A sure sign that Israel is establishing world-class nano-technology research infrastructure is the fact that, while Israel is experiencing a “brain drain” and the emigration of scientists in many other disciplines, top-flight nanotech scientists have been moving to Israel. In the past six years, according to INNI (Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative), 101 such scientists have come to Israel to take faculty positions at top Israeli universities.
That by itself is reason enough to celebrate, and INNI, along with nanotechnology centers at Israeli universities, the Ministry of Trade & Industry, the Foreign Ministry, and key companies and organizations in Israel and abroad, will hold NanoIsrael 2014, the fourth bi-annual event that gathers together scientists and industry officials to discuss the newest developments in nanotech. The event will take place in Tel Aviv at the end of March.
And there is plenty to discuss, said INNI’s Rafi Koriat, a co-chairperson of the event. In the past three years, Israeli nanotech scientists have published over 7,500 scientific papers, 1500 of which were the result of collaboration between different universities. There are currently 750 nanotech doctoral students in Israel, and 850 students studying for masters degrees. During that time INNI counted 206 “success stories” in the form of start-up companies that received funding and patents that were approved; an additional 860 patents are waiting approval.
“No doubt about it. Israel’s nanotech business is jumping,” said Koriat. “The field marked significant achievements.”
Israel’s nano-capabilities were shown off recently to President Barack Obama last year, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented him with a nano-sized etching of the Declarations of Independence of Israel and the United States side-by-side, on a gold-coated silicon chip. The etching was done on a 0.04 square millimeter portion of the chip, with the etching 20 nanometers (0.00002 mm) deep. The chip was affixed to a Jerusalem Stone dating to the Second Temple Period (1st century BCE to 1st century CE), such as the stones used to seal clay vessels.
The etching was done by scientists at the Technion, using accelerated charged atoms, called ions, and bombarding them at various points on the surface of the chip. When an ion beam hits the chip it creates a tiny recess (in this case 20 nanometers deep). It’s similar to digging tiny holes in the ground using a water jet out of an irrigation hose, Technion scientists said, except that the holes formed by the beam of ions is one million times smaller. The letters themselves, said the Technion, are about a quarter micron large (a human hair is 80 microns in diameter).
Nanotechnology is being used to develop solutions in environmental technology, power production, agriculture, information technology, printing, and much more — and Israeli researchers have been at the forefront of work in these areas. Nanotech 2014 will include lectures, discussions, and demonstrations on using nanotech to regenerate bones, improve eyesight, and heating technology based on nanotech. Even “Nanoart,” which 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) will be topics of discussion. Structures are visualized with research tools, including electron microscopes and atomic force microscopes, and their scientific images are captured and processed with various artistic techniques.
According to Prof. Uri Sivan of the Technion, the first head of the Russell Berry Nanotechnology Centre at the Technion and chairperson of the Nanotech 2014 scientific committee, top representatives of the US and Israel military, together with senior executives from Israel’s leading defense contractors and top academics will be on hand as well, to see how nanotech can make defense easier and safer.
“The whole event is expected to draw thousands of participants from Israel and around the world, including officials of nano-related companies, venture capital experts, institutional and organizational investors, regulators, government decision makers, leading scientists and researchers,” said Sivan. In addition to academic projects, a “Golden Nuggets” session will feature 12 projects on the verge of commercialization. These projects have already proceeded beyond the academic level, but still have not become start-up companies. “Past projects presented at this session have gone on to succeed as start-up companies,” said Sivan.
“Israel is recognized as a center for innovation and research in nanotechnology, with documented achievements across many business sectors such as energy, water and the environment, aerospace and defense, medicine and biotechnology, electronics and communications”, said Nava Swersky Sofer, head of INNI and a conference co–chair. “Top companies and researchers from around the world will come to Israel to share their knowledge. The best of Israel’s achievements in science and business will be presented and potential investors and business partners will attend the event to seek collaborations.”