Author: AUFTAU

OPENING OF NEW ENGINEERING LOBBY

Opening of the new Lobby of TAU Engineering School donated by AFTAU, Victoria and the Rubinstein Bequest. ( Left to right –  Rosie Potaznik, Prof. Yossi Rosenwaks, Dr. Karen Wayne, Dr. Victor Wayne & Meir Bubber.)

TAU’s Ben Luria is one of the first Israeli Rhodes Scholars

We talked to the Political Science major just before he flew to Oxford to begin his Master’s degree

What does former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner have in common with three Australian prime ministers, Bill Clinton and Ben Luria, a graduate of Political Science at Tel Aviv University? They all received the most prestigious scholarship in the academic world – the Rhodes Scholarship. Rhodes Sholars are considered “future leaders” and receive funding to study at Oxford University. The expectation is that in the future recipients will contribute to their societies and enter public life, although many have also been successful in the business world.

This year two Israelis received the Rhodes Scholarship, an honor not many Israeli students have recieved in the scholarship’s 116 year history. We are pleased to announce that this year one of them is a member of the TAU family – Ben Luria, who holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from Tel Aviv University. A moment before he packed up and went to England for two years, we asked him about his feelings and plans for the future, and also got a tip about his Spotify playlist.

Ben Luria

Ben Luria, recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship

Ben, in all honesty, did you think you’d get the scholarship when you applied?

I hoped, but I didn’t completely believe it. Seeing the high level of the scholarship required from the start, and then when I saw some of the other applicants and how impressive they were, I didn’t think I would be one of the recipients. Even in the introductory meetings with the selection committee and in the interviews themselves, I didn’t feel at any stage that I had it. But I brought my best self and my true self, my ideas and achievements but also my character, humor and honesty. Throughout the process, I made sure I was doing the best I could, and that helped to deal with my fears.

What does the scholarship mean to you? What will you be able to achieve with it that you haven’t been able to before?

Above all, it’s an amazing feeling that you know you were chosen for something like this. In my opinion, more than being a scholarship of academic ability, this is a leadership scholarship and it expresses confidence in my ability to bring about change in the future. The opportunity to study at an institution as esteemed as Oxford and to join such a distinguished family of influential Rhodes Scholars is a wonderful gift, and I hope to use the time there to learn and acquire tools that can serve me in the future and help promote change and social reform.

You were marked as a “future leader”. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Working for the society in which I live, in the hope of being in a position of influence and leadership. It can be on the public level but can also be through the third sector or social entrepreneurship. In any case, I hope and believe that my future will be directly related to contributing to my community.

Tell us a bit about your academic journey at Tel Aviv University.

At the university I studied for a Master’s degree in Security and Diplomacy at the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs. As part of one of my seminars, I was researched the struggle of the Persian Gulf countries against Iran and China-US relations, which is the continuation of a BA in Sociology and Communication at the Open University, which I began during high school.

Have you always been an outstanding student?

Not really. Although I wasn’t afraid of not graduating high school, as an opinionated person from elementary school to high school, I was suspended more than once. My parents have grown accustomed to receiving phone calls and summons from teachers. In fact, I wrote about it as part of the scholarship application. The house I grew up in was very free in its educational approach. It allowed me to delve deeper into my interests, in any way I saw fit. So in high school I found myself taking courses at the Open University out of personal interest.

What do you think studying the social sciences gives students?

I feel that social sciences allow us to understand the reality around us, a bit like unplugging from the matrix. The ideas you lean seep deep into your consciousness and give you the ability to analyze events from a much broader perspective: understanding trends in depth, understanding the social structures in which things take place, analyzing the behavior of the various players in the arena and their interests. Suddenly, news about a demonstration, a new agreement, a social phenomenon or a political turnaround take on deeper, even surprising, meanings. Aside from the fun of understanding the reality around you, I think it also makes us better and more active citizens.

Who are the lecturers at TAU who most influenced you?

In the program I studied there are lecturers from diverse backgrounds, each of whom brought with them a deep and unique knowledge of their field, along with great accessibility to students, which I believe is the key to true learning. I can mention and thank the head of the program, Prof. Ezer Gat, whose course on strategic thought was really profound, and Dr. Yoram Evron, who supported me in the study of China-US relations and helped me a lot thanks to his attempt to help me develop a new sphere of knowledge.

What’s one thing that you’ve gotten from your studies at TAU that will stay with for the rest of your life?

I see learning as a way to avoid freezing in place. The habit of constantly acquiring new knowledge and discovering areas that were foreign to you, and being in another framework besides the professional one, makes us better rounded people, in my eyes.

 What will you miss most when you’re abroad?

I believe I’ll try to keep the home atmosphere going. I really like to cook vegan food, do yoga and try to go to as many live shows as possible, and believe that at Oxford I’ll find all these things too. I will miss the warm weather and the sea, but my playlists on Spotify will certainly help you, and you’re welcome to follow me! I’m BenLur93 or Ben Luria.

Before we say goodbye – do you have a tip for first year students?

Maybe it’s obvious, but I think it’s important to be interested in your field of study and your chosen courses. Obviously you have to think about your professional future and earning potential, but when you find a field you’re already drawn to everything becomes simpler. I chose these two degrees according to a strong personal interest in these fields, and this is what made the learning experience so positive for me.

TAU-led team discovers new way black holes are “fed”

These “giant monsters” were observed suddenly devouring gas in their surroundings

Supermassive black holes weigh millions to billions times more than our sun and lie at the center of most galaxies. A supermassive black hole several million times the mass of the sun is situated in the heart of our very own Milky Way.

Despite how commonplace supermassive black holes are, it remains unclear how they grow to such enormous proportions. Some black holes constantly swallow gas in their surroundings, some suddenly swallow whole stars. But neither theory independently explains how supermassive black holes can “switch on” so unexpectedly and keep growing so fast for a long period.

A new Tel Aviv University-led study published today in Nature Astronomy finds that some supermassive black holes are triggered to grow, suddenly devouring a large amount of gas in their surroundings.

Following the light

In February 2017, the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae discovered an event known as AT 2017bgt. This event was initially believed to be a “star swallowing” event, or a “tidal disruption” event, because the radiation emitted around the black hole grew more than 50 times brighter than what had been observed in 2004.

However, after extensive observations using a multitude of telescopes, a team of researchers led by Dr. Benny Trakhtenbrot and Dr. Iair Arcavi, both of TAU’s Raymond & Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, concluded that AT 2017bgt represented a new way of “feeding” black holes.

“The sudden brightening of AT 2017bgt was reminiscent of a tidal disruption event,” says Dr. Trakhtenbrot. “But we quickly realized that this time there was something unusual. The first clue was an additional component of light, which had never been seen in tidal disruption events.”

Dr. Arcavi, who led the data collection, adds, “We followed this event for more than a year with telescopes on Earth and in space, and what we saw did not match anything we had seen before.”

The observations matched the theoretical predictions of another member of the research team, Prof. Hagai Netzer, also of Tel Aviv University.

“We had predicted back in the 1980s that a black hole swallowing gas from its surroundings could produce the elements of light seen here,” says Prof. Netzer. “This new result is the first time the process was seen in practice.”

Mysterious re-activation 

Astronomers from the U.S., Chile, Poland and the U.K. took part in the observations and analysis effort, which used three different space telescopes, including the new NICER telescope installed on board the International Space Station.

One of the ultraviolet images obtained during the data acquisition frenzy turned out to be the millionth image taken by the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory — an event celebrated by NASA, which operates this space mission.

The research team identified two additional recently reported events of black holes “switched on,” which share the same emission properties as AT 2017bgt. These three events form a new and tantalizing class of black hole re-activation.

“We are not yet sure about the cause of this dramatic and sudden enhancement in the black holes’ feeding rate,” concludes Dr. Trakhtenbrot. “There are many known ways to speed up the growth of giant black holes, but they typically happen during much longer timescales.”

“We hope to detect many more such events, and to follow them with several telescopes working in tandem,” says Dr. Arcavi. “This is the only way to complete our picture of black hole growth, to understand what speeds it up, and perhaps finally solve the mystery of how these giant monsters form.”

Pure Escapism

The new Escape Room Project provides a creative way of making learning more fun

University exams are not the easiest time for students. The pressure leads to thoughts of escape – to anywhere except the test itself. TAU has now taken the concept of “escape” one step further through the Escape Room Project, a physical space that provides a hands-on and alternative way of learning complex course material.  

Escape rooms have become increasingly popular over the last decade. Groups sign up to be locked in a room and are timed on how fast they can solve puzzles, usually following a story line, that will allow them to “escape” the room and complete the game. This interactive format and team based problem-solving is exactly what appealed to TAU educators who are always searching for creative ways of making learning more fun.

The Project is run by Minducate, a collaboration between the Sagol School of Neuroscience and TAU Online— Innovative Learning Center. Last year the Project piloted three escape rooms based on four academic courses with some 250 students and staff taking part.  

From the mad hatter to the disappearing cat

This year the Project is operating an escape room called ChemX, which is based on a course in life sciences, as well as another called “Alice In Wonderland“ for courses in neurobiology, neurophysiology and neuro-anatomy.  

The escape rooms follow two fundamental design principles: they are content-rich and they pose a highly challenging riddle to the students. The game takes advantage of the whole space in the room to create a range of stimuli that work on both the mind and the senses. Student teams move from clue to clue by applying their course knowledge and when they finish – escape the room. They are then also better prepared to take the course exam.   

Guy Teichman, a PhD student at the Sagol School, describes the ChemX room narrative: “A crazy professor created a poison for which he has no antidote. His poor students, now ‘poisoned,’ must quickly find one.”

Guy stresses that the escape room is built to address complex issues that students had problems with during their studies. “In the escape room, abstract concepts become tangible, providing an additional level of understanding of the material,” he says.

The Head of the Project, Dr. Limor Radoszkowicz of Minducate, says that the project has been extremely popular with students and that registration for the slots filled up almost immediately upon opening. She stresses that the escape rooms were designed jointly by academic staff and students.

Connecting through Music

TAU’s Institute for Promoting Dialogue through Music is pioneering a new tool for bringing people closer together

In Israel’s fractured society – Arab vs. Jew; religious vs. secular; Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi; Left vs. Right – there is a critical need to bring people closer together. Now, a unique institute launched at TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education uses the power of music to promote dialogue in Israeli society. The Institute was initiated by TAU Governor and donor Aviad Meitar, and is being run by Israeli composer, conductor and educator Dr. Ori Leshman. 

“Music is a dialogue between composer and lyricist, between performer and audience,” says Dr. Leshman. “My vision is to use music as a kind of emotional technology tool to extend this dialogue beyond the music – to unite people from dissimilar cultural, ethnic or national backgrounds, overcome barriers, and improve society in Israel and worldwide.”

The “Music for Dialogue” (MFD method and programs were collectively pioneered by Leshman, Aviad Meitar and businessman and entrepreneur Amnon Herzig, a member of the Advisory Council of the Institute. Meitar developed a project entitled, “Music as a Tool for Conflict Resolution,” during his 2016 Fellowship at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University.

He is a second generation member of the Meitar family, major benefactors to TAU in the fields of law, management and philanthropy studies. Meitar’s sister, Dafna Meitar-Nechmad, is co-chair of the TAU $1 billion Global Campaign.​

Mr. Aviad Meitar and Prof. Joseph Klafter (Photo: Israel Hadari)

Benefiting from TAU’s interdisciplinary campus culture, the new Institute combines music with education, psychology, brain studies, sociology, communication and data science.

It promotes research on the influence of music, with several promising studies already enriching knowledge and contributing to a more intelligent use of music to create dialogue in a wide range of disciplines, including therapeutic ones.

Additional activities include teaching; support for student ventures; conferences and workshops; grants to students with special achievements; and social projects.

How It Works

Leshman describes how, at student workshops, the MFD method breaks down barriers. Before their first weekly meeting, students enter songs that are most meaningful to them onto the website Pick-A-Music (www.pickamusic.com).,The site was conceived by Leshman as a social platform for sharing musical and personal experiences and facilitating the group activities that are part of the MFD in-depth process.

“Then, during the workshop, something amazing happens,” says Leshman. “In no time participants begin sharing intimate personal stories with one another though they never met before.” Workshop participants often surprise one another with their musical preferences and even more so with their stories. “We can see that we mustn’t judge people. They’re much more complex than we think, as are their musical identities,” he says.  

Leshman is not naive enough to believe that Music for Dialogue can solve all the problems between populations that live so close to one another but rarely interact.

“The idea is ‘let’s first get to know one another as human beings,’ and music is an amazing tool for that,” he says.

Institute founder Aviad Meitar is a TAU alumnus in law and has an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management. He has been Chairman of Quadrant European Beverages Ltd., the Pepsi bottler for Bulgaria, since 2007. Mr. Meitar is married with three children. He plays the French horn with various amateur orchestras.  

Featured image: From left: Dr. Ori Leshman, Mr. Amnon Herzig, Mr. Aviad Meitar and TAU President Joseph Klafter. Photo: Israel Hadari

Gala Advances TAU-Austria Medical Cooperation

The Austrian Friends’ celebrate the continuing success of collaborative projects between TAU and Medical University of Vienna

Following their first gala event in November 2017, Tel Aviv University’s Austrian Friends and the Medical University of Vienna (MU) hosted their second gala dinner in Vienna, helping to raise funds for joint research projects between the two institutions. With over 200 guests in attendance, the gala celebrated the successful cooperation between TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and MU.

Dr. Bernhard Ramsauer, President of Austrian Friends, spoke of how TAU is at the heart of the Israeli high-tech innovation sector, and how it has steadily grown in stature. “This is reflected in the growing number of cooperation projects with leading academic institutions around the world,” he noted.  TAU Vice President Prof Raanan Rein also stressed the importance of international cooperation, mentioning some of TAU’s successful cooperation agreements.  

Prof.  Markus Müller, Rector of MU, and Prof. Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner, also of MU, told the audience about the longstanding collaboration with researchers at TAU decades prior to the official cooperation agreement signed in 2017, collaboration that had already yielded successful findings in medical research and clinical practice.  

Prof. Liat Kishon-Rabin, of the Department of Communication Disorders and Head of the Stanley Steyer School of Health Professions, gave a lecture on “Nourishing the Brain from Infancy with Hearing and Language Interaction.”

featured:From left: Prof. Markus Müller; Prof. Liat Kishon-Rabin; Dr. Bernhard Ramsauer; Dr. Christiane Druml, Director of the Medical Collections, MU; Prof. Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner; Prof. Raanan Rein; Alexander Gertner, General Secretary of TAU’s Austrian Friends 

Conversations in the Clean Room

At the shared laboratories of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, casual conversations between scientists can lead to breakthroughs

A chemist and a physicist walk into a clean room. No, this is not the one about how many people it takes to change a light bulb. Nor is it the one about two Israelis and three opinions. This is a true story about how two doctoral students from different fields got talking and realized that they may be able to use chemistry to solve a nagging problem in physics. “These students were the best kind – curious and open to new ideas and different ways of approaching a problem,” says Prof. Gil Markovich of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry. Prof. Yoram Dagan, Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, nods in agreement.

Markovich and Dagan were the students’ respective PhD advisors and quickly saw the benefit of collaborating. In their research, they sought a solution to prevent damage to the surface of semiconductors – small components that control electrical current in devices such as computers and mobile phones, which damage the functioning of the devices.

For this kind of research, a particularly sterile laboratory is required. The special conditions in the “clean room” include a constant temperature of 20 degrees, 50 percent humidity, and a very powerful filter that prevents the entry of dust particles into the laboratory space and is responsible for creating a sterile work environment. These conditions are essential for the production of certain materials, especially electronic chips, which can be disrupted by something as tiny as a grain of dust.

From cell phones to thermal cameras  

The scientists are using a chemical rather than physical process to create an electrical insulating thin film the thickness of a single atom. According to Dagan, “Unlike in physics, where non-organic materials are used, we used organic compounds to get the components that create the atom-thick layer.” In the process carried out by the scientists, they heated organic compounds to the point of dissolution. Once they touch the surface, they receive additional energy and break down until the process stops on its own. “This creates only a single layer of the insulating material, because there is not enough energy to form another layer,” Dagan explains. “In a cheap and rapid chemical process, we were able to offer an alternative to complicated and costly processes, and even to achieve a better result.”

Their invention could improve microelectronics in all the devices we carry in our pockets and have in our homes by making them faster, more efficient and more compact. “This is a long-term project – an idea that may be implementable twenty years down the line. Yet exploring this basic physics problem using nano-chemistry led us to an application that can be realized today,” says Dagan.

Markovich and Dagan have teamed up with industry experts for guidance in applying their technology to improve resolution in infrared cameras used for defense and security installations. The Israel Innovation Authority (formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist) has invested in the project with a grant reserved solely for projects that have a good chance to be commercialized in Israel. “It all begins, though, with basic science. Basic science is the foundation of knowledge. When we discover new possibilities and new materials, applications can grow,” stresses Dagan.

Collaboration opens new possibilities

Markovich and Dagan share a passion for unlocking the secrets of the universe: “We are both interested in origins,” says Dagan. “Gil researches the interaction of minerals with amino acids and DNA – the original building blocks of life.  I am interested in the fundamental properties of matter and materials. I would not think up chemical approaches to physical problems by myself. Our collaboration is opening up new possibilities.” says Dagan.

“This has been a fun ride,” adds Markovich. “First, Yoram is a nice person. And I never worked on these kinds of problems before. We have ideas for cooperation on chemical ways to create new materials for quantum computing. The future is wide open.” 

Featured iage:Prof. Gil Markovich and Prof. Yoram Dagan (Photo: Yoram Reshef)

Inside a bat’s brain

Prof. Yaniv Assaf and Prof. Yossi Yovel are working together on a unique collection of brain scans of different mammals

It’s a chicken versus egg scenario: Does behavior build a neural network or does the design of a brain network dictate behavior? It turns out that they both influence each other.

“Evolutionary science holds that particular behaviors drives the brain to develop and evolve in a particular way. Later, brain networks may drive behavior,” explains Prof. Yossi Yovel of the Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. Yovel specializes in bat echolocation – the location of objects by reflected sound – at his Bat Lab of Neuro-Ecology. 

A number of years ago he approached his former MSc advisor, Prof. Yaniv Assaf, Head of the Department of Neurobiology, with a surprising request. Yovel sought to draw on Assaf’s expertise in MRI imaging techniques to scan the brains of wild bats. Could the images show how bats’ use of sound rather than vision to navigate the world influences the development of their neural networks? “I focus on human brain imaging,” says Assaf. “Now, five years later, we have scanned over 100 species – all expired of natural causes – including many species of bats, of course,” Assaf continues with a nod to Yovel. “We use the MRI machine after hours so as not to interfere with ongoing research, and we have found that, yes, bat brain networks have highly developed aural – rather than visual – networks.”

From bats to all mamals

What began as a scientific hobby has become a scientific first. The scans, which are specially calibrated to show the design and function of brain microstructure, pathways, and networks, reveal the principles governing the mammalian brain.

“Like the internet and other computer networks, or road and transportation systems, the brain is a network. The brain’s two hemispheres are connected with fibers. Our scans show that mammals with a greater number of inter-hemisphere connecting fibers will have, inversely, poorer connectivity within the hemisphere itself and vice-versa,” says Assaf. “This information can influence how networks are constructed.”

The true story of the autistic man who inspired the film Rain Man illustrates this phenomenon: The hemispheres of his brain were completely unconnected. The local network in each hemisphere was so strong that he could perform complex computations within seconds. But the lack of connection between hemispheres affected his function and behavior. We need a mix of both for a functional, strong network.

Access for researchers worldwide

”While evolutionary scientists are certainly interested in our scans, it is mathematicians and computer scientists working on smart, efficient computer networks and artificial intelligence who are the most excited,” says Assaf.

Yovel continues, “When people hear about our project at conferences or by word of mouth, they immediately want to see our findings. But we are not yet ready. We aim to scan 10% of all mammals, which means about 500 species including those transported from abroad, which will be very costly. We need graduate students to help build the collection more quickly. We aim to create the only collection of its kind worldwide – a digital collection of scans at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History that can be accessed by scientists around the world.”

Featured image: Prof. Yossi Yovel and Prof. Yaniv Assaf 

Victoria

Tok Corporate Centre, Level 1,
459 Toorak Road, Toorak VIC 3142
Phone: +61 3 9296 2065
Email: office@aftau.asn.au

New South Wales

P.O. Box 4044, Maroubra South,
NSW 2035
Phone: +61 418 465 556
Email: davidsolomon@aftau.org.au

Western Australia

P O Box 36, Claremont,
WA  6010
Phone: :+61 411 223 550
Email: clivedonner@thelinqgroup.com