation and the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology’s “Rakia Mission.” The projects selected for the mission were announced today at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.

Eytan Stibbe (right) with Technion President Prof. Uri Sivan

Speaking in the name of all winning projects, Prof. Moran Bercovici of the Technion’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering said this is “an adrenaline shot – there are no other words to describe what this mission does to the Israeli space community. This is an extraordinary opportunity on every scale. The schedule is crazy, the challenges are immense, but we will make it; this is in our Israeli DNA, this is what we’re good at. I want to thank all partners: the Ramon Foundation, the Ministry of Science and Technology’s Israeli Space Agency and Rakia Mission’s scientific-technological committee. And a special thank you to Eytan Stibbe for his choice not to content himself with a personal experience, but to devote to science this amazing journey, on which he is taking us all.”

Eytan Stibbe with a lens in Bercovici lab

Eytan Stibbe, one of the founders of the Ramon Foundation, is set to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in early 2022, as part of the Axiom Space Ax-1 Mission, pending NASA and Axiom approvals – the first mission to the Space Station manned entirely by private astronauts. This will make him the second Israeli in space, after Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Columbia Space Shuttle accident.

Stibbe is expected to spend 200 hours on the International Space Station. He will carry out several experiments, offering an opportunity for Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs to examine the feasibility and viability of initiatives, and to advance space research and products. The experiments were recently selected by a science and technology committee appointed by the Ramon Foundation. This space mission assists in overcoming one of the main barriers to entering the aerospace industry – the high cost of astronaut hours for carrying out the research.

Prof. Moran Bercovici

Three revolutionary Technion projects were selected to be tested by Stibbe onboard the International Space Station:

The laboratory of Prof. Moran Bercovici at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering plans to demonstrate the first-ever fabrication of optical components in space. The Fluidic Telescope Experiment (FLUTE) was designed and built by Dr. Valeri Frumkin, Mor Elgarisi, and Omer Luria, under the guidance of Prof. Bercovici, in collaboration with a team of researchers at NASA, led by Dr. Edward Balaban. The experiment onboard ISS will investigate the ability to leverage the microgravity environment to produce high-quality lenses by shaping liquids into a desired form, followed by their solidification. A successful demonstration onboard the ISS will pave the way for fabrication of advanced optical components in space, including the creation of extremely large space telescopes, overcoming today’s launch constraints.

Dr. Igal Kornhaus demonstrating the size of one CubeSat unit

The teams of Prof. Ehud Behar and Prof. Shlomit Tarem from the Physics Department, spearheaded by Ph.D. student Roi Rahin, are developing a gamma-ray burst localizing instrument – a device they named GALI. Gamma ray bursts are produced by exploding stars going to supernova, as well as by the collision of neutron stars. The same events also produce gravitational waves, bringing the study of the two phenomena into close association. The main challenge facing scientists is being able to localize in the sky where the gamma ray burst is coming from, which would then allow astronomers around the world to point their telescopes towards the event. GALI improves on earlier detectors by utilizing sensors significantly smaller than were previously used, arranged in an innovative 3D array. It is thanks to this unique arrangement that, while being much smaller than previous gamma-ray burst detectors, GALI promises to be more precise in its directionality capabilities.

Inbal Kreiss of the Ramon Foundation, Eytan Stibbe, and Ph.D. student Roi Rahin with the Tarem-Behar experiment

Finally, the Aerospace Plasma Lab, headed by Dr. Igal Kronhaus from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, is developing a tiny engine for CubeSats – miniature satellites made of cubic modules 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm in size. Their engine, called “Inline-Screw-Feeding Vacuum-Arc-Thruster,” and fuel supply together are no bigger than a human finger, but can provide enough impulse to maintain a flight of satellites in a formation for months or more. The fuel, a small titanium wire, is safe to hold in one’s hand. The engine will be placed on the exterior of the International Space Station and be operated under conditions of hard vacuum and extreme temperatures.

Two more of the selected projects have their roots in the Technion: one comes from Aleph Farms – a cultured meat startup. Aleph Farms’ technology was developed b

The plasma trail of the engine in a vacuum tank in the Aerospace Plasma Lab (Kornhaus lab)

ased on Prof. Shulamit Levenberg’s research in the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering. The other is by OncoHost – a personalized cancer treatment startup, based on research conducted by Prof. Yuval Shaked of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion.

All projects must now undergo a rigorous design review process in order to be ready to launch.

The Technion Returns to Space

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The Technion Returns to Space

On March 22, the Adelis- SAMSON project – an autonomous satellite that will detect high precision earth-based satellites – was launched into space. This is the first simultaneous launch of three Israeli satellites. The project was developed with the support of the Adelis Foundation, the Goldstein Foundation, the Israeli Space Agency in the Ministry of Science and IAI

Technion President Uri Sivan: “Every time you look up at the sky, remember that the Technion has returned to space”

On Monday morning, at 8:07 Israel time, the autonomous satellite group developed at the Technion as part of the “Adelis- SAMSON ” project was launched into space aboard a Glavkosmos Soyuz rocket. The satellites were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan – the world’s first spaceport, and the first site to send a human into space (April 1961, Yuri Gagarin). The Adelis-Samson project is supported by the Adelis Foundation, the Goldstein Foundation, and the Israeli Space Agency in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Aerospace.

Four hours and twenty minutes after the launch, the Adelis- SAMSON satellites entered orbit. Thirty minutes later, they “woke up” and began operating their systems.

Watching the live broadcast from the control center at the Asher Space Research Institute were Technion President, Professor Uri Sivan, Vice President and CEO Professor Boaz Golani, Vice President for Foreign Relations and Resource Development Professor Alon Wolf, Head of the Asher Space Research Institute  Professor Yoram Rosen, and the people who have been accompanying the project since its inception, headed by Professor Pini Gurfil of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and the Asher Space Research Institute .

“This morning’s launch was accompanied by tremendous excitement”, said Prof. Pini Gurfil. “A basic study over the course of many years, combined with advanced Israeli technology, allows Israel to take an important step forward in the field of micro-satellites. You could compare the innovation of nanosatellites to switching from the computer to the cellphone. The Adelis- SAMSON project demonstrates a new concept in nanosatellites and will enable many operations to be carried out that have been reserved until now for large and expensive satellites. This is a leap in the field of miniature satellites in the capabilities of the Technion and for the entire State of Israel, and one which will make the Technion a global pioneer in the fields of location and communication, with diverse applications including missing persons detection, search and rescue, remote sensing and environmental monitoring”.

The trio of satellites will move in space in an autonomous structure flight, that is, they will move in coordination with each other without the need for guidance from the ground. The band will be used to calculate the location of radiating sources on Earth, a technology that will be applied in locating people, planes, and ships. Each of the three miniature satellites (CubeSats) weighs about 8 kg and is replete with sensors, antennae, computer systems, control systems, navigation devices, and a unique and innovative propulsion system. The satellites will travel at an altitude of 600 km above ground and will detect high precision signals from Earth. The signals will be transmitted to a special mission control center inside the Asher Space Research Institute. The mission receiver developed by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).

“The Adelis- SAMSON project is a wonderful and exciting example of the successful integration of science and technology and the translation of innovative ideas into effective systems that contribute to humanity”, said Prof. Uri Sivan, President of the Technion. “Scientific and technological breakthroughs require multidisciplinary research and close collaboration between academia and industry, and this is what has led the project to this important day. Each time that you look up at the sky, remember that the Technion has succeeded again in reaching space”.

“The current project continues a Technion tradition that began in 1998 with the successful launch of the Gurwin-TechSat II“, added the Technion President. “That satellite operated in space for more than 11 years, a record time for academic activity in space. The launch of Adelis- SAMSON is a dramatic moment that we have been waiting nine years for and will follow closely. I sincerely thank our partners at the Adelis Foundation, the Goldstein Foundation, the Israel Space Agency and the Israel Aerospace Industries for helping us make this project a reality”.

The unique development of these satellites was made possible by an exceptional collaboration between academia and industry. A special propulsion system, based on krypton gas, will be the first of its kind in the world to operate on a tiny satellite. The digital receiver and the directional control system were developed at IAI’s plant, in collaboration with Technion researchers. In addition to the propulsion system, the satellites will accumulate energy through solar panels that will be deployed  from each satellite and will serve as wings that will control, if necessary, the flight of the formation without the use of fuel, using air resistance in the atmosphere. Each of the nanosatellites is fitted with one of the most complex digital receivers ever designed. The system for processing the information on the satellite and the algorithms that will keep the structures flying is among the first of their kind in the world, and support the simultaneous autonomous operation of all three satellites. The navigation system includes two GPS receivers for autonomous navigation. The system through which the three nanosatellites will communicate with each other, as well as with the ground station, will be operated at three different frequencies – a significant challenge that was resolved in the current project. A dedicated frequency will be used to transmit information to Earth through broadband.

Satellite control and propulsion systems are also a technological innovation. To save fuel, the satellites are aided by two natural forces – gravity and atmospheric resistance – and thus propel themselves. In this way they need a small amount of fuel – less than a gram of fuel per day per satellite. This achievement is the result of ten years of research that preceded the launch.

The monitoring of the satellites and the collection of data that will be transmitted will take place at the Adelis- SAMSON control station, inaugurated at the Technion in 2018. Built with the support of the Adelis Foundation, it contains an array of antennas made by Israeli Orbit company and will communicate continuously with the satellites.

In the words of Mrs. Rebecca Boukhris, Adelis Foundation Trustee: “For many years, space and space technology have been considered the domain of superpowers, and too grand, expensive, and complex for small countries. Israel has demonstrated that this is not the case, and it is vital that it is a member of the elite international space community. The rapid development of the space industry in Israel is essential. This project is unique for the Adelis Foundation in that it symbolizes the spirit, genius, and strength of Israel. In effect, it highlights the technological and scientific brilliance of Israel and positions our country on the world map in the field of aerospace, and all this on a modest budget within the university setting of Technion. The Adelis Foundation considers itself as sowing the seeds of the future and hopes that this project will be the first of many more. We hope that many other small and brilliant projects will take the Adelis-SAMSON mission as an example and develop a new ingenious space mission for the benefit of the State of Israel”.

“The field of nano-satellites has recently been booming and the number of launches is increasing every year”, says Avi Blasberger, director of the Israeli Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. “The cost of developing and launching such satellites, capable of performing a variety of uses, is significantly lower than those of regular satellites. In the near future networks are expected to appear to include thousands of nanosatellites that will cover the Earth and enable high-speed internet communication at a significantly lower cost than is currently available, as well as having many other applications such as the one demonstrated in the SAMSON satellites”.

“We see great importance in our collaboration with the Technion to promote academic research and future technologies in the field of space”, says IAI President & CEO Boaz Levy. “IAI, Israel’s ‘National Space House’, sees high value in its connection to academia on the business and technological levels to advance Israel’s continued innovation and leadership in the field of space. This partnership promotes the development of the entire ecosystem and IAI is proud to join forces in this innovative and groundbreaking project”.

Among the many partners of Technion’s Adelis-SAMSON project are the Adelis Foundation, the Goldstein Foundation, the Israeli Space Agency in the Ministry of Science, and IAI. From the Technion, many researchers from the Asher Space Research Institute participated in the project – Avner  Kaidar, Hovik Agalarian, Dr. Vladimir  Balabanov,  Eviatar Edlerman, Yaron Oz, Maxim Rubanovich, Margarita Shamis, Yulia  Kouniavsky, Tzahi Ezra, and Dr. Alex  Frid, as well as many students over the years.

Time to Care – Tackle Health Challenges and Propose Technological Solutions

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Time to Care – Students from the Technion and Cornell Tech together tackle health challenges and propose technological solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic may have created many obstacles, but it also provided opportunities for finding creative ways to overcome them. On January 14th, joint teams of students from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell Tech took part in the final event of a semester-long ideation course, where they presented technological solutions for health challenges.

The course represented the first virtual version of the iTrek program, a yearly effort of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech that brings New York City-based master’s degree students to Israel to collaborate with Technion students and faculty. While COVID may have kept the Cornell Tech students at home, it did not stop them from visiting Israel virtually and working closely with colleagues in Haifa.

This year’s iTrek was organized and executed under the leadership of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, by Co-Directors Michael Escosia, Assistant Director of Operations, and Lucie Milanez, the Project Manager and Program Coordinator at Technion, and the MindState Ideation Lab. Co-founded by Tamar Many (Shenkar College, Tel Aviv University) and Henk van Assen (Yale, Parsons School of Design), MindState explores societal challenges through an interdisciplinary, human-centric methodology to achieve innovative change.  The main event, titled Time to Care, was a joint project of MindState Ideation Lab, the Technion, and Cornell Tech, with help and cooperation from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Academic leadership of the program was provided by Assistant Professor Joachim Behar, Director of the Technion Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Laboratory (AIMLab), Professor Ron Brachman, Director of the Jacobs Institute, and Professor Ariel Orda, the Jacobs Program Head at the Technion. Teaching assistance was provided by Sofia Segal of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at Technion. 

Twelve multi-disciplinary teams mixed with Technion and Cornell Tech students and professional designers from companies such as Wix, Lightricks, Google, Climacell, and Similar Web took part in the competition through the virtual spaces of Zoom and GatherTown. They, along with mentors from Sourasky Medical Center, tackled problems as varied as communication between patients and staff, challenges of a nurse’s daily routine, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and even reducing food waste in hospitals.

The winner Defi aims to develop a portable defibrillator, which runs on a mobile phone’s power supply. They based their project off the fact that access and timely application of a defibrillator can save the life of a person suffering from a heart attack. The team of Ravit Abel (Nanoscience and Nanotechnology M.Sc. Candidate), Alon Gilad (Biomedical Engineering M.Eng. candidate) and Idan Shenfeld (B.Sc. in Computer Engineering, Rothschild program) from the Technion, together with Ashley Dai (Operations Research M.Eng. candidate) and Eric Chan (Double M.Sc. candidate in Applied Information Science and Information Systems) from Cornell Tech proposed a conceptual solution which would eliminate the large battery that constitutes most of the existing defibrillator’s bulk and charge it instead within seconds from any mobile phone. An accompanying app would provide instructions, automatically contact emergency services, and provide caregivers real-time information about the patient’s status. If the groups’ conceptual design would prove feasible, the defibrillator could become compact, cheap, and easy to use.

Second prize went to Minder, aimed at helping the elderly population keep track of medication and stay in touch with physicians as part of their daily routine. Third prize winner, Libi, targets patients recovering post-heart-attack by helping reduce a second incident of cardiac arrest through tracking and education.

By bringing together academics and industry leaders and mixing skills, the Ideation Competition was viewed as “an amazing experience.” Following their victory, Defi team members attributed their success to the, “opportunities [they had] to work with top professionals in the field, and to learn about the business side of creating a technological solution concept.” They added that “between us, we all come from different fields; we were able to put together our strengths, come up with different ideas, and achieve together what none of us could have achieved alone.”

Innovation, design thinking, and social impact have always been the driving force of the Jacobs iTrek program. Professor Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Sourasky Medical Center and one of the judges of the competition, concluded the final event by encouraging the teams to “keep on innovating because this is the way to advance medicine, even in the time of an epidemic and pandemic.”

The participating students are either in advanced years of their bachelor’s degrees, or in their graduate degrees. Defi was mentored by Professor Yaron Arbel, director of the Cardiovascular Research Centre at Sourasky Medical Center, and Mr. Eyal Kellner, CIO at the Sourasky Medical Center. The design team assisting them included Elad Rahmin, Oren Elbaz, and Vera Mordehayev from Climacell.

The activity was sponsored by Monday, IMed Medical Habitat, the Technion, the Jacobs Institute at Cornell Tech and the Israel Council for Higher Education. Prize awards in the total amount of $10,000 were provided by the Dr. Joseph Holt and Halaine Maccabee Rose Fund.

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

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.

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.