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HU to open first multi-disciplinary scientific research center
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
Center for Converging Sciences and Technologies will include cooperative research groups in the exact, biomedical sciences, as well as in humanities, law and the social sciences.
A facility for cross-disciplinary scientific research on a more comprehensive scale than has been attempted anywhere is being launched by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in cooperation with Yissum, the technology transfer company of the university. The university is establishing a Center for Converging Sciences and Technologies that will include cooperative research groups in the exact, biomedical sciences, as well as in humanities, law and the social sciences, according to Prof. Dan Gazit of HU's dental faculty. Gazit, who is founder and director of the new center, says its first major activity will be a meeting Tuesday afternoon on "New Horizons in Converging Sciences and Technologies." It will be held at the Alan Bronfman Family Reception Center at the university's Mount Scopus campus. At that meeting, to which leading public, academic and industrial figures have been invited, three initial research projects sponsored by the new center will be presented. Gazit explains that while the concept of converging sciences was formulated a few years ago by the US National Science Foundation, that vision did not include those fields outside of the exact and biomedical sciences. The new vision of converging sciences brings together virtually all fields of scholastic endeavor. This, he said, was a new and perhaps even revolutionary approach in scientific cooperation. "A remarkable pool of highly skilled professors already exists within the various faculties of the Hebrew University from which experts with diverse talents can be drawn for projects within the center," he notes, but the center will aim also to attract the best scientific minds from elsewhere. The new center will involve cooperative planning and definition of research projects that will be examined from a number of perspectives involving elements of scientific, economic, ethical, societal and legal aspects, Gazit explains. Thus the center will be able to promote the study of scientific questions that can be resolved only by combining the expertise of scientists stemming from the fields of biotechnology/biomedicine, nanotechnology/nanoscience, information technology, cognitive science, arts and humanities together. In the future, the center intends to develop teaching programs for those studying for B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D degrees, Gazit says. One example of a suitable interdisciplinary project is one he directs for tissue and organ engineering. Gazit and colleagues have already shown adult stem cells can be used to grow bone, cartilage, ligament and tendon tissues to treat millions of people suffering from injuries or degenerative diseases. The project incorporates elements of stem cell biology, nanotechnology, informatics, genetics and issues related to medical ethics, law and public opinion. The three new converging science projects being funded through the new center will be presented at the Tuesday meeting. One projects combines nanotechnology, medicine and business to develop and market nanodevices and sensors for detecting the causes of diseases. Another mixes physical chemistry, archeology, linguistics and computer science to investigate the prehistoric origins of the Hebrew language, using a computerized comparison of various texts taken from archeological findings, while a third project blends biomedicine, cognitive, social and computer sciences to investigate what is the genetic, hormonal and neurological basis of the altruistic phenomenon in human society. Commenting on the three projects which were chosen from among 10 candidates, Gazit says that "they illustrate the initials - \ - that we use to identify the scope of our new center, and which stand for bio, info, nano, cogno, arts and humanities."
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