Israel at 64: The might of the bumble bee

It is creating remote-controlled insects that could fight terror, has revolutionised chemistry and is saving African lives with mass circumcisions. And all within the past year — Israel’s 64th


By Nathan Jeffay, April 26, 2012
Follow The JC on Twitter

The IDF may soon have a new secret weapon - killer bees.

The US army is funding research by Israeli scientists into ways of conrolling the movements of a range of insects.

Tiny drones are the dream of military intelligence officers and they believe aeronautics experts at Tel Aviv University are close to developing ways of controlling the movements of creepy crawlies from afar. The scientists, aided by their counterparts at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology - are looking at which electrical signal operates which muscle in various species.

With this information in hand they send their own electronic signals to the muscles and control their movements. And instead of controlling the insects inside laboratories, as they are in experiments, in future they will do so using remote control devices.

Dan Shechtman

Dan Shechtman

As it celebrates its 64th birthday, Israel is the innovation capital of the world. Israel's pioneering medical research leads the world. Tens of thousands of people die each year from infections picked up in hospital but Bar-Ilan University professor Aharon Gedanken is working on pulling the rug from under the infection-causing bugs by making hospital textiles antibacterial. His special coating is expected to work on hospital sheets, curtains, and gowns.

Mass production is no pipe dream - Dr Gedanken leads a consortium that is developing the equipment with a £10 million grant from the European Union.

Israelis have also turned traditional medical skills into a life-saving export.

Over the past five years, doctors worldwide have become convinced that circumcision dramatically helps reduce contraction of HIV/Aids. Agencies involved in fighting the disease believe that every five to 15 circumcisions performed in Africa will prevent one person contracting HIV/Aids. Last year the UN and US announced a five-year plan to increase circumcision on the continent.

But experience in the kind of mass circumcision operation needed exists nowhere - except for Israel. When the Iron Curtain fell and immigrants from former Soviet countries headed to Israel in the 1990s, some 100,000 men requested brits, and Israel met the demand.

Jerusalem-based non-profit Operation Abraham to-day sends a steady stream of Israeli doctors for stints in Africa, where they help train local medical professionals in speedy-but-safe circumcision.

When it comes to information technology, Israeli prowess is renowned worldwide, and the latest big-hitting piece of innovation comes from a company called Powermat.

In response to the tendency of smartphones to drain batteries quickly, entrepreneurs at Powermat have come up with wireless phone charging. The technology eliminates the need to carry a plug-in charger and connect a phone to a socket, and instead allows you to slap it down on a charging mat and suck in the power wirelessly.

In the past year, the firm has forged partnerships with Duracell and General Motors, and as of January has the rapper Jay-Z investing in and promoting it.

Poverty experts have long dreamed of relieving hunger by giving the needy access to fish, but until now, this has normally only been possible close to natural bodies of water. Even fish farming, raising fish in artificial pools, is reliant on the sea to dispose of wastewater, as to keep fish healthy, some of their water must be changed daily.

But Israeli company Grow Fish Anywhere has developed biological filters and special bacteria that treat the water, and allow farmers to raise healthy fish without "flushing" their pools.

Its technology is already in use in Israel, where fish farmers using it say it makes economic and environmental sense. The company now hopes to make inroads in the fish market into Europe and America.

Israelis are no slouch when it comes to winning Nobel Prizes, and Dan Shechtman won the country its tenth Nobel Prize in October.

Mr Shechtman discovered that atoms in solids are not, as previously believed, always arranged in symmetrical patterns, but also occur in non-symmetrical patterns. These non-repetitive formations became known as "quasicrystals" - and now represent a branch of science studied worldwide. As a result of its technological prowess, Israel is fast becoming a global hub for the high-tech industry.

As if to prove it, Google, Orange and WPP will take part in what is believed to be the largest ever UK-Israel business event in June.

Spearheaded by trade organisation UK Israel Business, Innovate Israel will connect more than 50 growth stage technology companies with 200 of their UK and European counterparts to share ideas, knowledge and create partnerships.

The conference is being co-chaired by internet entrepreneur Marc Worth and Yossi Vardi, doyen of the high-tech world. Also taking part are Wonga boss Errol Damelin, Brent Hoberman, founder of lastminute.com and Mark Read, the head of digital at WPP.

    Last updated: 2:40pm, April 26 2012