Issue Date: May 7, 2007
Chemistry in Israel
Mitch Jacoby's well-written feature article "Chemistry in Israel" prompts me to recall my own recent, memorable sabbatical experience at Weizmann Institute (C&EN, March 5, page 15). Israeli universities and research centers provide outstanding visiting fellowships for foreign scientists, often including on-site housing for families and transportation and per diem expenses. When coupled with the opportunity to work with eminent Israeli colleagues in modern, well-equipped laboratories, and to make seminar visits to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheba, in addition to the institutions mentioned in the article, Israel represents an idyllic location for a sabbatical.
Of course, science is only part of the purpose of a sabbatical. The significance of experiencing life in a part of the world that is of such profound historical, religious, and headline-grabbing importance, as well as great natural beauty (as documented by Jacoby's impressive photo gallery), cannot be overemphasized, especially for the benefit of accompanying family members. An added bonus is the ease of travel from Israel to neighboring Jordan and Egypt to explore their cultural riches, ride a camel, compare swimming in the Dead and Red Seas, and, of course, meet their chemists. It sure beats a stay-at-home sabbatical writing grant proposals and shoveling snow.
The cover story about chemistry in Israel brought to light many of the accomplishments of the Israeli chemical community. I hope that your readers were able to appreciate the high quality of chemical research in Israel and the extent to which we are proud of these achievements.
I would, however, like to take issue with one aspect of the story. The decision to describe the research activities at only three Israeli universities (Tel Aviv University, Technion, and Weizmann Institute) conveys the impression that these institutions are the focal points of the Israeli academic community in chemistry. While these institutions certainly have substantial graduate programs and world-class research activities, this is also the case for three other institutions.
Specifically, the chemistry departments at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University, and Ben Gurion University all have internationally recognized research programs and outstandingly successful researchers whose research productivity (in terms of grants, refereed papers, and citations) is every bit as good as those in the three institutions highlighted in the article. In a small country with only six such institutions, to focus on three of them and make no mention of the existence of the others does your readership a disservice and does not do justice to the distinguished scientists at Bar-Ilan, Ben Gurion, and the Hebrew University.
I hope my letter will set the record straight and make clear to your readers that Israeli chemistry is alive and well at a broader range of institutions than is implied in the article.
President, Israel Chemical Society
Ramat Gan, Israel
Jacoby's fine article on chemistry in Israel and his accompanying piece on the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) provide a valuable glimpse of science in a small country that nonetheless has the world's highest ratio of R&D to gross domestic product. While ISF is Israel's major supporter of basic research, some attention should be also given to the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), which should be of special interest to American readers.
BSF is unique in devoting its resources exclusively to support of collaborative basic research between U.S. and Israeli scientists. Funded through an endowment provided by the two governments, BSF has funded nearly 4,000 projects worth more than $300 million since 1972. Among its grantees are 20 Nobel Laureates, including five American and two Israeli laureates in chemistry. Though small even by Israeli standards, BSF plays a vital role in bringing together scientists from the two countries.
Albert H. Teich
I found the article about chemistry in Israel very interesting, with many lessons to be learned from the chemists who have been in the business for quite some time. I especially liked the mention of collaborative work between Palestinian and Israeli scientists. I wish your article had provided more examples of such collaborative efforts, because such stories never make it to the mainstream news outlets and it is just such stories that give hope to all of us who are tied to or live in this region.
In any case, I really think science should not know any borders or political differences, and stories such as those of collaborative efforts can be quite fruitful. Perhaps in a few years this topic can be revisited and an article can focus on science on both sides of the border between Palestinians and Israelis. I say a few years because right now the political situation is too chaotic. We can only hope that something good will happen in the coming years.
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