In an effort to develop less expensive and more efficient water resources
throughout the world, the presidents of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and
the University of Chicago launched a collaboration program on Sunday that will
foster water research at a molecular scale.
president Rivka Carmi and University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer signed
the agreement at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. President Shimon Peres
and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – the latter of whom spearheaded the initiative –
attended the signing ceremony.
Joint activities between the two
institutions may include the exchange of visiting faculty members, researchers
and students, as well as the development of funding proposals for collaborative
work and the generation of commercial technologies and business ventures,
according to the universities.
“The scarcity of water is a source of
political crises [and] uncontrolled immigration,” Carmi said at a press
conference at the David Citadel Hotel following the ceremony.
something central that the world is really looking at – providing inexpensive
fresh water,” she continued.
“The idea to collaborate in a very big, very
meaningful project was very appealing to us” Heading the partnership on the
University of Chicago side will be Matthew Tirrell, the Pritzker director of the
university’s Institute for Molecular Engineering, along with scientists from
Argonne National Laboratory, which is managed jointly by the university and the
US Department of Energy.
The Israeli team will be led by Moshe Gottlieb,
BGU’s Frankel Professor of Chemical Engineering and the founder of the Ilse Katz
Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
Carmi and Zimmer on March
8 signed a memorandum of understanding in Chicago geared toward exploring the
research partnership, but Carmi credited Emanuel as being “the spirit behind the
“We want to do something big,” she said. “The fact
that Mayor Emanuel had very big things on his mind as usual was very
The idea for the partnership began when Emanuel and Zimmer
began discussing the idea of creating a water research collaboration with a
major Israeli university about 18 months ago, the mayor explained at the press
conference. Researchers at BGU, Emanuel continued, understand the importance of
water as a commodity.
The resource is part of Chicago’s enormous
infrastructure investment, one of the largest water and infrastructure
investments in the United States, according to Emanuel. As the investment moves
forward, 900 miles of water pipes will be replaced, 670 miles of sewer lines
will be repaired or replaced, 160,000 separate catch basins will be totally
rebuilt, two water treatment stations will be rebuilt and the pumping stations
on Lake Michigan will also be rehabilitated. All in all, 18,000 people will work
on these urban water projects over the next decade, and the repairs will be
equivalent to saving two years worth of residential water, Emanuel explained. In
its various “sister city” programs, Chicago includes water management as an
integral component, he added.
“I want the city of Chicago to be at the
epicenter of water conservation and engineering,” the mayor said, stressing that
through the partnership with BGU, the University of Chicago will be able to
bring the city to the forefront of research on a resource that has become scarce
for the entire world.
“UChicago is on the shoreline of one of the largest
fresh bodies of water in the world,” Emanuel said, noting that BGU, on the other
hand, is in the middle of a desert.
“While totally different in
environment, the missions are the same.”
The joint research projects will
be based on “a web of collaborations” that is “anchored by this collaboration
between Ben-Gurion University and the University of Chicago,” Zimmer said. Also
critical will be the participation of the Argonne National Laboratory, which
grew out of the World War II-era Manhattan Project and eventually became a
multifaceted scientific laboratory.
Also joining the partners will be
scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woodshole, Massachusetts,
At the signing, Peres said, “It will be a service to
humanity, to individuals and to future generations.”
University of Chicago team leader, is also in the process of building his
university’s first engineering program, and is making molecular engineering for
water resources part of the core curriculum there.
“Not only is water a
lifeessential molecule, but another thing that is getting increased attention is
what’s coming to be called in the States the water-energy nexus, the idea that
it takes energy to produce water and it takes water to produce energy,” Tirrell
Having visited Israel three times in the past seven months to hone
initial project ideas, Tirrell observed that Israel has “a documented and
longstanding ability to tackle” water problems, and is therefore an ideal
One of the potential projects, which will involve principal
investigators and students from each of the institutions, includes producing
self-cleaning membranes that would typically build up bacterial films, Tirrell
explained. Another project could include creating catalytic processes to remove
organic wastes from industrial screens. Yet another could lead to tracing how
water flows in groundwater to better understand contamination factors, he
Seed money is coming from the two universities and the Argonne
Laboratory and thus far can support approximately five projects, Tirrell
“Together, we aim at translating molecular-level science into
technological innovations,” added Gottlieb, the lead professor from the Israeli
side. “We jointly have the skills, we have the expertise and with the proper
resources we are certain that this partnership will bring about the timely
solution of water problems that we are seeking.”