26 Oct 2010
Israel doing big things with nano-materials
Israeli scientists are making significant contributions to the advance of nano-technology, discovering and developing some of the most important breakthroughs.
Second annual International Nanotechnology Conference to be held in Tel Aviv in November.
(By David Halevi)
Israeli high-tech has done some big things in the past - creating some of the most important advances in computer security and networking, social media, and telecommunications. Today, Israeli companies are set to do some little things - which may have an even bigger impact than some of those high-tech achievements.
What Internet startups were to the past decade, nanotechnology will be to the next one, experts say - and Israel is already a world leader in development and deployment of applications based on this new science. Already, Israeli scientists have made significant contributions to the field, discovering and developing some of the most important breakthroughs.
Among the applications Israeli start-ups have developed using nanotech are water purification membranes, agents for oral drug delivery, inkjet digital printing systems, diagnostic tools, holographic storage systems - and an 'e-beam on a chip,' which is similar to a laser beam, to be used for semiconductor manufacturing.
Thanks to nanotech, for example, organ transplants may become a thing of the past, as special growth factors based on nanotechnology help grow healthy cells in an organ to replace unhealthy ones. Nanotechnology could also help to vastly reduce pollutants from internal combustion engines and could even develop elements that provide the taste of sugar in foods, without the calories and tooth decay that are part and parcel of the product today.
The nanotechnology revolution is here, and moving forward rapidly, with a host of Israeli companies already producing applications based on this new science, which allows researchers to control matter on an atomic and molecular scale.
Highlighting Israel's nano-accomplishments
Highlighting Israel's accomplishments and research in the emerging nanotech field, the second annual International Nanotechnology Conference will be held in Tel Aviv in November. It will focus on innovations and business opportunities in the energy, water, environment, nano-material, nano-electronics, nano-photonics, nano-bio and nano-medicine fields.
Investors seeking opportunities and companies from Israel and abroad will attend, showing off their nano-wares. Speakers will include the leading lights of the discipline from Israel and abroad. Among them will be the 2010 co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Professor Andre Geim, for his discovery and work with the nano-material graphene.
The conference is being chaired by Nava Swersky-Sofer, who is one of the leaders of Israel's life-science industry and is the former CEO of the Hebrew University's tech transfer arm, Yissum; Mr. Dan Vilenski from the Israel National Nano-technology Initiative (INNI); and Prof. Arie Zaban from Bar-Ilan University.
"Israel is known worldwide as a center of knowledge and innovation in nano-technology and research in the nano field. Israel's achievements are at the forefront of a variety of the industrial fields, such as communications, electronics, computerization, security, medicine and life-sciences," says Swersky-Sofer.
Israel is already on the international nanotech map, according to the INNI, one of the conference sponsors. The group lists about 80 large and small companies working in Israel's nanotech sector, along with more than 40 academic and governmental labs, employing some 300 researchers and scholars. The INNI states that Israel has the third-largest concentration of startup companies in the world, surpassed only by California's Silicon Valley and the Boston technology corridor.
A survey conducted by INNI shows that the Technion employs 119 nano-researchers, followed by 55 at Tel Aviv University, 47 at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 43 at the Weizmann Institute of Science, 39 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and 30 at Bar-Ilan University. Since 2002, the number of nano-researchers in Israel has doubled. The two main scientific disciplines are chemistry (25.6%) and physics (19.5%). Most of the researchers (33%) focus on materials, followed by electronics and photonics (22%) and biotechnology (17%).
Israel had a head-start
Israel is ahead of many other countries in this new field, because its researchers have been working in the nano sphere for years. Among the researchers is Prof. Reshef Tenne of the Weizmann Institute. Tenne, who will chair a session at the conference, is best known for leading the group that discovered and studied the inorganic fullerene-like nanospheres and nanotubes, generally termed IF nanoparticles, considered a new class of nanomaterials. Tenne says that nanotech development suits the Israeli development model: "This is a small country, and nano-material research, of course, is done on a small scale. But the research can yield big results, and we expect that today's research will pay off handsomely in the coming years."
Israeli researchers have done a great deal of work in helping to discover new nano-materials, and Israel is by far the most advanced country in its neighborhood in nano-research. "You can tell how advanced a country is by the number of high-resolution electron microscopes a country has. We certainly don't have the resources that rich European countries like Germany and Holland have, but we've got quite enough for a country of our size. We're in a good spot in the middle, and our researchers take full advantage of the resources available," Tenne says.
Tenne himself conducts ongoing nanotech research at the Weizmann Institute in both basic materials and applications, a combination that he says suits him well.
"Over the next five to 10 years we'll see nanotech applications take off. Most of the first round of applications will probably be in the medical field, and we here in Israel have been making great strides in the area of nano-medical technology," Tenne relates.
Manipulating small elements of matter as it does, the science of nanotechnology is also considered an art form. 'Nanoart' features nanolandscapes (molecular and atomic landscapes, which are natural structures of matter at molecular and atomic scales) and nanosculptures (structures created by manipulating matter at molecular and atomic scales using chemical and physical processes). These scientific images, captured and processed with various artistic techniques, will be on display at the November conference.