Tag: Exact Sciences

TAU Students Team Wins 1st Place in Int’l Mathematics Competition

Team competed with 600 students from leading universities around the world.

An impressive achievement for Tel Aviv University students, who won first prize in a renowned mathematics competition, the International Mathematics Competition (IMC). The competition took place in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, with the participation of 600 students from leading universities around the world. At the end of the one-week long competition, the students from Tel Aviv University got the highest group score (292.5 points), as well as the highest individual score.

 

The TAU delegation consisted of 8 students from the School of Mathematical Sciences: Shvo Regavim, Noam Tashma, Lior Hadassi, Shahar Friedman, Lior Schain, Dror Fried, Tommy Winetraub and Uri Kreitner. They were accompanied by team leaders Dr. Dan Carmon and Dor Metzer from the School.

 

Other competition participants came from leading universities, such as: University of Cambridge (England), École Polytechnique (France), Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (Germany), University of Amsterdam (Holland), University College London (England), Loránd Eötvös University (Hungary), Barcelona University (Spain).

 

“The competition required a combination of skills: mathematical knowledge at a very high level, along with creativity and the ability to deal with pressure.”

 

Academic Powerhouse in World of Mathematics

The Head of TAU’s School of Mathematical Sciences, Prof. Yaron Ostrover, and the program coordinator, Prof. Yehuda Shalom, congratulated the students, and said: “We are very proud of our students for winning first place in the IMC. Their efforts and commitment, as well as that of their team leader, Dr. Dan Carmon, are praiseworthy.”

 

“TAU’s School of Mathematical Sciences values the preparation of the future generation who will be at the forefront of Israel’s research, science and technology industries. The impressive achievement showcases an important aspect of Israel in general and Tel Aviv University in particular, as an academic powerhouse in the world of mathematics. We also congratulate other universities in Israel for their great achievement.”

 

Dr. Carmon, the team’s math coach and an engineer with StarkWare says: “We competed against some of the best math students in the world, and are very proud of our success. I’d like to congratulate all the Israeli participants for their excellent achievement. The competition required a combination of skills: mathematical knowledge at a very high level, along with creativity and the ability to deal with pressure. I am sure that the skills the students acquired in the competition will serve them in the future as well. In addition, I’d like to thank my colleagues at StarkWare, who helped us with the expenses involved.”

 

Mink the Mascot Works His Magic

Dror Fried, one of the team members, says: “The IMC competition is intended for university students, which means that it also includes integrals, linear algebra, and more. Our students tend to perform well in mathematical competitions, but I did not expect that we’d win the first place in the IMC. I was very happy at the closing ceremony when it was announced. I’m also very grateful to Mink, our group mascot, who helped make it happen.”

 

“Winning is exhilarating,” notes Lior Hadassi. “The atmosphere at the event is very friendly and the medals are just plastic and really not the center of the event, but it’s always fun to win.”

 

Paying respect to Mink

 

“We’re all graduates of the Youth Olympiad, with lots of experience in competitive mathematics. Competitions are always stressful, though. Even the hundredth time around. No matter how prepared you think you are, once the competition starts, your adrenaline flows.”

 

A Meeting of Cultures

“The IMC is a meeting of cultures,” explains Lior. “It was fun to meet teams from all over Europe, from Germany and France, and even from Singapore. I met some friends who I know from the Youth Olympics and who I didn’t think I’d get to see again.”

 

“This is the fifth international competition that I’m competing in, but the first four of them were all in a virtual format because of Covid-19,” says Dror. “So, it was a welcome opportunity to meet everyone. I spoke with quite a few students from around the world. Everyone had interesting things to say about their country, university, the competition itself, or just stories like how the Slovenians steal the Germans’ mascot every year. I’m in touch with some of the participants, and the WhatsApp group of the contestants is still active.”

 

“Competitions are always stressful, though.” adds Lior. “Even the hundredth time around. No matter how prepared you think you are, once the competition starts, your adrenaline flows. The most stressful part is when you’re unable to solve a question and the clock is ticking. On the first day of the competition, I was stuck on a question during three full hours. Only in the last half hour of the test did it occur to me how I should solve it.”

 

“Thank you to Dan Carmon and Dor Metzer, our team leaders, who did a great job organizing our participation and making sure that none of us got lost on the trip. A huge thank you to Lev Radzivilovksi, the head coach of the Israeli math team. Although this time he was not part of the delegation, he cultivated my mathematical abilities and those of many other participants. Without him, Tel Aviv University would not have made this achievement,” concludes Dror.

 

Dror Fried enjoys Bulgarian nature

Can Music Help Prevent Severe Cognitive Decline?

TAU researchers developed musical tests to detect mental deterioration in old age.

Modern technology contributes to increased longevity and thus to the growth of the elderly population. It is therefore important to take steps to ensure their quality of life, including inventing tools for accessible and quick diagnosis of age-related conditions. While preventative tests are commonly accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer, no method has yet been developed to enable routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues.

 

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method that employs musical tests and a portable instrument for measuring brain activity to detect cognitive decline in old age. The method entails measuring 15 minutes of electrical activity in the subject’s brain while he or she performs simple musical tasks and can be easily implemented by any staff member in any clinic, without requiring special training. The researchers believe the method could pave the way towards early detection of cognitive decline when treatment and prevention of severe decline are possible, improving the quality of life of millions around the world

 

Many Powers of Music

The study was led at Tel Aviv University by PhD student Neta Maimon from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and Lior Molcho from Neurosteer Ltd, headed by Prof. Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience. Other participants included: Adi Sasson, Sarit Rabinowitz, and Noa Regev-Plotnick from the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. The article was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

 

As part of the study, the researchers developed a groundbreaking method combining a portable device for the measurement and innovative analysis of electroencephalography (EEG), developed by Neurosteer, and a short musical test of about 12-15 minutes, developed by Maimon.

 

“We have actually succeeded in illustrating that music is indeed an effective tool for measuring brain activity.”

 

Maimon, who specializes in musical cognition, explains that music has great influence on different centers in the brain. On the one hand, music is known to be a quick mood stimulant, particularly of positive emotion. On the other hand, in different situations, music can be cognitively challenging, activating the frontal parts of the brain, especially if we try to concentrate on different aspects of the music, and at the same time perform a particular task. According to Maimon, if we combine these two capabilities, we can create cognitive tests that are quite complex, yet also pleasant and easy to perform.

 

Neta Maimon specializes in musical cognition

 

Furthermore, music that is positive and reasonably rhythmic will enhance concentration and performance of the task. Thus, for example, the famous “Mozart effect,” whereby subjects perform better on intelligence tests after listening to Mozart’s music, has nothing to do with Mozart’s music, but rather the fact that music creates a positive mood and stimulates us to a state that is optimal for performing intelligence and creativity tests.

 

Accordingly, the researchers hypothesized that with musical tools, it would also be possible to challenge the subjects to an extent that would enable testing of the brain’s frontal activity as well as raising their spirits, thus enhancing their performance on the test while the overall experience is pleasant.

 

Enabling Early Detection of Cognitive Decline

The study included an experiment testing 50 elderly people hospitalized at the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. “Anyone hospitalized at Dorot, or any other geriatric rehabilitation institution, undergoes a standard test called ‘mini-mental,’ designed to evaluate their cognitive condition as a routine part of the intake process,” explains Maimon.

 

During the test, the subject is connected to the portable EEG device by means of an adhesive band with three electrodes attached to the forehead. The test includes a variety of tasks, including enumerating the days of the week or months of the year backwards. The subject performs a series of musical-cognitive tasks according to audible instructions given automatically through earphones. Short melodies are played by different instruments, and the subjects are instructed to perform various tasks on them at varying levels of difficulty. For example, pressing a button each time any melody is played or pressing it only when the violin plays. In addition, the test includes several minutes of musically guided meditation designed to bring the brain to a resting state, as this state is known to indicate cerebral functioning in various situations. Up to 30 points can be accrued, a high score indicating normal cognition.

 

“Our method enables the monitoring of cognitive capability and detection of cognitive decline already in the early stages, all by simple and accessible means.”

 

“The participants scored 18-30 on the mini-mental test, indicating various levels of cognitive functioning,” explains Maimon. “The EEG device registered the electrical activity in the brain during the activity, and the results were analyzed using machine learning technology. This allowed mathematical indices to be identified that were precisely correlated with the mini-mental test scores; in other words, we obtained new neuro-markers [brain markers] that may stand alone as indices of the subject’s cognitive status.”

 

Maimon adds: “We have actually succeeded in illustrating that music is indeed an effective tool for measuring brain activity. The brain activity and response times to tasks correlated to the subjects’ cerebral conditions (correlating to the mini-mental score assigned to them). More importantly, all those who underwent the experiment reported that, on the one hand, it challenged the brain, but on the other it was very pleasant to perform”.

 

The researchers conclude: “Our method enables the monitoring of cognitive capability and detection of cognitive decline already in the early stages, all by simple and accessible means, with a quick and easy test that can be conducted in any clinic. This method is of special importance today due to the increase in longevity and accelerated population growth, particularly among the elderly. Today, millions of people around the world already suffer or are liable to suffer soon from cognitive decline and its dire consequences, and their number will only increase in the coming decades. Our method could pave the way towards efficient cognitive monitoring of the general population, and thus detect cognitive decline in its early stages, when treatment and prevention of severe decline are possible. It is therefore expected to improve the quality of life of millions around the world.”

TAU Researchers Identified a Serious Security Flaw in Samsung’s Galaxy Series

TAU Researchers Identified a Serious Security Flaw in Samsung’s Galaxy Series.

Tel Aviv University researchers have discovered a serious security flaw in Samsung’s flagship Galaxy series. The researchers contacted Samsung in May 2021, and in October the company released a software update that fixed the loophole. According to the researchers, users who have not updated their Android software since October are urged to do so as soon as possible, as hackers could take advantage of the loophole found to hack into the Galaxy smartphones in the series and steal sensitive information.

The study was conducted by Prof. Avishai Wool of TAU’s School of Electrical Engineering, Dr. Eyal Ronen of the Blavatnik School of Computer Science, and graduate student Alon Shakevsky.

Securing the Last Layer of Protection

“In protecting smartphones using the Android system, there is a special component called TrustZone” explains Prof. Wool. “This component is a combination of hardware and software, and its job is to protect our most sensitive information – the encryption and identification keys. We found an error in the implementation of Samsung’s TrustZone code, which allowed hackers to extract encryption keys and access secure information.”

“It should be understood that phone companies like Samsung go to enormous lengths to secure their phones, and yet we still hear about attacks, for example in the case of the NSO spyware,” Dr Ronen adds. “TrustZone is designed to be the last layer of protection, the internal safe. So, even if NSO managed to hack into my phone, it still wouldn’t be able to access the encryption keys. For example, if I approve a bank transfer using a fingerprint, the fingerprint enters the phone’s TrustZone, and hackers will have no way to use the fingerprint to carry out transactions in my bank account. In our article, we showed that failures in Samsung’s code also allowed access to these sensitive cryptographic keys.”

 

The Research Team (from left to right): Alon Shakevsky, Prof. Avishai Wool and Dr. Eyal Ronen

“A Secret Code Never Guarantees Longevity” 

In May 2021, the Tel Aviv University researchers contacted Samsung and presented their findings. In October 2021, Samsung released an update to the Android operating software that fixed the major loophole in about 100 million Galaxy phones. The company and the researchers coordinated the date of the publication of the findings and the date of the update in order to prevent hackers from taking advantage the loophole.

“Master’s student Alon Shakevsky worked for months on extracting the code from the device so that we could investigate it,” says Wool, “and two weeks ago hackers broke into the company’s databases and leaked Samsung’s code. The information that was previously confidential is today available to everyone, including researchers like us. Therefore, the lesson for phone companies should be to publish the code in advance, let the experts and researchers check the architecture, and not to rely too much on the code’s secrecy. A secret code never guarantees longevity, because it will eventually leak. In the end, we helped Samsung.”

“In order to protect ourselves,” Dr. Ronen concludes, “we encourage all owners of Samsung Galaxy devices to update their software.”

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

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