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.
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.”
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
“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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
In a significant first for Israeli academia, TAU’s Prof. Noam Eliaz has been selected as a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors, USA.
Eliaz, of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, founded its Department of Material Science and Engineering and is the director of the Biomaterials and Corrosion Laboratory.
“As inventors and entrepreneurs our job is to constantly look for the next professional challenge and develop the new groundbreaking invention, for the benefit of society and technology,” said Eliaz. “This is the first time that an Israeli has been elected as a senior member of the academy, and I hope that this will open the door for more Israeli researchers to integrate as senior members in the future.”
Eliaz’s research is multidisciplinary and touches on both basic and applied sciences. He is considered a global leader in several disciplines which have direct applications to the defense and implant industries. He previously served as a metallurgical laboratory officer in the Israeli Air force, and was a Fulbright and Rothschild postdoctoral scholar at MIT.
Eliaz is one of 38 new senior members whom the Academy recently recognized for groundbreaking achievements in the development of patents and technologies that impact the welfare of society and contribute to the innovation ecosystem.
Prof. Noam Eliaz
Due to the coronavirus, Tel Aviv University, like many universities across the globe, has moved its classes to an online format. But can you really copy-paste a class into Zoom and expert the same experience for students? How are professors coping with the challenges of students who are sitting at home, amid a million distractions? We talked to different professors from across campus to find out.
Dr. Jonathan Ostrometzky teaches at the “Sciences for High Tech” program. He’s currently teaching two courses over Zoom, both for advanced B.Sc students.
According to him, remote teaching has brought unexpected advantages. “In “Introduction to Hardware”, the larger class I teach, I’ve been recording myself giving the lecture, with the presentation and all the details, and then sending students the video, even as far as a week in advance,” says Dr. Ostrometzky.
Doesn’t that make the class over Zoom unnecessary? “Not at all,” he says. “Some of the students watch the lecture in advance, though not all of them. The material is packed with details and it really helps students to be able to review things before the live lecture. It also means the questions I get, the discussion we can have, goes much deeper.”
Dr. Asia Ben Cohen and Dr. Gideon Segev teach a large intro course at the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering together, to about 250 students. “The first week,” Dr. Segev says, “Dr. Ben Cohen taught classes while I was already in isolation because of COVID-19.”
Like Dr. Ostrometzky, they’ve also found that moving to Zoom has given their lectures room to breathe. “The course is one of the “heaviest” in terms of the material, of the entire Bachelor’s program. In class, we usually go pretty slowly, students need time to process and take everything in. It’s very difficult to convey the material purely through presentations, we write on the board a lot, and it helps students follow along.”
Can you learn “heavy” engineering material over Zoom?
Without a board the whole classroom was focused on at the same time, and with the difficulty of keeping students engaged when they were just muted, black boxes on the screen, the lecturers decided to flip the script.
“We divided the work between us,” says Dr. Segev. “Dr. Ben Cohen recorded herself giving the lectures the way we would do them in class, writing out equations and explaining everything as she went, and those were sent to students, so they could review them at home. Then, for my lecture time, I opened Zoom and invited everyone to come and ask questions, have a discussion with me, get help about anything they found unclear.”
Did it work? “About a month after we began online teaching, we sent our students a survey to see how they were doing, and got some really positive feedback. People were happy that they could review material, pause, repeat, and then ask me their questions live on Zoom.”
Prof. Hadas Mamane, who teaches the class “Water Purifying Technologies” to Master’s students, finds remote learning has its upsides. “I can see questions students have over chat,” Prof. Manage says. “Share different screens with them, do a poll in the middle of the class to check whether they’ve understood the material. It’s also easier to bring on guest lecturers and expose the students to broader perspectives, and it allows flexibility for students who study and work at the same time.”
Is Zoom better for the environment?
There’s also one major advantage to remote learning that Prof. Mamane sees as especially relevant for her work. “As someone who cares deeply about the environment, I see a huge benefit in the fact that my students and I don’t have to waste fuel or resources to attend a class. We, as a society and a university, have to keep our eyes on the environmental crisis, and remote learning allows us to cut back on harmful emissions.”
But of course, there are some challenges that come with remote teaching as well. “It’s harder to tell whether students are really engaged,” says Dr. Ostrometzky. “I sometimes pause the class and ask them a question, just to see who’s listening and get some kind of feedback.”
Is anyone out there? Telling whether students are engaged can be tough.
Dr. Gal Raz, who teaches two advanced film classes at the David and Yolanda Katz Faculty of the Arts, agrees. “I teach two 4-hour classes in one day, and it’s not easy sitting in front of a screen for eight hours and feeling a bit like I’m talking to myself. The lack of eye contact isn’t very pleasant. It’s also not easy for my three children to stay quiet for that long.”
Maya Dreifuss, a director who teaches film directing and screenwriting, finds the classroom atmosphere is also difficult to replicate. “Things happen when people are in the same space together, students barge into each other’s words, talk at the same time, even when these interactions are a little disruptive they still contribute to a vibrant energy and class atmosphere.”
The professors we spoke to were divided in how much of the online learning experience can be taken back into the classroom, once we eventually return to normal life.
“Everyone should be able to study in the way that works best for them,” says Dr. Ostrometzky. “I plan to keep the videos for every future iteration of the class, so students can review them whenever they want. It only enhances the classroom experience.”
What happens when we all go back to our regular classrooms?
Dr. Mamane agrees. “I feel like I’ve gone through a huge change and I don’t want to go back to how things were. I want to meet students face-to-face but also use Zoom for flexibility and things like guest lectures.”
Dr. Raz and Maya Dreifuss see things differently, both agreeing that not much of remote learning can be taken back into post-pandemic life. “Zoom can be good for one-on-one meetings with students,” Dr. Raz says. “But nothing can replace the classroom atmosphere.”
Maybe the difference of opinion can be attributed to the fact that in the arts, the classroom discussion generally carries a greater weight than in the exact sciences? Regardless, all the professors we spoke to felt remote learning has changed their perspective in some way, and has given them a new experience of teaching. Hopefully, when we all return to our classes, this new perspective will lead to even better teaching and greater academic insights.