News & Press Releases

International Team of Leading Israeli Universities Finds Oldest Evidence of the Controlled Use of Fire to Cook Food

15 November, 2022

The remains of a huge carp fish (2 meters/6.5 feet length), analyzed by the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Oranim Academic College, the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institution, the Natural History Museum in London, and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, mark the earliest signs of cooking by prehistoric human to 780,000 years ago, predating the available data by some 600,000 years.

A remarkable scientific discovery has been made by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), Tel Aviv University (TAU), and Bar-Ilan University (BIU), in collaboration with the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Oranim Academic College, the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR) institution, the Natural History Museum in London, and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. A close analysis of the remains of a carp-like fish found at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (GBY) archaeological site in Israel shows that the fish were cooked roughly 780,000 years ago.  Cooking is defined as the ability to process food by controlling the temperature at which it is heated and includes a wide range of methods. Until now, the earliest evidence of cooking dates to approximately 170,000 years ago. The question of when early man began using fire to cook food has been the subject of much scientific discussion for over a century. These findings shed new light on the matter and was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study was led by a team of researchers:  Dr. Irit Zohar, a researcher at TAU’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and curator of the Beit Margolin Biological Collections at Oranim Academic College, and HU Professor Naama Goren-Inbar, director of the excavation site.  The research team also included Dr. Marion Prevost at HU’s Institute of Archaeology; Prof. Nira Alperson-Afil at BIU’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology; Dr. Jens Najorka of the Natural History Museum in London; Dr. Guy Sisma-Ventura of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute; Prof. Thomas Tütken of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and Prof. Israel Hershkovitz at TAU’s Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Zohar and Dr. Prevost: “This study demonstrates the huge importance of fish in the life of prehistoric humans, for their diet and economic stability. Further, by studying the fish remains found at Gesher Benot Ya’aqob we were able to reconstruct, for the first time, the fish population of the ancient Hula Lake and to show that the lake held fish species that became extinct over time. These species included giant barbs (carp like fish) that reached up to 2 meters in length. The large quantity of fish remains found at the site proves their frequent consumption by early humans, who developed special cooking techniques. These new findings demonstrate not only the importance of freshwater habitats and the fish they contained for the sustenance of prehistoric man, but also illustrate prehistoric humans’ ability to control fire in order to cook food, and their understanding the benefits of cooking fish before eating it.”

In the study, the researchers focused on pharyngeal teeth (used to grind up hard food such as shells) belonging to fish from the carp family. These teeth were found in large quantities at different archaeological strata at the site. By studying the structure of the crystals that form the teeth enamel (whose size increases through exposure to heat), the researchers were able to prove that the fish caught at the ancient Hula Lake, adjacent to the site, were exposed to temperatures suitable for cooking, and were not simply burned by a spontaneous fire.

Until now, evidence of the use of fire for cooking had been limited to sites that came into use much later than the GBY site--by some 600,000 years, and ones most are associated with the emergence of our own species, homo sapiens.

Prof. Goren-Inbar added: “The fact that the cooking of fish is evident over such a long and unbroken period of settlement at the site indicates a continuous tradition of cooking food. This is another in a series of discoveries relating to the high cognitive capabilities of the Acheulian hunter-gatherers who were active in the ancient Hula Valley region. These groups were deeply familiar with their environment and the various resources it offered them.  Further, it shows they had extensive knowledge of the life cycles of different plant and animal species. Gaining the skill required to cook food marks a significant evolutionary advance, as it provided an additional means for making optimal use of available food resources. It is even possible that cooking was not limited to fish, but also included various types of animals and plants.”

Prof. Hershkovitz and Dr. Zohar note that the transition from eating raw food to eating cooked food had dramatic implications for human development and behavior.  Eating cooked food reduces the bodily energy required to break down and digest food, allowing other physical systems to develop.  It also leads to changes in the structure of the human jaw and skull. This change freed humans from the daily, intensive work of searching for and digesting raw food, providing them free time in which to develop new social and behavioral systems. Some scientists view eating fish as a milestone in the quantum leap in human cognitive evolution, providing a central catalyst for the development of the human brain.  They claim that eating fish is what made us human. Even today, it is widely known that the contents of fish flesh, such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iodine and more, contribute greatly to brain development.

The research team believe that the location of freshwater areas, some of them in areas that have long since dried up and become arid deserts, determined the route of the migration of early man from Africa to the Levant and beyond. Not only did these habitats provide drinking water and attracted animals to the area but catching fish in shallow water is a relatively simple and safe task with a very high nutritional reward.

The team posits that exploiting fish in freshwater habitats was the first step on prehistoric humans’ route out of Africa. Early man began to eat fish around 2 million years ago but cooking fish—as found in this study—represented a real revolution in the Acheulian diet, and is an important foundation for understanding the relationship between man, the environment, climate, and migration when attempting to reconstruct the history of early humans.

It should be noted that evidence of the use of fire at the site—the oldest such evidence in Eurasia—was identified first by BIU’s Prof. Nira Alperson-Afil. “The use of fire is a behavior that characterizes the entire continuum of settlement at the site,” she explained. “This affected the spatial organization of the site and the activity conducted there, which revolved around fireplaces.” Alperson-Afil’s research of fire at the site was revolutionary for its time and showed that the use of fire began hundreds of thousands of years before previously thought.

HU’s Goren-Inbar added that the archaeological site of GBY documents a continuum of repeated settlement by groups of hunter-gatherers on the shores of the ancient Hula Lake which lasting tens of thousands of years. “These groups made use of the rich array of resources provided by the ancient Hula Valley, and left behind a long settlement continuum with over 20 settlement strata,” Goren-Inbar explained. The excavations at the site have uncovered the material culture of these ancient hominins, including flint, basalt, and limestone tools, as well as their food sources, which were characterized by a rich diversity of plant species from the lake and its shores (including fruit, nuts, and seeds) and by many species of land mammals, both medium-sized and large.

Dr. Jens Najorka of the Natural History Museum in London explained: “In this study, we used geochemical methods to identify changes in the size of the tooth enamel crystals, as a result of exposure to different cooking temperatures. When they are burnt by fire, it is easy to identify the dramatic change in the size of the enamel crystals, but it is more difficult to identify the changes caused by cooking at temperatures between 200 and 500 degrees Celsius. The experiments I conducted with Dr. Zohar allowed us to identify the changes caused by cooking at low temperatures. We do not know exactly how the fish were cooked but given the lack of evidence of exposure to high temperatures, it is clear that they were not cooked directly in fire, and were not thrown into a fire as waste or as material for burning.”

Dr. Guy Sisma-Ventura of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute and Prof. Thomas Tütken of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz were also part of the research group, providing analysis of the isotope composition of oxygen and carbon in the enamel of the fishes’ teeth. “This study of isotopes is a real breakthrough, as it allowed us to reconstruct the hydrological conditions in this ancient lake throughout the seasons, and thus to determine that the fish were not a seasonal economic resource but were caught and eaten all year round. Thus, fish provided a constant source of nutrition that reduced the need for seasonal migration.”

First Sentence Ever Written in Canaanite Language Discovered at Tel Lachish:

9 November, 2022

Hebrew U. Unearths Ivory Comb from 1700 BCE Inscribed with Plea to Eradicate Lice —"May this [ivory] tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard”

The alphabet was invented around 1800 BCE and was used by the Canaanites and later by most other languages in the world.  Until recently, no meaningful Canaanite inscriptions had been discovered in the Land of Israel, save only two or three words here and there. Now an amazing discovery presents an entire sentence in Canaanite, dating to about 1700 BCE. It is engraved on a small ivory comb and includes a spell against lice.

The comb was unearthed at Tel Lachish in Israel by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and Southern Adventist University in the United States, under the direction of Professors Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil.  The inscription was deciphered by semitic epigraphist Dr. Daniel Vainstub at Ben Gurion University (BGU). The ivory was tested by HU Prof. Rivka Rabinovich and BGU Prof. Yuval Goren and was found to originate from an elephant tusk.  Their findings were published in Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.

The letters of the inscription were engraved in a very shallow manner. It was excavated in 2017 but the letters were noticed only in subsequent post-processing in 2022 by Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu. It was cleaned and preserved by Miriam Lavi.

The ivory comb is small, measuring roughly 3.5 by 2.5 cm.  The comb has teeth on both sides. Although their bases are still visible, the comb teeth themselves were broken in antiquity. The central part of the comb is somewhat eroded, possibly by the pressure of fingers holding the comb during haircare or removal of lice from the head or beard. The side of the comb with six thick teeth was used to untangle knots in the hair, while the other side, with 14 fine teeth, was used to remove lice and their eggs, much like the current-day two-sided lice combs sold in stores.

There are 17 Canaanite letters on the comb. They are archaic in form—from the first stage of the invention of the alphabet script. They form seven words in Canaanite, reading: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

“This is the first sentence ever found in the Canaanite language in Israel. There are Canaanites in Ugarit in Syria, but they write in a different script, not the alphabet that is used till today. The Canaanite cities are mentioned in Egyptian documents, the Amarna letters that were written in Akkadian, and in the Hebrew Bible. The comb inscription is direct evidence for the use of the alphabet in daily activities some 3700 years ago. This is a landmark in the history of the human ability to write,” shared Garfinkel.

Ancient combs were made from wood, bone, or ivory. Ivory was a very expensive material and likely an imported luxury object.  As there were no elephants in Canaan during that time period, the comb likely came from nearby Egypt—factors indicating that even people of high social status suffered from lice.

The research team analyzed the comb itself for the presence of lice under a microscope and photographs were taken of both sides. Remains of head lice, 0.5–0.6 mm in size, were found on the second tooth. The climatic conditions of Lachish, however, did not allow preservation of whole head lice but only those of the outer chitin membrane of the nymph stage head louse.

Despite its small size, the inscription on the comb from Lachish has very special features, some of which are unique and fill in gaps and lacunas in our knowledge of many aspects of the culture of Canaan in the Bronze Age.  For the first time, we have an entire verbal sentence written in the dialect spoken by the Canaanite inhabitants of Lachish, enabling us to compare this language in all its aspects with the other sources for it. Second, the inscription on the comb sheds light on some hitherto poorly attested aspects of the everyday life of the time, haircare and dealing with lice.

Third, this is the first discovery in the region of an inscription referring to the purpose of the object on which it was written, as opposed to dedicatory or ownership inscriptions on objects. Further, the engraver’s skill in successfully executing such tiny letters (1–3 mm wide) is a fact that from now on should be taken into account in any attempt to summarize and draw conclusions on literacy in Canaan in the Bronze Age.

Lachish was a major Canaanite city state in the second millennium BCE and the second most important city in the Biblical Kingdom of Judah. To date, 10 Canaanite inscriptions have been found in Lachish, more than at any other site in Israel. The city was the major center for the use and preservation of the alphabet during some 600 years, from 1800-1150 BCE. The site of Tel Lachish is under the protection of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Hebrew University and Meta AI Launch Joint AI PhD Program to Drive Cutting-Edge Research

26 October, 2022

This first of its kind partnership between Meta and an Israeli university marks a significant step to bring industry-leading Artificial Intelligence research from Hebrew University’s Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering to the AI marketplace.

Today, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s School of Engineering and Computer Science and Yissum, HU’s technology transfer company announced a new research partnership with Meta AI.

This partnership stems from Hebrew University's efforts to strengthen the ties between academia and the tech industry. Meta AI’s research advances the state-of-the-art in artificial intelligence through fundamental and applied research in open collaboration with the community. PhD students who are accepted into the program will have the opportunity to merge theory with real work experience, to gain a better understanding of emerging technologies and to develop new ones.

The results of the research conducted as part of this strategic partnership will be published for the benefit of the scientific community and industry. Meta will assign the HU students mentors and scholarships to deepen their understanding in AI and machine learning. Further, these students will have access to Meta’s computational infrastructure and facilities.

Professor Sara Cohen, Dean of the Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering at the Hebrew University: “This partnership offers our students a unique opportunity to experience the world of research and development from two perspectives: a research perspective that enables experimentation, innovation, and breakthroughs, and an implementation perspective, which will give them an understanding of the real-world impact of their research. This one-of-a-kind collaboration will empower Hebrew U.’s PhD students to both study at one of Israel’s leading universities and to test their ideas in Meta’s industry-leading AI laboratory.”

Dr. Itzik Goldwaser, CEO of Yissum: “Meta’s choice to collaborate with the Hebrew University is proof of our institution’s scientific excellence and the commercial success that Yissum has achieved for its leading professors. The university’s curious and innovative researchers play a critical role in the marketplace, and we are proud to facilitate this collaboration with Meta to impact the scientific community.”

Professor Joelle Pineau, Managing Director of FAIR: “Exploratory research, open science, and cross-collaboration are foundational to our AI efforts. Many of our projects are done with researchers both in industry and academia as we believe this is the fastest way to make progress in research. Bringing our PhD program to Israel, in partnership with the Hebrew University, will further our collective impact as we together accelerate the world's progress toward more capable AI."

Israeli Government Approves $18 Million USD for New Albert Einstein Museum at Hebrew University 23 October, 2022 Today, Israel’s government approved the establishment of the Albert Einstein Museum at Safra Campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at the cost of$18 million USD / NIS 64 million.

This project, led by the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, includes the construction of a unique building on the university’s Safra Campus at Givat Ram that will house the full Einstein archives. The archives will be accessible to the general public in digital format and the museum will also serve as an innovative space for scientific and technological education.

The Albert Einstein Museum will showcase the research, activities, and legacy of Albert Einstein, a Nobel prizewinner and one of the world’s most renown scientists. With cutting-edge exhibition techniques, scientific demonstrations, and original documents, the Museum will present Einstein’s contributions to science, the impact of his discoveries on our lives today, his public activity and involvement in key historical moments during his lifetime.  Further, the Museum will highlight Einstein’s deep connection with the destiny of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of which he was a founder.

Visitors will be able to tour a reconstruction of Einstein’s library and office, and to view several original papers of his.  The project directors expect the Albert Einstein Museum to become a major tourist attraction in Israel.

This initiative was made possible through funding by Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, headed by MK Ze’ev Elkin, as well as the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, the Ministry of Finance, and the Prime Minister’s Office. The government will provide NIS 22.5 million and the University NIS 41.5 million.

MK Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Construction and Housing, and of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage: “Today, as the new academic year opens, we are passing an important resolution for strengthening academia in Israel, the capital of Israel, and the Hebrew University. The establishment of the Albert Einstein Museum and the provision of a permanent home for the full Einstein archives will bolster the standing of Israeli academia in general, and of the Hebrew University in particular, in the international arena; will reinforce the international status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; and will bring tens of thousands of tourists to this unique site. I would like to thank our partners in this unique project in the government and at the university, and as a Hebrew University graduate and former lecturer, I would like to wish every success to the hundreds of thousands of students who are beginning their academic studies today.”

Professor Asher Cohen, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: “Albert Einstein was one of the most prominent supporters of the State of Israel and one of the founding fathers of Hebrew University. His legacy of excellence in academic research forms the very foundation of our university, whereas his scientific achievements, which changed the world of physics, continue to impact all of our lives, from lasers and nuclear energy to GPS and space travel. These developments, and many more, can be traced to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. On behalf of the entire Hebrew University community, I would like to thank Minister Ze’ev Elkin and the government of Israel for helping to establish of this museum, which will preserve and cherish the legacy of the greatest scientist of our time.”

LOOKING TO MOVE TO A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY? Innovative System Developed at Hebrew U. Evaluates Habitability of Distant Planets

19 October, 2022

Computerized System Classifies Atmospheres of Planets and Identifies Those Suitable for Future Human Settlements

The climate crisis presents a huge challenge to all people on Earth. It has led many scientists to look for exo-planets, planets outside our solar system that humans could potentially settle. The James Webb Space Telescope was developed as part of this search to provide detailed observational data about earth-like exo-planets in the coming years. A new project, led by Dr. Assaf Hochman at the Fredy & Nadine Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), in collaboration with Dr. Paolo De Luca at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and Dr. Thaddeus D. Komacek at the University of Maryland, has successfully developed a framework to study the atmospheres of distant planets and locate those planets fit for human habitation, without having to visit them physically. Their joint research study was published in the prestigious Astrophysical Journal.

Classifying climate conditions and measuring climate sensitivity are central elements when assessing the viability of exoplanets as potential candidates for human habitation. In the current study, the research team examined TRAPPIST-1e, a planet located some 40 light years from the Earth and scheduled to be documented by the James Webb Space Telescope in the coming year. The researchers looked at the sensitivity of the planet’s climate to increases in greenhouse gases and compared it with conditions on Earth. Using a computerized simulation of the climate on TRAPPIST-1e, they could assess the impact of changes in greenhouse gas concentration.

The study focused on the effect of an increase in carbon dioxide on extreme weather conditions, and on the rate of changes in weather on the planet. “These two variables are crucial for the existence of life on other planets, and they are now being studied in depth for the first time in history,” explained Hochman.

According to the research team, studying the climate variability of earth-like exo-planets provides a better understanding of the climate changes we are currently experiencing on Earth. Additionally, this kind of research offers a new understanding of how planet Earth’s atmosphere might change in the future.

Hochman and his research partners found that planet TRAPPIST-1e has a significantly more sensitive atmosphere than planet Earth. They estimate that an increase in greenhouse gases there could lead to more extreme climate changes than we would experience here on Earth because one side of TRAPPIST-1e constantly faces its own sun, in the same way, that our moon always has one side facing the Earth.

As Hochman concluded, “the research framework we developed, along with observational data from the Webb Space Telescope, will enable scientists to efficiently assess the atmospheres of many other planets without having to send a space crew to visit them physically. This will help us make informed decisions in the future about which planets are good candidates for human settlement and perhaps even to find life on those planets.”

Sweeter Isn’t Always Tastier, Finds Hebrew U. Study

3 October, 2022

Taste Experts Analyze Half a Million Amazon and iHerb Customer Reviews, Find Foods Considered “Too Sweet” Given Lower Scores.

Most of us struggle with a sweet tooth despite wanting to eat healthy.  However, is sweeter always tastier? A new study conducted by student Kim Asseo, under the supervision of Professor Masha Niv, a taste expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, analyzed thousands of customer reviews of food products sold online, and found that reviewers tend to give lower scores to products deemed “too sweet”. Their study was published in the scientific journal Foods.

The team studied roughly 560,000 reviews of 31,000 food products sold on the leading online marketplaces Amazon and iHerb and found that 10% of the reviews refer to the products’ sweetness. The researchers then used machine learning and natural language processing to categorize the responses by level of sweetness. “7–16% of the reviews we examined indicated oversweetness. This is important because customers who complained about products being oversweet gave them significantly lower scores (one star less) than did customers who did not complain about oversweetness. In addition, the reviews mentioning oversweetness came from different customers and only for some of the products those customers tried, rather than from ‘serial complainers,’” shared Niv.

One of the ingredients that most frequently led to reviews citing oversweetness was the artificial sweetener Sucralose. “Food companies that make candies, snacks, and soft drinks must also pay attention to the demand for products that are less sweet,” added Asseo. “This is important not just for public health reasons (supplying members of the public who prefer it with food that is less sweet and is healthier), but also for the food companies themselves, so that they can boast a healthier product line and sell these healthier products to customers who actually find them tastier.”

Niv concluded that “despite popular opinion, it is not the case for everyone that sweeter means tastier. There is an opportunity here to diversify the levels of sweetness in products and to create healthier versions that are more closely tailored to the preferences of certain customer groups.”

HOW DO WOODLICE CHOOSE FEMALE MATES WHEN PREDATORS LURK NEARBY?

19 September, 2022

Hebrew University Study Reveals Impact of Predators on Male-Female Pairing.

Desert isopods might not make top of the list of most-endearing animals, but these small (up to two centimeters-long) creatures, with their segmented bodies and seven pairs of legs, are actually fascinating animals and ideal to study when looking at mating preferences.

They mate only once in their lifetime and spend the rest of their yearlong life with their chosen mate and their family (of 60-70 offspring) in a single permanent burrow.  The isopod females initially dig the burrow and the males fight to win a particular female and a particular habitat.  Both parents take care of the brood, and all family members—young and old—continue to excavate and clean the burrow together.  Choosing where to establish a home is the responsibility of the female woodlouse (“desert isopod “) and under normal conditions, the largest males usually win the largest females.  However, what happens when there is a predator, such as an Israeli gold scorpion, living nearby?

A study of this scenario was carried out in the Negev Desert, in southern Israel, by a Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) research team led by Professor Dror Hawlena and Dr. Viraj Torsekar.  They observed the mating behavior of male desert isopods in two locations – one close to the burrow of an Israeli gold scorpion (a risky area), and one further away (a safe area).  Their findings, recently published in Ecology, demonstrated the preference of large males for larger females in safe areas but less so for large females in risky areas.  “Using this manipulative field experiment, we found that desert isopods under risk of scorpion predation maintained ‘size assortative mating’, but that males that chose and fought over females were on average smaller for a given female size,” Torsekar explained.  Additionally, while bigger males stayed longer near safe burrows and won more male-male contests, fewer pairs were formed in risky sites.

The researchers also showed that the smaller males had often accepted second best and moved in with smaller females close to the lurking scorpion. Medium sized males chose between smaller females in safe places and larger female in risky places - demonstrating an equal fitness choice.

"This supported our novel hypothesis that the males anticipated the future risk of predation," noted Torsekar. The males seemed to incorporate information on the proximity of a predator when choosing a mate. They no longer made their selection based solely on the size of the female, although larger females do have larger broods.

It is hard work for the females to dig into the dry compacted soil of the desert, so they are always on the lookout for holes that can make life a little easier. The HU researchers dug holes in two groups, one near the burrow of an Israeli gold scorpion and one further away.  Female isopods readily adopted the holes and excavated full-size burrows. However, the study showed that fewer isopod pairs took up residence in burrows near predators, despite it being virtually free real estate.

It should be noted that the predatory behavior of scorpions is localized to the immediate vicinity around their burrows.  They don't go wandering off to look for prey but emerge only to attack prey that is detected by the vibrations isopods cause as they walk across the burrow roof.  However, it is known that the odor of the scorpion does alert isopods when they are near to its lair.

In courtship, once the females adopt a burrow, they are ready to admit a male. Peeping out from the top of the burrow, male and female encounter each other face-to-face - probably using the separation between the eyes of their prospective mate to assess size. Males compete furiously over the larger females, in hopes of producing a large brood.

"This information is crucial in predicting how the fear of a predator may affect prey population dynamics and evolutionary processes in the creation of new species," concluded Torsekar.

Hebrew University and the Technion Partner with IBM to Advance Artificial Intelligence

8 September, 2022

Following Collaborations with MIT, Stanford, and Other Leading Universities round the Globe, IBM Research to Invest Millions in Research at These Two Leading Israeli niversities.

The Technion and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have signed a partnership agreement with IBM Research to advance artificial intelligence capabilities and applications in Israel. The collaboration was announced this week at a conference held by IBM in Tel Aviv to mark 50 years since the establishment of the IBM Research Lab in Israel.

Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a role in all our daily lives, and is now a central growth engine in the business sector. The rapidly growing quantities of data that need to be handled demand that organizations develop advanced technological capabilities and apply AI on a large scale—a challenge that requires significant investment in R&D.  In light of the fact that Israel has a severe shortage of people with advanced degrees in computer science, and given higher education’s need for funding and skills from the business world, IBM Research has decided to launch a collaboration with the Technion and the Hebrew University.

Under the terms of the 3-year agreement, research will be conducted to search for new solutions in AI in the following 3 areas: natural language processing; accelerating discoveries for new drugs; and multi-cloud computing to support decentralized AI computation.  IBM will fund these studies, which will be carried out by doctoral students at the Technion and Hebrew University, totaling several million NIS.

Prof. Asher Cohen, President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: “The combination of IBM, one of the world’s leading technological companies, and our top-notch researchers offers an optimal edge to the knowledge- and computing- revolutions. With growing demand for experts who specialize in machine learning, algorithms, and computer science, the relationship with IBM, even from the earliest stages of research, will lead to outstanding breakthroughs in both science and medicine.”

Prof. Koby Rubinstein, Executive Vice President for Research at the Technion: “The Technion and the IBM Research Lab in Israel have had a very close relationship for years, ever since the lab was founded.  In recent years, the Technion has been home to a wide range of intensive research activity in AI. This partnership with IBM, which will be led by researchers in the field, will have a multiplier effect on AI research and development. We are delighted by this research collaboration, which will contribute much to both organizations.”

Dr. Aya Soffer, Vice President, AI Technologies and Director IBM Research: “The Israeli hi-tech industry is receiving a significant boost to its continued success. The collaboration with the Technion and Hebrew University will give rise groundbreaking research aimed at leveraging artificial intelligence and improving our lives. I am proud that IBM Research has decided to invest in this important undertaking that we have initiated here in Israel.”

Improving the Success of IVF

8 September, 2022

Hebrew University Review Reveals Simple Method to Increase Number of IVF Births.

Worldwide, around 10 -15% of couples have infertility problems. Many turn to artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs), most notably IVF (in vitro fertilization), in the hope of having a baby. But the process is fraught with anxiety, as only about one-third of IVF cycles, on average, are successful. However, a method of improving the success of IVF has been clearly identified in a systematic review of high-quality clinical trials – carried out by a team of researchers at Kaplan Hospital and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), led by Dr. Devorah Heymann.  Their findings were published in Human Reproduction.

The trend throughout the world is for couples to delay starting a family until they have achieved greater financial stability. This takes women beyond their years of peak fertility – causing many to rely on processes such as IVF to have a baby.  In IVF, an egg is removed from the woman, fertilized in a dish and then, a few days later, the embryo is implanted in her womb.  While in the dish, the embryo is kept in a liquid, or culture medium, that supports its development.  The Hebrew U. review established that the addition of hyaluronic acid (HA) to this medium enhances the ultimate success of IVF.

This significant finding was the result of a detailed systematic review and meta-analysis of the outcome of all high-quality clinical trials where HA was either added or not added to the culture medium. "We found that exposing an embryo to HA for more than 10 minutes prior to its transfer to the womb, increased the likelihood of a birth from 32% to 39%," shared Heymann.  The most marked success was in cases for women who had a poor prognosis of success.

Furthermore, the increase in birth rate was only seen in cases where a woman was implanted with her own fertilized egg and not in cases where donor eggs were used. "This could be because donor eggs tend to be of higher quality," explained Heymann. The main benefit being seen in poorer quality eggs.

This study, by Heymann and her colleagues, including IVF experts Prof. Zeev Shoham and Dr. Yuval Or, and builds on their work for Cochrane which published a review in 2020 showing an overall increase in success rate in ARTs when embryos are exposed to HA prior to implantation.

Although HA naturally occurs in the female reproductive tract, its role in improving IVF outcomes is unclear and "more research is needed," suggests Heymann. Meanwhile her prime concern is that IVF clinics act on the findings of this review. "However," she noted, "hyaluronic acid is expensive, and this might mean it is not as widely used as it should be."

Creating a Perfect Trap for Light - TU Vienna and Hebrew University Develop "Light Trap"— Beam of Light Prevents Itself from Escaping, Allowing Light to be Absorbed Perfectly

29 August, 2022

Whether in photosynthesis or in a photovoltaic system: If you want to use light efficiently, you have to absorb it as completely as possible. However, this is difficult if the absorption is to take place in a thin layer of material that normally lets a large part of the light pass through.

Now, research teams from TU Wien and from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) have found a surprising trick that allows a beam of light to be completely absorbed even in the thinnest of layers: They built a "light trap" around the thin layer using mirrors and lenses, in which the light beam is steered in a circle and then superimposed on itself – exactly in such a way that the beam of light blocks itself and can no longer leave the system. Thus, the light has no choice but to be absorbed by the thin layer – there is no other way out. This absorption-amplification method, which has now been presented in the scientific journal Science, is the result of a fruitful collaboration between the two teams: the approach was suggested by Prof. Ori Katz from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and conceptualized with Prof. Stefan Rotter from TU Wien; the experiment was carried out in by the lab team in Jerusalem and the theoretical calculations came from the team in Vienna.

"Absorbing light is easy when it hits a solid object," shared Prof. Stefan Rotter from the Institute of Theoretical Physics at TU Wien. "A thick black wool jumper can easily absorb light. But in many technical applications, you only have a thin layer of material available and you want the light to be absorbed exactly in this layer."

There have already been attempts to improve the absorption of materials: For example, the material can be placed between two mirrors. The light is reflected back and forth between the two mirrors, passing through the material each time and thus having a greater chance of being absorbed. However, for this purpose, the mirrors must not be perfect – one of them must be partially transparent, otherwise the light cannot penetrate the area between the two mirrors at all. But this also means that whenever the light hits this partially transparent mirror, some of the light is lost.

To prevent this, it is possible to use the wave properties of light in a sophisticated way. “In our approach, we are able to cancel all back-reflections by wave interference”, noted HU’s Prof. Ori Katz. Helmut Hörner, from TU Wien, who dedicated his thesis to this topic explained, "in our method, too, the light first falls on a partially transparent mirror. If you simply send a laser beam onto this mirror, it is split into two parts: The larger part is reflected, a smaller part penetrates the mirror."

This part of the light beam that penetrates the mirror is now sent through the absorbing material layer and then returned to the partially transparent mirror with lenses and another mirror. “The crucial thing is that the length of this path and the position of the optical elements are adjusted in such a way that the returning light beam (and its multiple reflections between the mirrors) exactly cancels out the light beam reflected directly at the first mirror”, said Yevgeny Slobodkin and Gil Weinberg, HU graduate students who built the system in Jerusalem.

The two partial beams overlap in such a way that the light blocks itself, so to speak: although the partially transparent mirror alone would actually reflect a large part of the light, this reflection is rendered impossible by the other part of the beam travelling through the system before returning to the partially transparent mirror.

Therefore, the mirror, which used to be partially transparent, now becomes completely transparent for the incident laser beam. This creates a one-way street for the light: the light beam can enter the system, but then it can no longer escape because of the superposition of the reflected portion and the portion guided through the system in a circle. So the light has no choice but to be absorbed – the entire laser beam is swallowed up by a thin layer that would otherwise allow most of the beam to pass through.

"The system has to be tuned exactly to the wavelength you want to absorb," explained Rotter. "But apart from that, there are no limiting requirements. The laser beam doesn't have to have a specific shape, it can be more intense in some places than in others – almost perfect absorption is always achieved."

Not even air turbulence and temperature fluctuations can harm the mechanism, as was shown in experiments conducted at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This proves that it is a robust effect that promises a wide range of applications – for example, the presented mechanism could even be well suited to perfectly capture light signals that are distorted during transmission through the Earth's atmosphere. The new approach could also be of great practical use for optimally feeding light waves from weak light sources (such as distant stars) into a detector.