Tag: Engineering

Fighting Pollution With Seaweed

Coastal seaweed farms can help fight environmental damage.

Nitrogen is a common fertilizer for agriculture, but it comes with an environmental and financial price tag. Once nitrogen reaches the ocean, it disperses randomly, damaging various ecosystems. As a result, the state local authorities spend a great deal of money on reducing nitrogen concentrations in water, including in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study by Tel Aviv University and University of California, Berkeley suggests that establishing seaweed farms in areas where freshwater rivers or streams meet the oceans, or so-called “river estuaries”, significantly reduces nitrogen concentrations and prevents pollution in marine environments.

As part of the study, the researchers built a large seaweed farm model for growing the ulva sp. green macroalgae in the Alexander River estuary, hundreds of meters from the open sea. The Alexander River was chosen because the river discharges polluting nitrogen from nearby upstream fields and towns into the Mediterranean Sea. Data for the model were collected over two years from controlled cultivation studies.

The study was headed by doctoral student Meiron Zollmann, under the joint supervision of Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Alexander Liberzon of the School of Mechanical Engineering at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Tel Aviv University, and was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Boris Rubinsky of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. It was published in the prestigious journal Communications Biology.

“My laboratory researches basic processes and develops technologies for aquaculture,” explains Prof. Golberg. “We are developing technologies for growing seaweed in the ocean in order to offset carbon and extract various substances, such as proteins and starches, to offer a marine alternative to terrestrial agricultural production. In this study, we showed that if seaweed is grown according to the model we developed, in rivers’ estuaries, they can absorb the nitrogen to conform to environmental standards and prevent its dispersal in water and thus neutralize environmental pollution. This way, we actually produce a kind of ‘natural decontamination facility’ with significant ecological and economic value, as seaweed can be sold as biomass for human use.”

Profitable and Environmentally Friendly

“Our model allows marine farmers, as well as government and environmental bodies, to know in advance what the impact will be and what the products of a large seaweed farm will be – before setting up the actual farm,” adds Meiron Zollmann. “Thanks to mathematics, we know how to make the adjustments also concerning large agricultural farms and maximize environmental benefits, including producing the agriculturally desired protein quantities.”

“The whole world is moving towards green energy, and seaweed can be a significant source,” adds Prof. Liberzon, “and yet today, there is no single farm with the proven technological and scientific capability. The barriers are also scientific: We do not really know what the impact of a huge farm will be on the marine environment. It is like transitioning from a vegetable garden outside the house to endless fields of industrial farming. Our model provides some of the answers, hoping to convince decision-makers that such farms will be profitable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, one can imagine even more far-reaching scenarios. For example, green energy: If we knew how to utilize the growth rates for energy in better percentages, it would be possible to embark on a one-year cruise with a kilogram of seaweed, with no additional fuel beyond the production of biomass in a marine environment.”

“The interesting connection we offer here is growing seaweed at the expense of nitrogen treatment,” concludes Prof. Golberg. “In fact, we have developed a planning tool for setting up seaweed farms in estuaries to address the environmental issue while producing economic benefit. We offer the design of seaweed farms in river estuaries containing large quantities of agriculturally related nitrogen residues to rehabilitate the estuary and prevent nitrogen from reaching the ocean while growing the seaweed itself for food. In this way, aquaculture complements terrestrial agriculture.”

Featured image: The cultivation reactor that was used as the base of the model

The Faculty of Engineering Predicts: A Greener and Safer Future

Graduates of TAU’s School of Mechanical Engineering present innovative projects.

 

Just like every year, graduates of the School of Mechanical Engineering of The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering recently presented the projects they have been working on throughout their final year of studying towards their degree. A lot of ground was covered, with one project promising those suffering from nightmares after trauma to sleep peacefully, another offering a robot capable of disinfecting aircrafts from viruses, and other teams have developed drones designed and developed to transport defibrillators and first aid kits through areas that are either difficult or downright impossible to access from the ground. Seeing these original ideas makes it clear how the faculty’s motto is befitting for those who enter (and perhaps even more so for those who exit) its gates: “Those who fall in love with a problem are the ones who will find a solution to it.”

Thinking Within the Box

We use them every day, usually multiple times a day, but how much thought do we dedicate to the garbage bins in our homes? And, while we’re on the subject, have you ever thought to calculate how many garbage bags you dispose of every year? As environmentally-conscious people, Tal Kelmachter and Nimrod Ben-Yehuda have given this more than a little thought, and got inspired to design their very own garbage can.

The exterior part of the bin does not distinguish itself much from your standard garbage bin. The secret is hidden within the box: the uniqueness of this product is that it does not require a plastic bag, which is an environmental hazard. Nimrod explains, “We designed it as a stand-alone solution which does not require any special infrastructure, like drainage, water supply and electricity. Once you have emptied the contents of the garbage bin, an integral rinsing mechanism cleanses it on the inside, easily and quickly. The water is contained in a clean water container, and a mechanical pump forces the water through a system of pipes with a no-return valve to a system of sprinklers that showers the sides of the tin from the inside. The dirty water then flows into a dedicated water drawer which is easy to empty. The result is a garbage bin that remains clean and free of bad odors and contaminants.”

Tal adds, “During the past few years there has been increased awareness which has led to a growing trend of reducing plastic use and recycling. And yet, there is currently no product on the market that completely prevents the use of garbage bags. Nimrod and I managed to find a solution to this problem.”

 

Tal Kelmachter and Nimrod Ben-Yehuda with their green garbage bin, ECOCAN

Enjoy the Ride

A few minutes into Aviv Halachmi’s motorcycle drive to his girlfriend in Beer Sheva, his headset ran out of battery. The annoying experience motivated Aviv to form the ChargElmet team together with fellow students Tal Belilty and Itay Shulman.

“Motorcyclists attach a variety of electronic components to their helmets, such as hands free and camera, in order to enhance their riding experience. These utilities have batteries that require charging. We designed and built a system which uses the wind and the sun to produce green energy to charge gadgets from motorcycle helmets while you travel”, says Aviv.

Did the project become a smoother ride than Aviv’s trip to his girlfriend? Not at all. The team ran into plenty of difficulties along the way: “The system we created is multidisciplinary and contains a lot of engineering elements from various fields, not all related to mechanical engineering, such as electrical diagrams, electrical design including the investigation and selection of the appropriate cards and components and much more. So, we were forced to learn a lot while on the job. That being said, solving issues that arose throughout the process and accomplishing the end product brought us tremendous satisfaction,” he shares.

Aviv concludes, “For now, our invention is geared towards motorcyclists and improving their lives. In the future, we plan to expand the project to address all two-wheelers (bicycles, scooters…). On a macro level, our vision is to improve public awareness of green energy and to take part in the global trend of promoting and transitioning to renewable energy.”

 

Itay Shulman, Tal Belilty and Aviv Halachmi found a way to improve other motorcyclists’ lives

Hover and Save

This year, the presence of the drone stood out in the Innovate project (a cooperation between TAU and Elbit Systems Ltd), which encompasses several complementary projects on the subject of detecting, rescuing and making life-saving first aid accessible to those trapped under earthquake ruins.

May Davidovich and Ariel Drizin tell us about their part in the project:” We presented a design and a preliminary prototype for a robotic first aid release arm system, installed on a drone and controlled by a dedicated control system, making it easier for the rescue forces to maneuver among the trapped and offer them first aid. In the future, the project can be advanced by allowing for larger systems capable of carrying heavier kits.”

“Our premise was that the system we were planning would be part of a swarm of drones, including one that would scan and photograph the area, a parent drone that would carry a large number of kits, and drones that would know how to receive kits from the parent glider, bring these to the person(s) trapped and then to release the kit. The system will be controlled by an operator from his control room, who will receive information about the trapped, put together a suitable kit, bring it to the disaster stricken area, and release it as close as possible to the trapped.”

May recounts sleepless nights: “The system worked fine up until a few days before the project was to be presented. As we were putting the parts together, we discovered that we had made some measurement errors prior to the printing of the parts, which meant the components didn’t work properly together.”

“We also had to make several design changes and print the model three times before we achieved the desired result. We learnt that when you print the prototype, you need to consider the system in its entirety, which is hard to do before all the components arrive. It is a time-consuming process which requires a lot of planning in advance.”

“We hope that our invention will help streamline the process of rescuing people who are trapped. For instance, by taking measures and signaling back to the control room the severity of the physical condition of victims, so the rescue can be prioritized accordingly. There are many more potential usages, not necessarily related to rescue, such as grocery delivery from the supermarket.”

 

Extending their robotic arm. Ariel Drizin and May Davidovich.

Saving the Black Box

Did you know that every plane crash is investigated in depth to determine the cause of the crash? Yaniv Alon, Dor Cohen and Ido Rosenzweig designed a system to be ejected from a plane in the event of a crash, and which transmits location details and additional data, significantly reducing the radius of the search for a plane when contact has been lost.

“The system includes a smart box with electronics and internal controllers. When it recognizes that the plane is about to crash, it is ejected from the plane at high speed with the help of mechanisms that we developed. It then falls to the ground with a parachute and can weather any condition, on land or sea.”, explains Yaniv. He clarifies that the system is not meant to replace the black box, but rather it is meant to offer a better alternative to the aircraft transmission systems that exist today, which tend not to be resilient or ejected, and usually vary according to the aircraft systems.

They started working on the project already last year. After a thorough examination of the system’s weaknesses and failures they undertook significant adjustments and enhancements before presenting the product this year. “We encountered quite a few complications along the way, when deciding how to operate the mechanism, examining various alternatives, finding suitable components, communication with suppliers, delivery delays and manufacturing glitches, requiring us to do ping-pong between the workshop and the production. However, thanks to our combined creativity, determination, efforts and our dedicated project manager Danny Barko, we were able to create a functioning product.”, he says.

When asked how they think their invention will contribute to change our lives, Yaniv replies, “The two main problems those who investigate plane crashes are faced with today, are that the black boxes are not ejected and that they are not resilient, which means that they mostly disappear along with the the aircraft. Unproductive field searches can reach sums of around $155 million. A system is required that will allow for swift and effective investigations and save us a lot of resources and money. Our solution meets these requirements and might even end up saving lives by helping locating crashed planes and their black boxes, advancing the investigation of the failures that led to the planes’ crash and preventing similar future cases.”

 

Will they help find the black box? Ido Rosenzweig, Dor Cohen and Yaniv Alon

Fireflies’ Protective ‘Musical Armor’ Against Bats

Trailblazing TAU study reveals that fireflies produce strong ultrasonic sounds that may potentially work to deter bats.

They sure know how to put on a show at nights – fireflies are striking with their glow-in-the-dark feature. But have you ever stopped and wondered how these glowing insects defend themselves against predators? A trailblazing TAU study reveals that fireflies produce strong ultrasonic sounds that may potentially work to deter bats, serving as a ‘musical armor’ against these predators. The discovery of such a ‘musical battle’ between fireflies and bats may pave the way for further research, and the discovery of a new defense mechanism developed by animals against their predators. According to the study, the fireflies produce strong ultrasonic sounds soundwaves that the human ear, and more importantly the fireflies themselves, cannot detect. The researchers hypothesize that these sounds are, in fact, meant for the ears of the bats, keeping them away from the poisonous fireflies, and thereby serving as a kind of ‘musical armor’. The study was led by Prof. Yossi Yovel, Head of the Sagol School of Neuroscience, and a member of the School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. It was conducted in collaboration with the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) and has been published in iScience. Fireflies are known for their unique, all-year glow, which is effective as a mating signal. Their bodies contain poison, and so the light flashes probably also serve as an aposematic signal, a warning to potential predators. At the same time, this signal is also the firefly’s weakness, as it makes it an easy target for predators. Bats are among the fireflies’ most prevalent potential predators, and some bats have poor vision, rendering the flashing signal ineffective. This prompted the researchers to check whether fireflies were equipped with an additional layer of protection against bats.

Accidental Discovery of ‘Musical Battle’

The idea for this study came up accidentally, during a study that tracked bats’ echolocation. Ksenia Krivoruchku, the PhD student who led the study recalls, “We were wandering around a tropical forest with microphones capable of recording bats’ high frequencies, when suddenly, we detected unfamiliar sounds at similar frequencies, coming from fireflies. “In-depth research, using high-speed video, revealed that the fireflies produce the sound by moving their wings, and that the fireflies themselves are incapable of hearing this frequency. Consequently, we hypothesized that the sound is not intended for internal communication within the species.” Following this discovery, the team at Prof. Yovel’s laboratory examined three different species of fireflies that are common in Vietnam (Curtos, Luciola and Sclerotia), in addition to one Israeli species (Lampyroidea). It was found that they all produce these unique ultrasonic sounds, and that they are all unable hear them. Prof. Yovel says that it is premature to conclude that fireflies have developed a special defense mechanism specifically targeting bats, there are indications that this may be the case. The fact that the fireflies themselves are unable to hear the sound, while bats can both hear it and use it to detect the fireflies, makes it more likely that these ultrasonic sounds serve as a warning signal. The discovery of ultrasonic sounds in fireflies is in itself an important contribution to the study of predator-prey relations. The idea of warning signals that the sender itself cannot detect is known from the world of plants, but is quite rare among animals. Krivoruochku says “Our discovery of the ‘musical battle’ between fireflies and bats may pave the way for further research, and possibly the discovery of a new defense mechanism developed by animals against potential predators.”

Google and TAU to Harness the Power of AI for Social Good

Google and Tel Aviv University recently launched a three-year program for promoting AI-related multidisciplinary research for the benefit of society. The program aims to support research and collaborations in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, that can advance humanity by addressing focal social issues on the global agenda. It was launched within the framework of TAD, the TAU Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, established in February and headed by Prof. Meir Feder of The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering. The program was launched at a recent ceremony at TAU, announcing 10 winners – out of 27 proposals submitted in response to TAU and Google’s joint call. Seven of the winning projects are supported by Google. The grant winners, whose projects address different aspects of AI for Social Good, include researchers from a wide range of disciplines: Zoology (Faculty of Life Sciences), Electrical Engineering, Economics, Statistics, Communication Disorders, Biblical Studies, Earth Sciences and Computer Science, Sociology and Anthropology and more.

Bridging Disciplines to Make Good Things Happen

TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, who aims to establish ‘bridges’ between the different disciplines studied at TAU, said at the ceremony: “I share a common vision with Prof. Yossi Matias. We believe that AI researchers can benefit significantly from collaborations with researchers in the social sciences and humanities, just as the latter benefit from new developments in AI. I am very happy about our partnership with Google. I look forward to seeing its fruits and hope to expand it further in the future.” Prof. Yossi Matias, VP at Google and Managing Director of Google Center in Israel, spoke of AI technologies and how they are already improving our lives dramatically: “AI already has great impact in various areas. We are delighted for this opportunity to harness the power of AI for social good and for science. Google is especially happy about its work on beneficial and even lifesaving products, such as the worldwide project for accurate flood forecasting, a technology enabling the hearing-impaired to conduct phone conversations, and studies on the use of AI to enhance disease diagnosis.” Prof. Matias thanked Prof. Porat, Prof. Meir Feder, Head of the TAD Center, and all other partners in the initiative. He spoke of the special opportunity to generate collaborations between researchers, and noted that he is a great believer in connections between different disciplines. “There are some deep and fascinating research questions associated with AI in many different disciplines, creating substantial opportunities for collaboration. Good things happen when different ideas and different approaches come together.”   Left to right: Prof. Yossi Matias, Prof. Ariel Porat, Prof. Meir Feder & Prof. Tova Milo The joint venture will include a joint seminar on Machine Learning (ML), led by TAD Director Dr. Shimon (Moni) Shahar and Dr. Deborah Cohen, a scientist at the new Google Center in Israel. Prof. Meir Feder emphasized that “the AI revolution is expected to impact every aspect of our lives, from drug development and data-based personalized medicine, to defense systems, financial systems, scientific discoveries, robotics, autonomous systems and social issues. In addition, it is very important to train human capital in this area, and therefore the Center will provide every student at TAU with a basic AI education. TAU is special in having researchers who specialize in basic science and AI, as well as researchers who apply AI in the humanities and social sciences. We are happy that Google has decided to join forces with TAU in this important matter. The collaboration with Google will enable utilization of the power of AI and Data Science, channeling it toward the benefit of society.”

Robot “Hears” through the Ear of a Locust

TAU researchers open the door to sensory integrations between robots and insects

 

 

Tel Aviv University researchers have opened the door to sensory integrations between robots and insects: for the first time, the ear of a dead locust was connected to a robot that receives the ear’s electrical signals and responds accordingly. The result is extraordinary: When the researchers clap once, the locust’s ear hears the sound and the robot moves forward; when the researchers clap twice, the robot moves backwards.

In general, biological systems have a huge advantage over technological systems – both in terms of sensitivity and in terms of energy consumption. This initiative of Tel Aviv University researchers may in the future make much more cumbersome and expensive developments in the field of robotics redundant.

An Interdisciplinary Effort

The interdisciplinary study was led by Idan Fishel, a joint master student under the joint supervision of Dr. Ben M. Maoz of The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, Prof. Yossi Yovel and Prof. Amir Ayali, experts from the School of Zoology and the Sagol School of Neuroscience together with Dr. Anton Sheinin, Yoni Amit, and Neta Shavil. The results of the study were published in the prestigious journal Sensors.

The researchers explain that at the beginning of the study, they sought to examine how the advantages of biological systems could be integrated into technological systems, and how the sensory organs of a dead locust could be used as sensors for a robot. “We chose the sense of hearing, because it can be easily compared to existing technologies, in contrast to the sense of smell, for example, where the challenge is much greater,” says Dr. Maoz. “Our task was to replace the robot’s electronic microphone with a dead insect’s ear, use the ear’s ability to detect the electrical signals from the environment, in this case vibrations in the air, and, using a special chip, convert the insect input to that of the robot.”

To carry out this unique and unconventional task, the interdisciplinary team (Maoz, Yovel and Ayali) first built a robot capable of responding to signals it receives from the environment. Subsequently, the researchers were able to isolate and characterize the dead locust ear and keep it functional long enough to successfully connect it to the robot. In the final stage, the team succeeded in finding a way to pick up the signals received by the locust’s ear in a way that could be received and responded to by the robot.

“Prof. Ayali’s laboratory has extensive experience working with locusts, and they have developed the skills to isolate and characterize the ear,” explains Dr. Maoz. “Prof. Yovel’s laboratory built the robot and developed code that enables the robot to respond to electrical auditory signals. And my laboratory has developed a special device – Ear-on-a-Chip – that allows the ear to be kept alive throughout the experiment by supplying oxygen and food to the organ, while allowing the electrical signals to be taken out of the locust’s ear and amplified and transmitted to the robot.

Biological systems expend negligible energy compared to electronic systems. They are miniature, and therefore also extremely economical and efficient. For the sake of comparison, a laptop consumes about 100 watts per hour, while the human brain consumes about 20 watts a day.

In addition, “Nature is much more advanced than we are, so we should use it,” urges Dr. Maoz. “The principle we have demonstrated can be used and applied to other senses, such as smell, sight and touch. For example, some animals have amazing abilities to detect explosives or drugs; the creation of a robot with a biological nose could help us preserve human life and identify criminals in a way that is not possible today. Some animals know how to detect diseases. Others can sense earthquakes. The sky is the limit.”

Ready for Launch!

TAU’s first nanosatellite ready to be launched into space.

Watch it Launch

The moment we’ve all been waiting for is now only days away: TAU’s first nanosatellite, TAU SAT1 is about to be launched into space. This exciting journey has been followed closely by many on the university’s social media, and we are happy to share that the launch itself can be watched live on Facebook on February 20 at 7:36 PM. 

 

The development of TAU-SAT1 has been followed by many on the university’s social media

 

Small Satellite – a Big Step

“This is a nanosatellite, or miniature satellite, of the ‘CubeSat’ variety,” explains Dr. Ofer Amrani, head of Tel Aviv University’s miniature satellite lab. “The satellite’s dimensions are 10 by 10 by 30 cm, the size of a shoebox. It weighs less than 2.5 kg. TAU-SAT1 is the first nanosatellite designed, built and tested independently in academia in Israel.”

 

The nanosatellite was devised, developed, assembled, and tested at the new Nanosatellite Center, an interdisciplinary endeavor of The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering,  Raymond & Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The entire process has taken two years – an achievement that would not have been possible without the involvement of many people: the university administration, who supported the project and the setting up of the infrastructure on campus, Prof. Yossi Rosenwaks, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering; Professors Sivan Toledo and Haim Suchowski from the Raymond & Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences; Prof. Colin Price, researcher and lecturer in Athmospheric Sciences in the School of Geosciences and Head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and, most importantly, the project team that dealt with R&D around the clock: Elad Sagi, Dolev Bashi, Tomer Nahum, Idan Finkelstein, Dr. Diana Laufer, Eitan Shlisel, Eran Levin, David Greenberg, Sharon Mishal, and Orly Blumberg.

 

Space Weather

TAU-SAT1 is a research satellite and will be conducting several experiments while in orbit. Among other things, it will measure cosmic radiation in space. “We know that that there are high-energy particles moving through space that originate from cosmic radiation,” says Dr. Meir Ariel, director of the university’s Nanosatellite Center. “Our scientific task is to monitor this radiation, and to measure the flux of these particles and their products. Space is a hostile environment, not only for humans but also for electronic systems. When these particles hit astronauts or electronic equipment in space, they can cause significant damage. The scientific information collected by our satellite will make it possible to design means of protection for astronauts and space systems. To this end, we incorporated several experiments into the satellite, which were developed by the Space Environment Department at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.”

 

Like the weather on Earth, there is also weather in Space. This weather is linked to storms that occur on the surface of our Sun, and impact the environment around the Earth. Prof. Colin Price researches and lectures in Atmospheric Sciences and explains that “When there are storms on the Sun, highly energetic particles are fired at the Earth at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second, and when these energetic particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere, they can cause lots of damage to satellites, spacecraft and even astronauts.” TAUSAT1 will be studying these storms and their impact on the atmosphere at the height of 400km above the Earth, testing the damage produced by the tiny particles. This will help understand the hostile environment satellite face due to space weather.

 

WATCH: TAU’s Nanosatellite Project

 

Satellite Station on Roof of Faculty Building

At an altitude of 400 km above sea level, the nanosatellite will orbit the earth at a dizzying speed of 27,600 km per hour, or 7.6 km per second. At this speed, the satellite will complete an orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes. “In order to collect data, we built a satellite station on the roof of the engineering building,” says Dr. Amrani. “Our station, which also serves as an amateur radio station, includes a number of antennas and an automated control system. When TAU-SAT1 passes ‘over’ the State of Israel, that is, within a few thousand kilometer radius from the ground station’s receiving range, the antennas will track the satellite’s orbit and a process of data transmission will occur between the satellite and the station. Such transmissions will take place about four times a day, with each one lasting less than 10 minutes. In addition to its scientific mission, the satellite will also serve as a space relay station for amateur radio communities around the world. In total, the satellite is expected to be active for several months, after which it will burn up in the atmosphere and return to the Earth as stardust.

 

TAU Joins ‘New Space’ Revolution

Launching the TAU-SAT1 nanosatellite marks TAU’s first step of joining the ‘new space’ revolution, aiming to open space up to civilians as well. The idea is that any researcher or student, from any faculty at Tel Aviv University, or outside of it, will be able to plan and launch experiments into space in the future – even without being an expert in the field.

 

Over the last few years, TAU has been working on establishing a Nanosatellite Center to build small “shoebox” size satellites for launch into space. “We are seeing a revolution in the field of civilian space”, explains Prof. Colin Price, one of the academic heads of the new center. “We call this ‘new space’, as opposed to the ‘old space’, where only giant companies with huge budgets and large teams of engineers could build satellites. 

 

After undergoing pre-flight testing at the Japanese space agency JAXA, TAU-SAT1 was sent to the United States, where it “hitched a ride” on a NASA and Northrop Grumman resupply spacecraft destined for the International Space Station. At the station, this upcoming Saturday evening, a robotic arm will release TAU-SAT1 into a low-earth orbit (LEO) around the Earth, approximately 400km above the Earth.

Last inspections in the clean room. TAU SAT1

Researchers from TAU have developed a technology that enables photographing moving objects

The new development will enable taking photos of race cars, runners, birds in flight, and dunking basketballs into hoops.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have developed a computational photography process based on an optical element that encodes motion information and a corresponding digital image processing algorithm, enabling clear, sharp photography of moving objects without motion blur, i.e. avoiding the movement being “smeared” over the picture.

This integrated processing method was developed by PhD student Shay Elmalem from the School of Electrical Engineering in the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, under the joint guidance of Prof. Emanuel Marom and Dr. Raja Giryes. The results of the study have been published in the prestigious Optica Journal (by OSA Publishing).

The term ‘long exposure’ always refers to the velocity of the photographed object”, explains Shay Elmalem. “If you photograph a racing car, even an exposure of a tenth of a second could be too long, and if you’re photographing a person walking, long exposure could be a second or longer. According to the conventional camera design approach, the lens is designed to produce the best possible image, i.e., the most similar to what the human eye sees, and thereafter digital image processing algorithms are applied to remove the optical distortions. However, as anyone with a camera in their phone knows, this isn’t always effective; hence, it is still very difficult to photograph moving objects”.

Through integrated design of the optical components and image post-processing algorithms, Elmalem and his colleagues have encoded motion information cues in the raw optical image; these cues are in turn decoded by the image processing algorithm which utilizes them for motion deblurring.. The cues have been encoded using two optical components integrated in a conventional lens: a clear phase plate developed by the researchers, and a commercial electronic focusing lens. The phase plate contains a micro-optical structure designed to introduce a color-focus dependency, whereas the focusing lens is synchronized in order to make a gradual focus change during the image exposure. As a result, moving objects are colored with various colors as they move. Encoding the colors enables the algorithm to decode the direction and velocity of the object’s movement, which enables it to correct the motion blur and restore the image sharpness.

“In every split second of exposure, our lens generates a bit different image”, Elmalem explains; “thus, the blur of a moving object will not be uniform, but rather change gradually with its movement. In order to understand where and how fast the object in the image is going, we use color. Thus, for example, a white ball suddenly thrown into the frame will be colored with different colors over the course of its movement, like passing light through a prism. According to these colors, our algorithm knows where the ball has been thrown from and at what velocity. It will thus know how to correct the blur. With a regular camera we’d see a white wake that would compromise the sharpness of the whole picture, whereas with our camera the final image will be a clear focused white ball.”

According to Elmalem, the computational image technique they developed can enhance any camera – and at minimum cost. “The potential is very broad: from basic uses like smartphone cameras to research, medical and industrial uses such as for production line controllers, microscopes and telescopes. They all suffer from the same smearing problem, and we offer a systemic solution to it.”

Ramot, the Technology Transfer Company of Tel-Aviv University has filed several patent applications covering this breakthrough technology, which is generating great interest among industry players. 

Prof. Marom passed away during the study, and the paper has been published in his memory. The late Prof. Marom was among the founders of the Faculty of Engineering at Tel Aviv University, served as its Dean in 1980-1983 and Vice President of Tel Aviv University in 1992-1997. After his retirement, Prof. Marom continued dealing in active research and advising graduate students, until his very last day.

TAU Study Proves that Light Can Kill Coronavirus

Groundbreaking research finds UV-LED diodes efficiently and cheaply disinfect social spaces.

A revolution in disinfection? Researchers from Tel Aviv University have proven that the coronavirus can be killed efficiently, quickly and cheaply using ultraviolet (UV) light-emitting diodes (UV-LEDs). This is the first study in the world conducted on the disinfection efficiency of a virus from the family of coronaviruses using UV-LED irradiation at different wavelengths or frequencies. The study was led by Prof. Hadas Mamane, Head of the Environmental Engineering Program at the School of Mechnical Engineering, Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, and was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Yoram Gerchman of Oranim College, Dr. Michal Mandelboim, the Director of the National Center for Influenza and Respiratory Viruses at Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, and Nehemya Friedman from Tel Hashomer. The article was published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology.

In the study, the researchers tested the optimal wavelength for killing the coronavirus, and found that a length of 285 nanometers was almost as efficient in disinfecting the virus as a wavelength of 265 nanometers, requiring less than half a minute to destroy more than 99.9% of the coronaviruses. This result is significant because the cost of 285 nm LED bulbs is much lower than that of 265 nm bulbs, and the former are also more readily available. Eventually, as the science develops, the industry will be able to make the necessary adjustments and install the bulbs in robotic systems, or air conditioning, vacuum, and water systems, and thereby be able to efficiently disinfect large surfaces and spaces. Prof. Mamane believes that the technology will be available for use in the near future.

“The entire world is currently looking for effective solutions to disinfect the coronavirus,” says Prof. Mamane. “The problem is that in order to disinfect a bus, train, sports hall or plane by chemical spraying, you need physical manpower, and in order for the spraying to be effective, you have to give the chemical time to act on the surface. We know, for example, that medical staff do not have time to manually disinfect, say, computer keyboards and other surfaces in hospitals – and the result is infection and quarantine. The disinfection systems based on LED bulbs, however, can be installed in the ventilation system and air conditioner, for example, and sterilize the air sucked in and then emitted into the room.”

“We discovered that it is quite simple to kill the coronavirus using LED bulbs that radiate ultraviolet light,” explains Prof. Mamane. “But no less important, we killed the viruses using cheaper and more readily available LED bulbs, which consume little energy and do not contain mercury like regular bulbs. Our research has commercial and societal implications, given the possibility of using such LED bulbs in all areas of our lives, safely and quickly. Of course, as always when it comes to ultraviolet radiation, it is important to make it clear to people that it is dangerous to try to use this method to disinfect surfaces inside homes. You need to know how to design these systems and how to work with them so that you are not directly exposed to the light.”

Ultraviolet radiation is a common method of killing bacteria and viruses, and most of us are familiar with such disinfecting bulbs from their use in water purifiers, such as Tami4. UV radiation mainly damages nucleic acids. Last year, a team of researchers led by Prof. Mamane and Prof. Gerchman patented a combination of different UV frequencies that cause dual-system damage to the genetic load and proteins of bacteria and viruses, from which they cannot recover-which is a key factor that is ignored.“ In the future, we will want to test our unique combination of integrated damage mechanisms and more ideas we recently developed on combined efficient direct and indirect damage to bacteria and viruses on different surfaces, air and water.”

Featured image: Prof. Hadas Mamane

The future generation of the Startup Nation

Students from Tel Aviv University win a gold medal at iGEM – the World Championship in Synthetic Biology

An unprecedented achievement for the TAU team at iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition) – the world championship in synthetic biology. The 50%-female team won first place in the Best Software Development category, and second place in the Foundational Advance category (a prize given for proposed solutions for fundamental problems in synthetic biology). Moreover, in the competition’s overall ranking, the TAU team ranked higher than teams from some of the world’s top universities, including Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Cornell.

Students from 256 leading universities around the world participated in the competition. Each team formed an original idea and implemented it like a startup venture. Normally, the competition takes place anually in Boston, but this year, due to the pandemic, it was conducted online. The TAU team, led by Prof. Tamir Tuller, Head of the Laboratory of Computational, Systems and Synthetic Biology, The Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, included 12 outstanding students from the Faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Life Sciences and Exact Sciences: Karin Sionov (Captain), Niv Amitay, Hadar Ben Shoshan, Noa Kraicer, Bar Glickstein, Itamar Menuhin, Matan Arbel, Doron Naky, Omer Edgar, Itai Katzir, David Kenigsberger and Einav Saadia.

Genetic engineering is based on the insertion of genes from one organism into another organism. The challenge in this process is the instability of these genes, which are often quickly ‘erased’ from the genome. In the iGEM competition, the TAU team developed an innovative technology that improves genome stability and ensures long-term preservation of the inserted synthetic genes. Since most of the world’s biotech and pharma companies use this type of genetic engineering, the new technology can contribute to a range of areas, such as drug development, the food and agriculture industry and green energy.

The technology, based on tools from various disciplines, including engineering, computer science and molecular biology, comprises software for designing genetically stable DNA sequences, alongside novel techniques for measuring genome stability. Highly impressed with the new technology, the judges awarded it a gold medal, as well as prizes and high ranking in several categories.

Team Captain Karin Sionov, who holds a BSc in Biomedical Engineering from TAU’s Faculty of Engineering: “It was a great honor for me to head a team of outstanding students who were extremely proud to represent Tel Aviv University and the State of Israel. Winning was our reward for a whole year of hard, challenging work. We came to the competition with great motivation and gave everything we had. I am glad that we defeated some of the world’s leading universities.”

Prof. Tamir Tuller: “This is a very impressive achievement, which proves that TAU leads and excels in synthetic biology – not only in Israel but internationally as well. One proof of the immensity of the achievement comes from a Swiss company that has expressed an interest in our technology, already forwarding a contribution to advance the idea, and intending to support us on our way to commercialization.”

Karin Sionov the team captain

The Sky is Not the Limit

Tel Aviv University Builds and Launches a Nanosatellite into Space

The TAU-SAT1 nanosatellite was devised, developed, assembled, and tested at the new Nanosatellite Center, an interdisciplinary endeavor of the Faculties of Engineering and Exact Sciences and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. TAU-SAT1 is currently undergoing pre-flight testing at the Japanese space agency JAXA. From Japan, the satellite will be sent to the United States, where it will “hitch a ride” on a NASA and Northrop Grumman resupply spacecraft destined for the International Space Station in the first quarter of 2021. Once at the station, a robotic arm will release TAU-SAT1 into a low-earth orbit (LEO) around the Earth, approximately 400km above the Earth.

Small satellite – a big step

“This is a nanosatellite, or miniature satellite, of the ‘CubeSat’ variety,” explains Dr. Ofer Amrani, head of Tel Aviv University’s miniature satellite lab. “The satellite’s dimensions are 10 by 10 by 30 cm, the size of a shoebox, and it weighs less than 2.5 kg. TAU-SAT1 is the first nanosatellite designed, built and tested independently in academia in Israel.”

TAU-SAT1 is a research satellite, and will conduct several experiments while in orbit. Among other things, Tel Aviv University’s satellite will measure cosmic radiation in space.

“We know that that there are high-energy particles moving through space that originate from cosmic radiation,” says Dr. Meir Ariel, director of the university’s Nanosatellite Center. “Our scientific task is to monitor this radiation, and to measure the flux of these particles and their products. It should be understood that space is a hostile environment, not only for humans but also for electronic systems. When these particles hit astronauts or electronic equipment in space, they can cause significant damage. The scientific information collected by our satellite will make it possible to design means of protection for astronauts and space systems. To this end, we incorporated a number of experiments into the satellite, which were developed by the Space Environment Department at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.”

Satellite station on the roof of the faculty building

A challenge that presented itself was how to extract the data collected by the TAU-SAT1 satellite. At an altitude of 400 km above sea level, the nanosatellite will orbit the earth at a dizzying speed of 27,600 km per hour, or 7.6 km per second. At this speed, the satellite will complete an orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes.  “In order to collect data, we built a satellite station on the roof of the engineering building,” says Dr. Amrani. “Our station, which also serves as an amateur radio station, includes a number of antennas and an automated control system. When TAU-SAT1 passes ‘over’ the State of Israel, that is, within a few thousand kilometer radius from the ground station’s receiving range, the antennas will track the satellite’s orbit and a process of data transmission will occur between the satellite and the station. Such transmissions will take place about four times a day, with each one lasting less than 10 minutes. In addition to its scientific mission, the satellite will also serve as a space relay station for amateur radio communities around the world. In total, the satellite is expected to be active for several months. Because it has no engine, its trajectory will fade over time as the result of atmospheric drag – it will burn up in the atmosphere and come back to us as stardust.”

And this is just the beginning

But launching the TAU-SAT1 nanosatellite is only Tel Aviv University’s first step on its way to joining the “new space” revolution. The idea behind the new space revolution is to open space up to civilians as well. Our satellite was built and tested with the help of a team of students and researchers. Moreover, we built the infrastructure on our own – from the cleanrooms, to the various testing facilities such as the thermal vacuum chamber, to the receiving and transmission station we placed on the roof. Now that the infrastructure is ready, we can begin to develop TAU-SAT2. The idea is that any researcher and any student, from any faculty at Tel Aviv University, or outside of it, will be able to plan and launch experiments into space in the future – even without being an expert in the field.

In the last few years Tel Aviv University has been working on establishing a Nanosatellite Center to build small “shoebox” size satellites for launch into space. “We are seeing a revolution in the field of civilian space”, explains Prof. Colin Price, one of the academic heads of the new center.  “We call this new space as opposed to the old space where only giant companies with huge budgets and large teams of engineers could build satellites.  As a result of miniaturization and modulation of many technologies, today universities are building small satellites that can be developed and launched in less than 2 years, and at a fraction of the budget in the old space”, Price continues. “We have just completed the building of Tel Aviv University’s first nano-satellite, and it is ready for launch.”

It will have been only two years from the moment that we began all of the above-mentioned activities until the satellite is launched – this is an achievement that would not have been possible without the involvement of many people: the university administration, who supported the project and the setting up of the infrastructure on campus, Prof. Yossi Rosenwaks, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Professors Sivan Toledoand Haim Suchowski from the Faculty of Exact Sciences, and, most importantly, the project team that dealt with R&D around the clock: Elad Sagi, Dolev Bashi, Tomer Nahum, Idan Finkelstein, Dr. Diana Laufer, Eitan Shlisel, Eran Levin, David Greenberg, Sharon Mishal, and Orly Blumberg.

TAU-SAT1 Team here on campus, before leaving to the airport

Featured image: Last inspections in the clean room. TAU SAT1

  • 1
  • 2

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