Over the past several years, Israel has emerged as a world center of nanotechnology research, a scientific discipline that is becoming more important by the day in manufacturing, medicine, security, food production, and many other areas. Next week, the best of the world of nanotech will be on display at NanoIsrael 2012, the third international conference on all things nano being held in Israel. Dozens of companies, large and small, along with over 40 start-ups, will present projects and products that use nanotech to produce better solutions in electronics, photonics, biotechnology, medicine, materials, agriculture, and more.

Panels discussing the latest innovations will be led by world-renowned scientists, both from Israel and abroad. Among them will be Professor Reshef Tenne of the Weizmann Institute, best known for leading the group that discovered and studied the inorganic fullerene-like nano-spheres and nano-tubes (IF nano-particles, considered a new class of nano-materials), and Prof. Sumio Iijima from Japan, who is considered to be one of the fathers of the nanotechnology field and discovered the carbon nano–tube. Altogether, over 1,000 participants, including company representatives, venture capitalists and investors, investigators and entrepreneurs, are expected to speak or display their advances and inventions.

The conference is chaired by Nava Swersky Sofer, an international technology commercialization expert and founding partner of the international technology commercialization forum, along with Rafi Koriat, who is responsible for commercial and academic collaborations at INNI, the Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative, and Professor Tenne.

The theme of this year’s show, Swersky Sofer told The Times of Israel, is commercialization. “Israeli companies and academic institutions have been doing research for some years now, and many of the technologies they have developed are finally ready for market. We will be seeing some of these products and technologies in a variety of areas in action at the show,” she said. “The defense and aerospace industries, which use nanotechnology-based materials for a variety of applications, including shielding and materials with special properties, have increased representation in the conference. The leading defense contractors such as Plasan, Elbit, the Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael will also take part in the conference,” she added.

Much of the research that has led to this commercialization effort is due to a five-year plan that INNI instituted five years ago, said Swersky Sofer; a concentrated effort during the period resulted in over 600 academic projects in Israeli universities, the establishment of more than 300 research groups, publication of over 6,000 scientific papers, and filing of hundreds of patents. INNI has also reached out to Israeli scientists who had been working abroad, and arranged for them to come home, helping them find employment in academia and industry.

Among recent innovations developed recently in Israel using nanotechnology, said Swersky Sofer, are a $10 DNA test, which squeezes molecules through a tiny channel in a body cell to take readings; a system using tiny bacteria to reduce pollutants in internal combustion engines to almost zero; and using nano-based ingredients to give food the taste and texture of a full measure of sugar and fat, while reducing calories to super-strict diet levels.

And NanoIsrael isn’t all business; it features art, too, in the form of “nano-art.” Nano-art features nano-landscapes (molecular and atomic landscapes which are natural structures of matter at molecular and atomic scales) and nano-sculptures (structures created by manipulating matter at molecular and atomic scales using chemical and physical processes). These structures are visualized with research tools like scanning electron microscopes and atomic force microscopes and their scientific images are captured and may be further processed by using different artistic techniques to convert them into artworks showcased for large audiences.

Awards will be given to the best work of art (as decided by a panel of judges); awards will also be given to the company of the year, product of the year and, for the first time, a Young Scientist award will be given to an Israeli who is at the beginning of his or her nanotechnology career. “We expect a great turnout, as we have had in previous conferences, with about half the participants from academia, and half from industry,” said Swersky Sofer. “At the first conference four years ago, we had a ratio of 80:20 between academia and industry, and slowly but surely this has is moving towards the applied arena while keeping the scientific aspects at the highest level and the next generation of developed applications.”