Oxford honors BGU president with graduate scholarships

By
July 17, 2011 05:49

New Worlds: Despite well-known tensions between British academia and Israel, British university will offer scholarship in name of Rivka Carmi.

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Rivka Carmi, current president of BGU

Rivka Carmi 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Despite well-known tensions – for political reasons – between British academia and Israel, there is good news from Beersheba and Oxford on this front. Oxford University will soon be offering a post-graduate scholarship to a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev graduate, the two universities agreed recently. Unusually, they will be called the Rivka Carmi Scholarships to honor Prof. Rivka Carmi, current president of BGU, who was the first woman dean of an Israeli medical school (BGU’s Health Sciences Faculty) and an accomplished geneticist and pediatrician by training. Carmi has also devoted much of her professional career – both medical and administrative – to working with those on the margins of society.

The scholarships will be offered at Oxford’s Exeter College, and will be open to masters and PhD graduates of any discipline, with priority given to women, minorities or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Founded in 1314, Exeter College celebrates diversity and excellence in teaching and research. Its academic fellows come from a dozen different countries, from as far away as India, Australia and the US, and as close as Europe. Unique among the Oxford colleges, it has its own Careers and Internships Office to help students excel after graduation, and boasts strong integration between undergraduates, graduates and Fellows. “This is the first time that any Israeli university has partnered with Oxford,” said Rector Frances Cairncross, noting that the connection will hopefully nurture personal relationships. Oxford registrar Prof. Ewan McKendrick welcomed the scholarships as a “refreshing idea for promoting all that is best at universities.”

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“The Rivka Carmi Scholarships will broaden the horizons of BGU students through the one-of-a-kind relationship with this exceptional educational institute,” said Prof. Raymond Dwek of Oxford’s Glycobiology Institute and emeritus fellow of Exeter, who has been a close partner in the creation of the scholarship as well as the creation of the British-Israel Life Sciences Council of which he and Carmi are co-chairs. Dwek noted that collaboration between Oxford and BGU was David Ben-Gurion’s dream. He once remarked, “…I dream of a sort of Hebrew Oxford in the Negev.”

“I am humbled and honored by the initiative of BGU’s great supporter and my personal advisor and friend Prof. Raymond Dwek, whose commitment to help BGU realize David Ben-Gurion’s dream to create an Oxford in the desert has inspired us all,” Carmi said.

HOW IS BEAUTY BEHELD? If you’ve wondered about it, beauty is in the medial orbito-frontal cortex of the beholder. A region at the front of the brain “lights up” when we experience beauty in a piece of art or a musical excerpt, according to new research funded by England’s Wellcome Trust. The study, published recently in the open-access journal PLoS One, suggests that the one characteristic that all works of art have in common is that they lead to activity in that same region of the brain. The study goes some way to supporting the views of David Hume and others, that beauty lies in the beholder rather than in the object.

“The question of whether there are characteristics that render objects beautiful has been debated for millenia by artists and philosophers of art, but without an adequate conclusion,” said Prof. Semir Zeki from University College London. “So too has the question of whether we have an abstract sense of beauty, that is to say one which arouses in us the same powerful emotional experience regardless of whether its source is, for example, musical or visual. It was time for neurobiology to tackle these fundamental questions.”

Twenty-one volunteers from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds rated a series of paintings or pieces of music as “beautiful,” “indifferent” or “ugly.” They then viewed these pictures or listened to the music while lying in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures activity in the brain.

Zeki and colleague Dr. Tomohiro Ishizu found that an area at the front of the brain known as the medial orbito-frontal cortex – which is part of the pleasure and reward center – was more active in subjects when they listened to a piece of music or viewed a picture that they had previously rated as beautiful. By contrast, no particular region of the brain correlated generally with artwork previously rated ‘ugly,’ though the experience of visual ugliness when contrasted with the experience of beauty did correlate with activation in a number of regions.

The medial orbito-frontal cortex has previously been linked to appreciation of beauty, but this is the first time that scientists have been able to show that the same area of the brain is activated for both visual and auditory beauty. This implies that beauty does, indeed, exist as an abstract concept within the brain. The medial orbito-frontal cortex was not the only region to be activated by beauty. As might be expected, the visual cortex, which responds to visual stimuli, was more active when viewing a painting than when listening to music, and vice versa for the auditory cortex. “Almost anything can be considered art, but we argue that only creations whose experience correlates with activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex fall into the classification of beautiful art,” Zeki concluded.


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