A nine-story, $150 million multidisciplinary center devoted to the “science of the small” will be dedicated on Monday at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
The Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Nanotechnology Triplex is notable not only for its being the tallest and perhaps the most impressive building on campus, but for its having attracted 40 scientists from a wide variety of fields, including 13 young Israeli Ph.Ds who returned from leading universities abroad to further pursue their research careers here.
Invisible except by special electron microscopes, nanotech materials are in the range of 100 billionths of a meter or smaller in at least one dimension.
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BIU president Moshe Kaveh and vice president for research Prof. Harold Basch presented the center on Sunday to science journalists who toured the facility, along with Prof. Arie Zaban, the director of the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials.
The institute has been functioning for three years in other accommodations, but the work is expected to further flourish under the roomy and well-equipped conditions in the new, 7,000-square-meter building.
In addition to 38 labs of different scientific fields, mixed on each floor to encourage the cross-fertilization of ideas, there are 400 meters of space two floors below the entrance being prepared with tables that will float on air so that no vibrations from nearby Geha Highway and electromagnetic forces will interfere with delicate measurements or procedures involving nanotech materials.
Nanotechnology, “without exaggeration, will change our daily life and quality of life,” said Kaveh, who first heard of “tiny materials” when he was a researcher at Cambridge University labs decades ago.
It is expected to bring about new, more effective drugs to target specific cancerous cells, create materials that never existed before, such as textiles that kill bacteria while used in hospitals, more efficient photovoltaic cells turning solar rays into electricity, microscopic robots fighting disease in the body, and an endless list of applications not yet contemplated.
Microbiology Prof. Shulamit Michaeli and colleagues have discovered a mechanism that – if a specific molecule is found, will be able to get parasites such as those that cause sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease to “commit suicide” and cure themselves.
During the tour of the labs, workmen were whizzing about, bringing in new desks and lab equipment and setting down marble flooring insets as the smell of paint was everywhere.
Bar-Ilan’s president said that Israel has lost up to 1,000 young post-doctoral scientists to research institutes abroad, mostly in the US, in the last decade due to the lack of science budgets.
“Israel has the best brains, but not enough money. But investment in infrastructure can bring back 20 times as much in new products and patents in a wide variety of fields,” he added.
“The best of the Jewish world donated for this center,” he said.
Zaban, who himself is an expert in the development of photovoltaic
cells that eventually will be put on ordinary rooftops, said his new
center “is one of most exciting places in world, where different
languages of science are spoken and melded.”
In the last three
years, its scientists have forged academic cooperation agreements with
other academic institutions around the world and with leading companies
such as General Motors, IBM, Siemens and Philips.
The Israelis who left “have returned here because it is good here and good to do sciences in Israel at the highest level.” A Science/Health Page feature on the Bar-Ilan University nanotech center will appear on Sunday.