A prize-winning relationship

By Daniel Peltz, October 24, 2011

Israel has once again proved its academic excellence with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Professor Dan Shechtman of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. Professor Shechtman's Nobel takes Israel's total to 10, half of them for science. This is remarkable for a country which has been in existence for only 63 years and has a population of a mere eight million.

Nobel Prizes are hard to come by. Prof Shechtman won his by discovering a new form of crystal 30 years ago, for which other scientists ridiculed him and caused him to be expelled from his research group. Quasicrystals have since been found in certain forms of steel and can be used in frying pans or diesel engines. It took outstanding courage for him to stand up for his beliefs for so long.

This attitude of never giving in to the status quo represents the backbone of Israeli scientific endeavour. Israel is now globally recognised for creating products which have a life-changing impact on people everywhere, irrespective of their religious or political beliefs. Despite the global criticism Israel endures on a regular basis, it dedicates its resources to going out and helping those in need. When Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake, Israeli search-and-rescue teams were among the first to fly in and respond on the ground to the injured, while millions of people in Africa and China have been saved through the development, in Israel, of a biological control for mosquitoes and black flies to combat malaria and river blindness.

A strong relationship between the UK and Israel has never been as important as it is now. Young people in schools and universities, whatever their background, should be given an understanding of Israel's scientific achievements, helping to promote a positive perception of Israel beyond the world of politics. Likewise, academic ties between our universities are crucial. Sharing scientific knowledge will strengthen those ties and inevitably bring about faster advances in science.

I have been able to witness such co-operation over the past few years. The British Technion Society has been instrumental in creating links between British and Israeli academics, successfully building partnerships and collaborations. Technion's Professor Alon Wolf met Professor Alan Winfield from the Bristol Robotics Lab in London last year. They have worked together since, while Prof Winfield has travelled to the Technion and given a number of lectures to Israeli students.

The pursuit of science goes beyond religion and ethnicity

He has also applied for EU funding with the Technion on a collaborative project. Professor Chris Boschoff, of University College Hospital London, is in discussions about working co-operatively with the Technion's cancer research programme.

Last month, Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel, launched the Regenerative Medicine Initiative, which will facilitate joint research between the two scientific communities in regenerative cell therapy.

These partnerships are vital for sharing academic knowledge and expertise and serve to highlight to the world what Israel has to offer - some of the best scientific minds of this generation. The pursuit of science and technological advancement goes beyond politics and beyond the language of boycotts. It goes beyond the religion and ethnicity of the population. Such scientific collaboration should be encouraged and praised.

And the good news continues, with Microsoft announcing this week that it plans to establish a research centre for e-commerce technologies on the Technion campus, at a cost of nearly £1 million.

British Jews should shout from the rooftops about Israel's amazing achievements and promote them at every opportunity. From microscopic cameras that diagnose illnesses, to drugs to treat Parkinson's, to widely-used cancer drugs and mobile-phone technologies, we are all increasingly reliant on technology developed in Israel. Sometimes our lives will depend on it. Let's make sure that, as the Jewish community, we are proud of what Israel is achieving and talk about it much more.

Daniel Peltz is chairman of the British Technion Society

Last updated: 10:31am, October 24 2011