Multinational cosmetics firm L’Oreal and UNESCO have named a Weizmann Institute biologist working in the field of probiotics, commonly referred to as beneficial bacteria, “Europe’s top young researcher.” For her work in researching probiotics to treat disease, Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky will receive a two-year $40,000 postdoctoral scholarship.
During the past three years, young Israeli women have been able to apply for the program, which began 14 years ago and aims at promoting research among women starting out their scientific careers. There are only 15 annual fellowship winners around the world.
Among the members of the Israeli judges’ panel who selected her to compete with others in Europe are several senior Israeli women scientists, including Israel Science Academy president Prof. Ruth Arnon, Nobel Prize for Chemistry laureate Prof. Ada Yonath, Ben-Gurion University president Prof. Rivka Carmi (who is also a renowned pediatrician and geneticist) and Prof. Ephrat Levy- Lahad, head of the medical genetics department at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
L’Oreal Israel CEO Nava Ravid said her company regards helping young women scientists as vital to their work. In the last century, 95 percent of all Nobel laureates have been men, she said.
“The world needs science, and science needs women, especially now,” she added.
Science and Technology Minister Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz said Geva- Zatorsky is living proof of the scientific power of Israel and the rising force of women in science. He said he hoped this was one in a chain of top prizes that she would receive for her work.
Knesset women’s lobby chairman MK Rachel Adatto, a physician by training, said the winner is an example of the growing number of Israeli women who contribute to science.
“I hope that her research will lead to an improved quality of life in Israel and in the world,” Adatto said.
Geva-Zatorsky arrived on Wednesday in Paris to receive her award and discuss her work, which aims at using “good bacteria” to treat diseases from gastroenterological disorders and diabetes to immune disorders and cancer. She noted that the body contains 10 times more bacteria than human cells, adding that “the bacteria that grow in the body from birth have a vital influence on our bodies and our health.”
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“Israel can win the battle for survival only by developing expert knowledge in technology,” said the great scientist Albert Einstein in 1923. He had come to the Jewish homeland to plant a palm tree in his capacity as the first president of the Technion Society.
The following year, what is now the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology opened in Haifa with 17 students — 16 men and one woman.
But the hard work of Einstein and many others toward founding Israel’s first modern university had been years in the planning. “The Technikum” was meant as an alternative for European Jewish youth who were denied opportunities for technical studies in their native countries. This dream of establishing and maintaining a basis for Jewish industry got its tangible start on April 11, 1912, with the laying of the Technion cornerstone.
Now one of the premier technology institutes in the world, the Technion is in the last few months of its centennial celebration. And it has been a banner year for the institute. Prof. Dan Shechtman became the third Technion faculty member to win a Nobel Prize, and the Technion was chosen from many other applicants to found an applied science and engineering institute in New York City in tandem with Cornell University.
To kick off the year-long celebration last April, the Technion produced a short film highlighting its origins and major accomplishments, says Danny Shapiro, the university’s public affairs officer.
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Judea Pearl, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, has been awarded the prestigious Turing Award this week.
Pearl, 75, was being honored for “innovations that enabled remarkable advances in the partnership between humans and machines,” the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) stated.
Pearl is a professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was born in Tel Aviv in 1936 and earned degrees from Technion in Israel, Rutgers University and Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Pearl is considered a philosopher as well as a computer scientist.
He is the father of Daniel Pearl, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.
Judea Pearl’s accomplishments over the last 30 years have provided the theoretical basis for progress in artificial intelligence and led to extraordinary achievements in machine learning. His research laid the foundation for such inventions as the iPhone’s Siri speech recognition technology and Google’s driverless cars.
“His work serves as the standard method for handling uncertainty in computer systems, with applications ranging from medical diagnosis, homeland security and genetic counseling to natural language understanding and mapping gene expression data,” the ACM said.
“His influence extends beyond artificial intelligence and even computer science, to human reasoning and the philosophy of science,” it added.
Pearl has been honored by the industry and his peers many times. Last year he was inducted into the IEEE’s (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) AI Hall of Fame, and he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computers and Cognitive Science from the Franklin Institute in 2008.
The Turing award, named for British mathematician Alan M. Turing and considered the “Nobel Prize in Computing,” carries a $250,000 prize sponsored by computer chip giant Intel and Internet titan Google.
An Israeli research team has come up with what it says are simpler and more accurate ways to screen pregnant women for gestational diabetes, a condition with profound implications for the health of both mothers and their unborn and newborn infants.
The researchers, led by Prof. Moshe Hod of Petah Tikva’s Rabin Medical Center, proposed simple alternatives to the standard oral glucose tolerance test, which is usually administered between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy and which involves drinking one or measured doses of glucose and then testing blood sugar levels over a period of hours.
They said using either a simple blood-glucose test, without prior oral glucose ingestion, or measuring the size and weight of the fetus, could increase by up to 50 percent the number of cases of gestational diabetes that are diagnosed in the course of pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes often causes complications such as pregnancy-induced hypertension or an exceptionally big fetus, which increases the chances of child obesity. Every year 10,000 Israeli women – accounting for six percent of all pregnancies – are diagnosed with the disease. That rate is low for Western countries.
“Israeli pregnant women are younger and thinner,” said Dr. Ofra Kalter-Leibovici, director of the Unit of Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Gertner Institute for Epidemiology & Health Policy and a member of the research team. “Therefore they are less prone to suffer from gestational diabetes.”
The team’s recommendations differ from those of a landmark study that was published in 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, carried out by the International Association of the Diabetes and Pregnancy Study Groups, found that the current glucose tolerance tests fall far short of reflecting the real number of women suffering from diabetes during pregnancy.
It recommended using a single-dose, two-hour glucose tolerance test instead of the variant that can include successive ingestion of glucose and multiple blood tests. This recommendation was adopted by the American Diabetes Association.
Recent studies have shown that mild gestational diabetes can be treated through diet and exercise, with only 10 percent of cases requiring medical intervention.
“General practitioners can diagnose gestational diabetes in most cases,” Kalter-Leibovici said. “These cases should not be treated by obstetricians specializing in high-risk pregnancies, who are unable to see all of these patients.”
The findings of the study led by Hod were recently presented at a conference of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.
“We are not adopting the recommendations automatically,” Hod said. “We examine them according to the findings of Israeli and international studies, and measure potential financial costs. In any event, the findings prove that the modes of diagnosis of gestational diabetes need to change.”
A panel will be set up to devise concrete recommendations that will in turn be submitted to respective panels of gynecologists and diabetes specialists for approval. At a later stage they will require the stamp of the the Health Ministry and the country’s health maintenance organizations.
Another team, this one composed of both Israeli and American physicians, is in the process of developing a mathematical model that would assess the overall cost of the suggested alternatives to glucose tolerance tests.
In an extraordinary act of regional cooperation, Israel, Iran, Jordan and Turkey are to jointly provide funds for a particle accelerator as part of their commitment to a UNESCO-sponsored scientific project, it was announced on Wednesday.
Each of the four countries has pledged $5 million toward the SESAME facility, which is being built near Amman. SESAME stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East. According to the UNESCO website, the project aims to “foster scientific and technological excellence in the Middle East and neighboring countries (and prevent or reverse brain drain ) by enabling world-class research,” and to “build scientific and cultural bridges between neighboring countries.”
The project is slated to go online in 2015.
Egypt was originally meant to be one of the sponsors, but the past year’s instability there made it difficult to secure its commitment. From Wednesday’s announcement, it appears that Iran is taking Egypt’s place.
The $20 million isn’t enough to cover the accelerator project. Another $15 million is being sought from Europe and the United States. The SESAME center will ultimately cost $100 million.
“This announcement is a breakthrough in terms of the financial infrastructure,” said Prof. Eliezer Rabinovici, a physicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has attended SESAME planning meetings.
“SESAME had enough money to build the building to house the accelerator, and to install its first components, which are being donated by the Germans. Now this commitment will enable the purchase of a light source for the accelerator,” he said.
Moshe Vigdor, who heads the Planning and Budgeting Committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, said that without this agreement the project would have collapsed.
As for Iran’s involvement, he said, “Science crosses borders and Israel participates in many international scientific forums that include Iran.”
SESAME also includes representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Pakistan, Bahrain and Cyprus.
According to Rabinovici, SESAME’s seeds were sown at a meeting that took place in Dahab, Sinai, three weeks after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Scientists from Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Morocco, as well as Palestinian scientists, were at the meeting.
While terror attacks in the late 1990s moved the working meetings to Europe, work on the project continued, getting a major boost with the donation of a German synchrotron, which will serve as the base for the new accelerator.
Unlike accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the synchrotron is not based on particle collisions but on the cyclic beaming of electrons within the accelerator. When the electrons are accelerated they radiate, and this radiation can be used for screening in archaeology, physics, life sciences, pharmacology and other fields.
There are 60 such synchrotrons in the world, but none in the Middle East.
By Avigayil Kadesh
“We are Ariel Berko and Yoav Levi from Rogozin High School in Kiryat Ata, Israel. In our experiment, that was chosen to be in the big final of the SpaceLab competition, we want to examine the effect of gravity on the mating process of baker’s yeast, which multiplies via sexual reproduction. We think that the yeast will not do sexual reproduction in space because in this process there are many changes in the cells of the yeast and we think that they are affected by gravity.”
That’s how two Israeli 10th-graders described their proposal for YouTube Space Lab, a worldwide competition that challenges 14- to 18-year-olds to design a science experiment that can be done in outer space. The concept was born at a marketing brainstorming session at Google, YouTube’s parent company, and is co-sponsored by Lenovo.
Based on popular votes received by thousands of applicants, the Israeli boys’ yeast experiment made it to the finals. Now the finalists’ ideas are being scrutinized by an international panel of judges including NASA officials, former astronauts Leland Melvin, Frank De Winne and Akihiko Hoshide, and Cirque du Soleil’s founder, Guy Laliberté.
Six regional winners to be announced February 21 will go to Washington, DC, in March to experience a Zero-G flight and receive other prizes including a Lenovo ThinkPad. Two global winners from this group, representing ages 14-16 and ages 17-18, will have their experiments performed 250 miles above Earth in the International Space Station (ISS), live-streamed on YouTube.
The global winners will get a trip to Tanegashima Island, Japan, to watch their experiment blast off in a rocket bound for the ISS. Alternatively, winners may wait until they turn 18 to train with cosmonauts in Star City, Russia.
Yeast and humans
Fifteen-year-old Yoav explains that he and Ariel (16) heard about the competition through the program for gifted young scientists that they attend for two days, three times a year, at the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. “They asked us if we wanted to take part, and we did,” says Ariel.
Their first idea was to see the effect of gravity on human reproductive cells, but that would have necessitated a microscope, which is against the rules of the competition. “So we searched for something in the same model but bigger,” says Yoav. “The Davidson Institute offered us to try it with yeast, and one of the PhD students there helped us plan the experiment.”
Ariel describes yeast as “a very interesting creature from which we can study about humans. We are more developed creatures, but with a lot in common.”
Yeast exists in two varieties: one reproduces asexually and the other sexually, through a complex mating process called “shmooing.” If yeast can reproduce in zero gravity, perhaps humans also could – and vice versa.
Their biology teacher at Rogozin also helped them ready their project, and they described the proposed experiment to all 1,500 students in their school. Kiryat Ata Mayor Yaakov Peretz encouraged everyone in town to get onto the website and vote for the local boys.
If they win, it will be Ariel’s first trip to America. Yoav was there in 2010 as part of a World ORT youth ambassadors program to Atlanta. “They wanted to let us get to know each other,” he explains. “When I came there [kids my age] still thought there are camels in Israel.”