On the cutting edge

The Intel-Israel Young Scientists Competition put the spotlight on the best and brightest of Israel's next generation.

Cutting edge surgery 521 (photo credit: University of Washington)
Cutting edge surgery 521
(photo credit: University of Washington)
Sharing first prize
In an unexpected turn that put unusual historical insights on par with computers as 2011’s best achievements by teenagers, first prize at the Intel-Israel Young Scientists Competition was shared by a girl who looked into the influence of French philosopher George Sorel on pre-World War II Italian Fascism and a boy who examined the advantages of the computer language Prolog.
President Shimon Peres astounded the crowd at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Givat Ram campus when he announced the unusual results of the judges’ panel, which was headed by Professor Hanoch Gutfreund, an HU physicist and expert on Albert Einstein’s life and work. For most of the history of Intel-Israel’s annual competition, hard science has taken precedence and has gotten the most prestige.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Intel-Israel president Maxine Fassberg were also on hand to greet the 60 finalists.
This time, Helit Orani of Tel Aviv’s Aharon Katzir Municipal High School shared first prize for her perspective on Sorel, who retired at a young age to contemplate and died in 1922 at 73 – but managed to inspire both Communist and Fascist ideologists and to theorize about “revolutionary syndicalism” and the effects of myths on people’s lives.
The 17-year-old history aficionado said Sorel, who unintentionally influenced Mussolini, studied the Bible and was infuriated by the injustice done to French Jewish army officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who had been imprisoned on false charges of spying.
The other first prize winner was Erez Orbach, who studies at Jerusalem’s Sciences and the Arts High School. He explained his computer knowledge to the judges and how the computer language Prolog solves problems by presenting facts and laws in a purely logical way using dry data.
The two first prize winners each received a NIS 12,000 scholarship for one academic year at the university or college of their choice, thanks to Intel-Israel.
Second prize was won by Mia Samuels of the Har Vegai School at Tel Hai, whose natural sciences’ work was in preventing the photochemical breakdown of methylene blue, an aromatic chemical compound that appears as an odorless, dark green powder that turns into a blue solution when dissolved in water.
Samuels showed the effects of its binding to a type of clay mineral that without such links breaks down in a few days. She said implementation of what she added to the understanding of the chemical could lead to the development of more stable colors that could be of much use technologically.
Samuels received a NIS 10,000 scholarship.
Third prize was won by the team of Gal Oren and Nerya Stroh of the Jerusalem College of Technology Torah & Science Yeshiva High School.
Both of them are 19 and are well known after sharing one of the five top prizes at last year’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize. They were cited by Sweden’s ambassador to Israel for their invention of a practical device that measures household water consumption to detect leaks and avoid waste.
The duo, who shared an NIS 8,000 scholarship, explained that their computerized system uses a statistical model to note variations in water use over time and send the consumer a message by cell phone about the possibility of a wasteful and possibly damaging leak. If necessary, the water supply can be disconnected using an electrical switch. The system can send data on water use to a digital display via wireless radio communications.
And now for the surgery robot Open your imagination and you might just find some lifesaving, time saving and an entertaining robotics invention that has already been invented in Israel.
Many of the advances in this science fiction-inspired field are based on the kind of realworld computer programming and artificial intelligence at which Israeli researchers excel.
Robots can aid surgeons in many ways, making delicate procedures safer and more routinely successful.
Recently featured on CNN, world robotics expert Professor Moshe Shoham of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology invented the world’s only robotic tool for back surgery called the SpineAssist.
Developed by Israeli company Mazor Robotics, it’s the smallest of five medical robots in daily use in countries including the United States, Holland and Israel.
“SpineAssist attaches to the patent’s body so that that there is no damage caused to the surrounding nerves when implants are being placed in the spinal cord,” Shoham explained. “One can insert instruments through the arm to minimize damage to vital organs.”
Shoham also developed ViRob, a clever one-millimeter robot that can swim past the stomach to deliver a payload of chemotherapy directly to cancer cells or, when equipped with a camera, take snapshots of a body’s internal landscape for diagnostic purposes. He’s also working on a small robot that can navigate through amniotic fluid to diagnose fetal abnormalities and even help perform in-utero surgery.
Down the hall from Shoham at the Technion is the lab of Professor Alon Tal, whose “snake” robot for endoscopic heart surgery is now in commercial development.
The snake-like robot can be maneuvered around organs for better control and vision during keyhole surgical procedures.
Another research project now in development at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev by Yael Edan is Gestix, a robotics device than enables hands-free image scanning in a surgical theater. This device is intended to allow for a more purely germ-free environment, thereby preventing hospital-acquired infections. Using Gestix, surgeons can manipulate digital images using hand motions rather than touching a screen, keyboard or mouse.