After five years of visits to Israel, Professor Stephen Forrest, vice president for research at the University of Michigan and one of the top materials scientists in the world, decided that Israel is where the entrepreneurial action is. As a result of his efforts, U-M and Ben-Gurion University will be partnering to develop renewable technologies. A memorandum of understanding to establish the partnership was signed on March 7 by Forrest and BGU’s vice president and dean for research and development, Moti Herskowitz.
The partnership aims to bring together thinkers from both schools to solve major challenges in the areas of advanced vehicle fuels, solar energy and thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to electricity. Beginning this month, collaborative faculty teams can apply for grants to start projects in one of these three areas. Each university has pledged half of the $1 million that will jumpstart the three-year program.
“We live in a global economy,” Forrest said. “Universities need to globalize their activities because we need to solve problems that are larger than one country can manage alone. When faculty at universities from across the world come together, they bring different cultures and different objectives, and when you mix them, you get a lot more than just the sum of the parts.”
Ben-Gurion was the right partner for a project like this, said Hershkowitz, considering that it has been at the forefront of the energy research for more than 30 years. “We look forward to collaborating with the U-M researchers on the challenging issues related to renewable energy and trust that the agreed model of collaboration has the potential of generating novel scientific and technological information with potential applications,” Herskowitz said.
Up to six projects will be funded during the first year. An annual technical workshop will showcase the research outcomes. BGU has already hosted a joint workshop with U-M on renewable energy with an emphasis on solar energy, liquid fuels and thermoelectricity.
Forrest said he expected that solar energy researchers from Israel, for example, might approach problems with more applied perspective than some American researchers, and together these cultures could produce breakthroughs.
“There’s an enormous number of start-ups that come out of Israel,” he said. “We have a lot to learn from them.”