While Israel celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israeli innovations all too often seem to fall “under the radar” of most of the general public today. The country’s contributions include medical research, new technologies, advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, computer science, energy, water-resource management, drug development, and aerospace.
Perhaps it’s just a low-key approach to publicity coupled with a general adherence to humility and reluctance toward self-promotion, but in 2010, the Israeli Academy of Sciences, Israeli government officials, and American Jewish organizations raised objections over what they claim are glaring omissions of Israeli awards in the 2010 United Nations Education and Science Organization Science Report, a 500-page global compendium of scientific accomplishments between 2005 and 2010.
The report not only omitted an Israel country profile, but Israel was also missing from the list of comprehensive regional descriptions.
The academy cited the most notable absence of any mention of several Nobel Prize-winning researchers from the main body of the UNESCO report, which failed to include any mention of the 2009 Weizmann Institute of Science Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Prof. Ada Yonath, even though UNESCO gave Yonath the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science the year before.
Yonath shared the prize with two others for her work on ribosome structure, relentlessly observing how cells build proteins. Her work paves the way for further research toward developing bacteria-resistant antibiotics.
UNESCO not only declined to make these updates despite repeated requests from Israel, but it also declined to update the report with the addition of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Prof. Dan Shechtman’s 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded for his discovery of quasi-crystals, a bonding action within the atoms of rigid crystals that results in the creation of ultra-strong materials for use in new technologies.
UNESCO denied willfully omitting the information. However, skeptical Israeli officials have pressured the organization for more than a year to remedy the “oversight.”
Gretchen Kalonji, assistant director general for Natural Sciences at UNESCO, told the Times of Israel that she had no knowledge of how this happened and that those responsible are now gone.
“The report has changed in format over the years, and previous versions had Israel prominently featured,” Kalonji said. “But the omission was definitely not politically motivated. We have had good ties with Israeli scientists for many years, and we intend to post the chapter on Israeli achievements in the 2005-2010 report.”
The UNESCO report remains unchanged as of this article’s publication, despite more than a year of requests from Israeli officials and promises from UNESCO that they would do so.
Most recently, in March 2012, UNESCO named Weizmann Institute of Science biologist Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky Europe’s top young researcher of the year for her work using probiotics in treating disease. Geva-Zatorsky is also one of 15 winners of the L’Oreal-UNESCO Fellowships for Outstanding Women Scientists. She, too, has not been added to the report.
So, as the Technion celebrates a century of discoveries since the laying of its first cornerstone in 1912, it’s time to beat the drum and spread the word about this world-class institution and others that are leaders in the development of so many revolutions in science and technology.
Israel is the home of 10 Nobel Prize winners:
• The first Israeli Nobel Peace Prize recipient was Shmuel Yosef Agnon, who won for Literature in 1966.
• Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin all won the Nobel Peace Prize, Begin in 1978 and Peres and Rabin in 1994, with then-PLO President Yasser Arafat.
• Of the seven other Nobel Prizes awarded since 1994, three of the four Nobels earned in Chemistry have been awarded to Technion researchers, including the most recent Schectman award.
• In 2002, Prof. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his integration of psychological research into the study of economics.
• In 2004, Technion professors Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko won Nobel Prizes in Chemistry for their 1978 discovery of the ubiquitin system. Ubiquitins are a kind of protector protein that can fend off the development of several diseases within cells such as cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and viral diseases.
• In 2005, Israeli mathematician Yisrael Robert Aumann won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory, conflict, and cooperation.
So, when the new Technion Cornell Institute of Innovation opens in the heart of New York City next fall, it may be impossible to overlook the obvious.