CJN Article: "HU Turns Scientific Theory Into Practice"

CJN Article: "HU Turns Scientific Theory Into Practice"

Over the years, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a reputation for producing some of the world’s best researchers, scientists and technologies.

And Hebrew U’s research development company called Yissum, which is the university’s technology transfer arm, has been working for nearly five decades to turn scientific theory into practice, allowing the rest of the world to benefit from the science.

Since Yissum was founded in 1964, 7,000 patents have been registered covering 2,023 inventions; 530 technologies have been licensed; 72 spinoff companies have been founded, and more than $2 billion in sales worldwide have been generated.

Last month, Hebrew U co-sponsored the Israeli presidential conference in Jerusalem and produced an exhibition called “Research Today for a Better Tomorrow.”

Amir AmediThe exhibit presented some of the university’s most exciting projects, including Amir Amedi’s “virtual cane,” a technology that will change the way vision-impaired people navigate.

Amedi, a medical neurobiologist at Hebrew U and a researcher with the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) – a centre meant to encourage interdisciplinary partnerships between the best scientists Israel and Canada have to offer – developed a new technology that can help blind people navigate through certain obstacles by substituting the traditional white walking cane with a virtual one.

The technology, which was patented by Yissum, functions as a virtual flashlight.

The device, no bigger than a cell phone, emits a beam. When the beam comes into contact with an object ahead, it transmits the information – its height, its distance from the person – through a gentle vibration.

Amedi presented his invention to Israeli President Shimon Peres when he visited the Hebrew U exhibit at the conference.

Placing the device in Peres’ hand, Amedi demonstrated how the virtual cane works.

“The device will detect if I come closer to you or move further away,” he explained to Peres in Hebrew. “And if you move it from side to side, you’ll see where I begin and where I end.”

Another scientific breakthrough featured at the exhibit may be used for medical, as well as security purposes.

Hebrew U scientists developed a sensor that can detect a person’s mental and emotional state through their sweat ducts.

This invention was based on a discovery that the capillaries, which lead to the sweat ducts on our skin, has a spiral structure similar to that of an antenna used for wireless communications systems.

They learned that electromagnetic waves reflect off the skin surface through the sweat ducts, and through this phenomenon, the scientists have been able to sense changes in a person’s stress level.

This technology, which has also been patented by Yissum, could be applied at doctors’ offices, as well as airport security. This invention could potentially sense malice, which could single out terrorists even if they aren’t carrying weapons.

These are just two of the hundreds of applied technologies that have piqued the interests of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs all over the world.

HydroElectron Ventures president and CEO Matthew Price Gallagher, is one example of a Canadian who wants to connect with Yissum, a transfer arm that specializes in applying scientific theory.

According to its website, the Montreal-based company “strives to tap into the full potential of the hidden nano-properties of water in order to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues,” including energy, biomedicine and the environment.

Price Gallagher, who was in Jerusalem last month, said that his company was working with scientists at McGill University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to further its water technology research.

“In the first five years or so we developed a fuel that brought fuel and water together. Normally fuel and water don’t mix,” Price Gallagher said, adding that they succeeded in commercializing it.

But within the last three years, since they began developing new water technologies that can have implications for the environment and clean energy, he said he began to grow frustrated with the research progression coming out of the universities because the scientists were focusing more on the theory rather than application.

“I started to learn about what was going on in Israel, especially in the area of science and technology, and of course, about water science being historically a strong suit, since water is a major issue there,” he said.

He learned about the developments at Hebrew U when he met Ari Brojde, who is involved with the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University.

Brojde, whose family established the Peter Brojde Centre for Innovative Engineering and Computer Science at Hebrew U in 2008, in memory of his later father, told Price Gallagher that his company could benefit from the work they do in Jerusalem.

Price Gallagher, who had never travelled to Israel, and is not Jewish, was invited by Brojde to learn about the centre, as well as Yissum.

Impressed by what the centre and Yissum had to offer, Price Gallagher shared his research with the scientists at the centre, and began to pursue a deal with the university’s transfer arm.

“There is a sense of a greater creative energy here and being an entrepreneur, I resonated with that,” he said.

What makes this partnership unusual, Price Gallagher said, is that Yissum normally deals with licensing technologies that originate at Hebrew U.

“What is unique is that we’ve developed all the science and technology and we’re bringing it all here… This deal with Yissum is not what they are used to,” he said.

“But I hope our technologies can solve some of the problems that we have when it comes to clean energy.”

Research Topic

Visual Impairment

284 million people are visually impaired worldwide. Imagine not knowing what colors look like or having to walk everywhere with a white cane. For people who live with visual impairments, this is a part of every day life.

At IMRIC, we are training people to ‘see’ with sound and walk without the use of the traditional white cane. Training in sensory substitution and the development of the virtual cane gives new hope to people who are learning to ‘see’ in ways they never thought possible.