Technion helps to develop high tech in NY
From its very earliest days, Israel’s Technion has been associated with some of the world’s foremost scientists.
A few years after the cornerstone of the university was laid down 100 years ago, the school received a visit from Albert Einstein, perhaps the most renowned scientist of all time.
Einstein planted a palm tree in front of the Technion building in the Hadar neighbourhood of Haifa. The tree still stands as “a shrine that we protect,” said Boaz Golany, Technion’s vice-president for external relations and resource development.
The school would eventually outgrow its facilities in midtown Haifa and move to a 300-acre site on the Carmel, but it always strived to play with the big boys. From Einstein’s involvement with the school – he would serve as president of the Technion Society in Berlin in the 1920s – to its three recent Nobel Prize winners, the Technion has been a world leader in many scientific areas, Golany said.
Golany was in Toronto and Montreal recently to update the university’s supporters about developments affecting the school.
The Technion is particularly proud of winning – along with its partner, Cornell University – a competition to establish an applied science graduate school and research campus at Cornell’s New York City Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island.
Only 10 overseas universities were invited to tender bids, an elite grouping that indicates how highly the Technion is perceived abroad, Golany said.
The partnership will see the Technion help design the curricula and programs at the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute (TCII). “We bring to this marriage some elements of Technion’s record of successes,” Golany said. “We have an excellent record of working in R&D [with] large corporations working in Israel.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sees the Tech Campus as potentially vaulting New York City into the same level of scientific innovation and commercialization as enjoyed by Boston and Silicon Valley, Golany said.
TCII will be organized into multidisciplinary hubs on the Israeli model.
“Part of what we bring to the table is the international flavour,” Golany said. “Without us, Cornell would have had a hard time competing with the likes of Stanford and Columbia universities. We brought them the edge.”
There’s also an element of payback in the Technion’s involvement in New York City, Golany suggested.
One hundred years ago, when Technion was just getting on its feet, it received substantial support from a Russian tea merchant. But the money ran out in the middle of construction and so the school turned to an American benefactor, financier Jacob Schiff of New York. He provided the supplementary funding that allowed for completion of Technion’s building. “Here we are closing the loop and giving back something to the city that gave us the critical support to get off the ground,” Golany said.
Winning the competition certainly doesn’t hurt Israel’s image either, he continued. “It’s very flattering and rewarding for us in Israel that we could be called by the mayor of New York to help [the city] climb the ladder and be an important centre for tech companies,”
There were a handful of naysayers who challenged the involvement of an Israeli school. A number of pro-Palestinian groups at Cornell accused the school of doing business with an “apartheid university,” he said.
The allegations are divorced from reality, and Cornell’s administration dismissed the charges, Golany said. There are 1,500 Arab students at the Technion out of a student population of 13,000, pretty much matching the proportion of Arabs in the general population. The school also has several Arab faculty members, including Hossam Haick, who developed a groundbreaking nano technology that detects cancer, and it offers a scholarship fund for Arab students “funded by Jewish money.”
Funding, of course, is a key component in any institution of higher learning, and the Technion relies on support groups abroad, particularly Canada and the United states, to help it afford the facilities that make it world class.
Despite the economic dislocations of recent years, support from Canada is on the rise, Golany said. “We have people who want to believe in us and believe in our achievements,” he said.
Hershell Recht, national development director of the Canadian Technion Society, said the group is looking to add support groups in Calgary and Vancouver in coming years. “We are going to plant our flag right in the middle of the [Calgary] Saddledome,” he said.
Supporters, many of them non-Jews, are attracted by the school’s many innovations and the benefits that accrue to people around the world, Golany said.
“You get a bigger bang for the buck” at the Technion, Golany said. “Plus, you’re investing in the future of the Jewish people. A strong Israel means pride and a sense of belonging and a purpose to Jewish communities.”