Studying science on Yom Kippur Eve

Hundreds of lectures and events to take place on Researchers’ Night, just as Israelis prepare for the holiest day of the year

Over 4,000 people participate in a chemistry experiment during Researchers' Night in 2011, setting a Guinness World Record. (photo credit: Science Ministry)
Over 4,000 people participate in a chemistry experiment during Researchers' Night in 2011, setting a Guinness World Record. (photo credit: Science Ministry)

For the second year in a row, the night before Yom Kippur will bring to Israel the annual Researchers’ Night, a celebration of all things scientific, with hundreds of events taking place at over a dozen universities and colleges.

Via speeches, workshops, mass experiments, and demonstrations, all taking place on Thursday night, September 12, scientists will attempt to explain to Israelis of all ages and backgrounds some of the basic principles of astronomy, biology, chemistry, genetics, and more.

Israel has been a part of Researchers’ Night, an EU-sponsored event, since 2007, two years after it was launched by the European Commission. Events take place in 300 cities in 35 countries (including Turkey and Israel) that are “dedicated to popular science and fun learning” and that “show what researchers really do for society, in interactive and engaging ways,” according to organizers of the event. The events consist of hands-on experiments, science shows, learning activities for children, guided visits of research labs, science quizzes and more.

Science 'magic' on display at Researchers' Night 2012 (Photo credit: Science Ministry)
Science ‘magic’ on display at Researchers’ Night 2012 (photo credit: Science Ministry)

Besides being Researchers’ Night (Hebrew link) in Israel, September 12 also marks the eve of Yom Kippur. For many, it’s a night of final preparations for the most awesome of the Days of Awe, with tens of thousands participating in Selihot (midnight penitential prayers) or otherwise readying themselves for the Day of Atonement.

A spokesperson for Tel Aviv University, one of the centers of activity for Researchers’ Night, dismissed any connection between the two. “We have nothing against Yom Kippur, and are not trying to prove anything,” the spokesperson said. “This is a Europe-wide event and we have to conform to their calendar in order to participate.”

Annual Researchers’ Night events takes place on a specific date — the fourth Friday of September, which this year is September 27. Friday nights, of course, are not convenient for Israel, as Jews (even not so religious ones) celebrate Shabbat, so events are brought forward to Thursday evenings, the beginning of the Israeli weekend (Saturday nights are out for events like these as well, since preparation would have to take place on the Sabbath itself).

As it happened, though, most of the Thursdays during the month of September were taken by religious holidays: September 5 was Rosh Hashanah, and September 19 and 26 are Sukkot and Simchat Torah, respectively.

A water science activity at the 2012 Researchers' Night (Photo credit: Science Ministry)
A water science activity at the 2012 Researchers’ Night (Photo credit: Science Ministry)

That left September 12 as the only available Thursday in September. That it also is the eve of Yom Kippur is just coincidental, the Tel Aviv University spokesperson said. The same situation prevailed in 2012; the event was held on September 24, which was close to the September 28 date that the rest of Europe celebrated Researchers’ Night.

Researchers’ Night events are many and varied. At the Museum of Science and Space (Madatech) in Haifa, for example, there will demonstrations of how missile launches are conducted, discussions about how space aliens were likely to look if we ever came across any, and an exhibition about Israel’s forays into space, dedicated to the memory of astronaut Ilan Ramon.

Tel Aviv University will be holding lectures on cybersecurity, space travel, and asteroid threats to planet earth. There will also be a live hookup in which NASA administrator Charles Bolden will discuss his experiences piloting the space shuttles Columbia, Discovery, and Atlantis. At the center of the campus will be life-sized models of a satellite, an Arrow 3 missile, a UAV, and a satellite launcher. In addition, there will be a model of the spacecraft that Israel’s SpaceIL organization is planning to send to the moon.

At the Technion, visitors will be able to use telescopes set up on campus, try to find their way through a “laser maze,” practice being weightless in a gyro chamber (used by astronauts to simulate weightlessness in space), and watch demonstrations of the latest technologies by reps from Israel Aircraft Industries, Israel Military Industries, and more. Bar-Ilan University will be sponsoring a special “youth compound,” where kids can “touch the sky” in a huge solar system display, watch robots play soccer, and learn about how “bionic men” will be produced in the future. And at the Weizmann Institute, visitors will be treated to tours of the research labs, and watch a show on high-tech glass production.

In both 2011 and 2012, over 30,000 people participated in Researchers’ Night events — with the 2011 event setting a Guinness World Record for “the world’s largest chemistry lecture,” as over 4,000 people at 13 locations observed a reenactment of a chemistry experiment Ilan Ramon performed in space. While no Guinness-type records are expected this year, “the record we would like to set this year is for the largest number of people ever attending Researchers’ Night events,” a Science Ministry spokesperson said.

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